Windows 8 on tablets explained by Microsoft

Microsoft explains how Windows 8 will run on ARM-based tablets. Expect it to look a lot like your desktop PC, but with a touchscreen layer.

Microsoft has spilled the beans on just how Windows 8 will run on mobile devices with ARM chips in them. In short: pretty much like your PC.

ARM processors have a simpler architecture than traditional PC processors so they can operate at much lower power, making them more suitable for tablets and phones. We've known for a while now that the latest version of its desktop operating system will have a version compatible with touchscreen gadgets, but now Microsoft's own Steven Sinofsky has explained over at the MSDN blog more about the experience we'll be getting.

Windows on ARM (or WOA, as it likes to be known) will apparently be very similar to what you'd get on the PC. You'll sign in and launch applications in much the same way you always have. There's also the usual Windows desktop and file system for a more traditional experience, beneath the more modern 'Metro' interface inspired by Windows Phone.

While we're still big fans of the Windows desktop experience on our PCs, we're yet to be convinced it has a home on tablets, and even less so on phones. The massive popularity of Apple's iPad has shown that a stripped-down, easy to navigate touch interface is what people want -- the classic Windows Start menu is unlikely to provide such a pleasant experience on these smaller screens, where poking at tiny icons and windows will be more difficult. Layering a touchscreen interface over it is just a fudge.

As the PC, WOA and Windows Phone versions of the OS will share the same underlying structure, software and applications can be shared between devices, which will hopefully result in a much better stocked app store for Windows Phone. In the post, Sinofsky noted that Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote will be included with WOA, although we're yet to hear confirmation that will be standard across all devices -- bearing in mind MS Office retails for quite a bit, we'd be surprised if it was bundled for free.

WOA won't run all Windows apps though -- some things would be a nightmare on small screens -- but you'll be able to get specific ones from the Windows 8 app store . You'll also have to go there for all your software updates and device drivers, which we're hoping means no more trawling through endless forums looking for a driver to run our six-year-old webcam or ancient external floppy disk drive.

If you don't fancy swiping your finger around the screen all day, you'll be pleased to know WOA will support Bluetooth mice and keyboards, so you can navigate your way around your device much like you would with a PC.

There's a whole load of extra info on the MSDN blog, so head over there if you want to check out the nitty-gritty detail. Although we're very keen to see how WOA works in practice, we already have a few reservations. From what we've gleaned so far from Sinofsky's details, WOA seems like a pretty heavy-duty piece of software, so we'd only really expect to see it on the high-power devices like the Asus Transformer Prime . We doubt it would operate smoothly on low-powered budget tablets and phones.

So when are we going to see it? WOA will launch at the same time as Windows 8 for the PC, according to Sinofsky, so expect it sometime towards the end of the year. There's a beta version launching in February , and we expect finer details about what to expect after that.

What do you think of Windows 8 on your tablet? Are you excited by a desktop experience on the go, or will you be firmly sticking to your iPad's easy to poke interface? Let us know in the comments below or over on our Facebook page.

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About the author

Andrew is a senior editor at CNET and has always been fascinated by tech. When not getting up close and personal with the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.

 

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