Microsoft has two new versions of Windows 10 on the way. Windows 10 S is a streamlined version of Windows that will only run software downloaded from the Windows Store in order to improve security, performance, and the software update process. Designed with the education market in mind, it will also be available for mainstream users, and Windows 10 S is the operating system that will ship on the upcoming Surface Laptop… although you can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro if you find the stripped down operating system too restrictive.

But you know what else isn’t particularly stripped down? The new version of Windows 10 designed to run on ARM-based processors.

First announced last year, Microsoft provided an update on Windows 10 ARM at the MS Build developer conference today. And the company confirmed that not only would Windows 10 ARM be able to run legacy apps developed for computers with x86 processors… but you’d be able to just download any old Win32 app from the internet, install it, and run it on a computer running Windows 10 ARM.

In other words, Windows 10 S runs on devices with ARM or x86 processors, but only supports Windows Store apps. Windows 10 ARM only runs on devices with ARM chips… but supports apps from pretty much any source.

Developers don’t need to convert their software in any way, because Windows 10 ARM includes a built-in emulation layer that allows Win32 apps to run on an ARM-powered system.

But Microsoft demonstrated how you could download a common program like 7zip from the internet and simply install it on a device with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor.

Of course, developers can also package software optimized for ARM as Universal Windows Platform apps for distribution in the Windows Store. But they don’t necessarily have to.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chip is expected to be one of the first to support Windows 10 on ARM, and while it’s Qualcomm’s most powerful mobile processor to date, it’s still not exactly a speed demon by PC standards. Like any PC with a relatively slow processor, systems with ARM chips will probably be unable to compete with the machines featuring the latest high-end Intel or AMD processors when it comes to gaming or other complex tasks like video rendering.

But devices with this sort of chip get many of the benefits of ARM-based processors including relatively low power consumption and integrated wireless connectivity features. That could made ARM-based systems a good choice for hybrid devices like 2-in-1 tablets… or maybe even 2-in-1 smartphones that also offer PC-like functionality when docked to a mouse, keyboard, and display.




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12 replies on “Windows 10 ARM is less locked down than Windows 10 S (supports non-Store Win32 apps)”

  1. Keep in mind that this is just a very expensive prototype. The beefy hardware to support it and the software itself may never see the light of day.

  2. Miss-leading article and headline, this is not some special Arm only build of Windows 10 it is Win10 Pro for Arm PC’s, there is nothing stopping MS from providing a Win10 S version for Arm systems too.

    If you actually bother to watch the video you see the Microsoft engineers state this is regular Win10 Pro with all the same USB drivers that Win10 has.

  3. Or maybe it’s time to slap a low-power ARM core next to some x86 ones and let the OS run on the power-efficient ARM core while apps can use the x86 cores. Low idle power and still decent performance.

  4. Guys…I’m new to the whole “ARM” thing. I’ve got an ASUS Tinker Board on the way…is it possible that Windows 10 “S” could eventually run on it? That would be spectacular.

    1. There are two options. Some master from XDA-devs or somewhere else could port Windows 10 on it OR it’s get support from Microsoft. Both possible, but both unlikely.

    2. Nope. At the moment if you buy an ARM board expecting Windows support you are in for a bad time. It’s linux all the way.

      The Tinkerboard while beefy uses a 32 bit ARM processor, Windows 10 ARM requires 64bit. How can you tell? 32bit is ARM v7 while 64bit is v8, e.g. cortex A53, A57, A72, A73

      1. Another problem with ARM is that even if you have a 64 bit ARM board that technically means the system requirements for Windows, it still probably won’t work because OS’s need special specific drivers for every ARM chipset and hardware. That’s because ARM doesn’t have very good legacy compatibility and universal drivers. It’s different with x86 though since the architecture is designed for legacy support and compatibility which is why it doesn’t matter whether your x86 board has a CPU manufactured by Intel, AMD, or VIA. Windows, Linux, even OS X (hackintosh) will run universally on all x86 hardware for the most part. But with ARM, you’ll need special builds for specific sets of hardware.

    3. I wonder if there will be an ARM version of UEFI, making it hard to change operating systems on Microsoft approved hardware. All in the name of security of course. /s

  5. I hope this ARM version does well this time. I really like the idea of full Windows in a very portable device (ie. UMPC) with always on and connected features (Atom plus WWAN chips don’t cut it).

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