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Confusion Continues on Windows 8 ARM Support for 'Desktop Apps'

Microsoft's ostensible plan to support both "Metro-style" and legacy "Desktop" applications on ARM-based Windows 8 tablets may be getting a rethink.

Long-time Microsoft observer Mary Jo Foley wrote today that Microsoft is leaning toward "cutting the Desktop [app support] from Windows 8 ARM tablets." That information comes from her Windows Weekly podcast partner, Paul Thurrott. It has not been confirmed by Microsoft.

The concept isn't surprising because most people expected that legacy applications designed to run on x86 hardware would have to be recompiled to run on Windows 8 and ARM hardware. That's a prospect that could break the bank for many independent software vendors. However, even though most people may not have believed that ARM support for legacy Desktop apps on Windows 8 would happen, Foley got the message that Windows 8 would nonetheless support it.

This issue has just seemed needlessly confusing, but Microsoft has stayed mum about its Windows 8 plans since September, except for feature descriptions that run in its building Windows 8 blog. The communications to Foley have contradicted what Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division, has previously said.

"We've been very clear since the very first CES demos and forward that the ARM product won't run any X86 applications," Sinofsky told financial analysts at the September Build Conference for developers. However, what Microsoft had shown at CES in January was Microsoft Office running on an ARM-based notebook running the "Windows Next" operating system and printing a Word file. So, it wasn't wholly clear.

Part of the confusion apparently is about the user interface that will appear in Windows 8 for ARM. Microsoft may just be deciding at this point on whether or not to build the Desktop UI in Windows 8 for ARM. The Desktop UI, which was seen in the x86-based Samsung tablets handed out at Microsoft's Build event, supports traditional chromed Windows and traditional menus for applications. The Samsung Windows 8 tablets also had a UI for Metro-style apps built on HTML 5, XAML, JavaScript or C languages, which is optimized for touch or stylus control.

In essence, if Microsoft's ISV partners don't plan to recompile their x86 applications for Windows 8 ARM machines, then there would be no reason for Microsoft to build such a Desktop UI for that OS. And Microsoft appears to have decided not to support legacy apps on Windows 8 ARM anyway.

A spokesperson for Microsoft said today by e-mail that "Microsoft is not commenting publicly on this topic."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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