Microsoft will not support legacy x86 applications on Windows 8 ARM but how does the company plan to make end users aware?
One of the big questions from Microsoft’s BUILD conference is around the company’s ARM chipset support for Windows 8. Windows 8 ARM tablets were briefly flashed on stage but the company isn’t talking about when they’ll be available. Microsoft had a variety of vendors on show at its expo hall at BUILD but any Windows 8 ARM tablets were largely locked away. The lack of marketing for Windows 8 ARM had a number of analysts and media attendees asking questions.
Steven Sinofsky, chief of Windows and Windows Live, was forced to admit to financial analysts on Wednesday that typical x86 legacy desktop applications will not run on Windows 8 ARM. Sinofsky said the choice was to ensure the experience of battery life and other ARM benefits are fully supported in Windows 8. Microsoft also wants to shift ARM forwards to be Metro only and avoid some of the pitfalls of the x86 experience of Windows, viruses and malware.
Speaking during a press briefing on Monday, Sinofsky explained the decision to go Metro only on ARM to media and analysts. “We haven’t made any product announcements,” said Sinofsky, referring to Microsoft’s desktop app demo of Office 2010 on Windows 8 ARM in January. “The previous demonstrations were always technology demonstrations of the underlying architecture,” he said. “All of the apps for ARM are going to come through the store which means they’re all going to be metro style.” Answering another question on whether Windows 8 on ARM will only run Metro style applications, Sinofsky insisted “that is definitely the message to ISVs.” It’s clear that Microsoft wants to make a clean cut with ARM to ensure that developers focus on new Metro style apps that will run across a variety of systems and devices. “The size of their market is not ARM,” said Sinofsky about software developers. “The size of the market are all Windows 8 machines, that’s an important part of the understanding the message. Our Metro style applications are not only for 10″ slate devices, not only for machines with touch but it’s every machine that runs Windows 8.”
Sinofsky then went on to answer a question from an audience member on whether Windows 8 customers will be informed that their Windows 8 ARM machine will not run legacy Windows applications. Sinofsky, sensing the confusion of media and analysts, made his and Microsoft’s position clear. “I wanna make sure we don’t get in a situation where in a sense no matter what we say about ARM we’re doing the wrong thing. I feel like there’s a little bit of that going on in a sense,” he said. “OK if you do run everything then all of a sudden ARM is going to get saddled with all of this stuff that your competitive phone platforms don’t get saddled with. If you don’t run it then you’re closing off all of this old software that should be able to run. I hope you see that…it’s not clear what the right answer would have been.”
Sinofsky revealed that Microsoft will be very clear in its product marketing to ensure end users are aware that Windows 8 ARM will not run their old legacy x86 applications. “We are going to be very clear with how we name the product, what we talk about as the features and value proposition,” said Sinofsky. “It’s only to our advantage to not have confused customers.” He then went on to explain that Microsoft will not allow a world where a customer goes into a store and has to buy software in a red box for ARM and a green box for x86. “We won’t ever let that happen to a customer,” said Sinofsky. “We will be clear what the value proposition and what the software is capable and we’ll do that with all the communication tools at our disposal.”
The admission that Microsoft will be clear in how it names Windows 8 ARM could see the company create a unique name for its tablet offering. Microsoft has long been a fan of marketing its different Windows offerings under separate SKUs, think Tablet PC Edition or Media Center Edition. Could the separate Windows 8 ARM naming and separate from x86 apps also mean that the product arrives early though?