Earlier this month Microsoft and a handful of partners started showing of Windows 8 running on tablet with ARM-based processors. While Windows 8 probably won’t be released to the public until the second half of 2012, CNET reports that an early version Windows 8 for ARM will be available for developers in February.

NVIDIA tablet prototype with Windows 8
NVIDIA tablet prototype with Tegra 3 and Windows 8

Windows 8 on ARM is reportedly much more stable than it was just a few months ago. The operating system features Microsoft’s new Metro-style user interface with a large start screen replacing the traditional start menu.

The operating system is designed with touch input in mind, and most Metro apps are designed to run in full screen mode, unlike traditional Windows applications. Unfortunately, most apps that were designed for Windows computers with x86 processors won’t run on Windows 8 for ARM unless their developers update the apps.

But since this is Microsoft’s baby, it’s pretty clear that we can expect future versions of Microsoft Office and other top tier software to run on Windows 8 for ARM. Microsoft is also encouraging developers to write apps and submit them to an app store for the new platform.

In the desktop and laptop computer space Microsoft Windows dominates the market. Things will be very different when Windows 8 tablets with ARM-based processors hit the streets. The mobile tablet space is currently dominated by Apple, while dozens of devices with Google Android and other operating systems are vying for second place.

It’s likely that at least a few top tier computer makers will bring tablets to market with Windows 8 — but it’s not entirely clear at this point whether consumers will snap them up. On the one hand there are many Windows apps that don’t have any iOS or Android counterparts yet. On the other hand, many of those apps may not run on Windows 8 ARM tablets either.

Those apps will run on Windows 8 tablets with x86 processors — but they’re likely to cost much more than computers with ARM chips.

Windows 7 tablets with Intel or AMD chips typically cost $500 or more — and a really good Windows 7 tablet such as the Samsung Series 7 Slate PC will set you back at least $1000. There’s no reason to expect that to change with Windows 8.

But ARM-based hardware is typically cheaper, and CNET suggests Windows 8 tablet with ARM chips could cost “hundreds of dollars less” than similar devices with x86 chips.

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