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How the two flavors of Windows 8 will be different

Windows 8 on ARM will launch at the same time as Windows 8 on Intel-AMD, but there are key differences. Case in point: you don't turn off a Windows-8-on-ARM PC.

A Windows on ARM screen.
A Windows on ARM screen.

One thing was made crystal clear today by Microsoft. Windows 8 on ARM will not be the same experience as Windows 8 on Intel-AMD--despite a big effort by Microsoft to be consistent.

Windows 8 ARM devices will run on processors from Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, and Nvidia--marking the first time that a mainstream Windows operating system will run on processors from ARM chip suppliers in addition to those of Intel-AMD.

Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky said today that Windows 8 on ARM (WOA) will launch at the same time as Windows on Intel-AMD (x86)--though he didn't say when--and that ARM-based devices (such as tablets) will run the desktop version of Office 15. But there are some key differences.

Here are the major ways that Windows 8 on ARM and Window 8 on Intel-AMD are different:

  • ARM will not run Windows 7 stuff: While Windows 8 will run on older Windows 7 PCs because everything is more or less standardized on the x86 platform, this is not the case for ARM. "The approach taken by ARM Holdings, the licensor of ARM products is, by design, not standardized in this manner," wrote Sinofsky. If it's imperative that you run a lot of existing x86 software, then you will need to have an x86 device. Period. "If you need to run existing x86/64 software, then you will be best served with Windows 8 on x86/64," Sinofsky said.
  • No virtualization or emulation: And along these lines, WOA will not support any type of virtualization or emulation and "will not enable existing x86/64 applications to be ported or run." Why? "Supporting various forms of emulation runs counter to the goal of delivering a product that takes a modern approach to system reliability and predictability...Virtualized or emulated software will consume system resources, including battery life and CPU, at unacceptable levels."
  • ARM uniqueness: Device makers work with ARM partners to create a device that is "strictly paired with a specific set of software (and sometimes vice versa), and consumers purchase this complete package, which is then serviced and updated through a single pipeline." Again, this is different from standardized x86-based devices. "In these ways, this is all quite different than the Windows on x86/64 world," Sinofsky said.
  • Labeling to "avoid confusion": When a consumer buys a Windows on ARM PC, it will be "clearly labeled and branded" so as to avoid potential confusion with Windows 8 on x86/64. The PC will come with the OS preinstalled, and all drivers and supporting software. WOA will not be available as a software-only distribution, "so you never have to worry about which DVD to install and if it will work on a particular PC."
  • Windows on ARM devices don't turn off: You don't turn off a WOA PC, according to Sinofsky. WOA PCs will not have the traditional hibernate and sleep options. Instead, WOA PCs always operate in the Connected Standby power mode, similar to the way you use a mobile phone today.
  • Office 15: While WOA includes desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, these are "Office 15" apps that "have been significantly architected for both touch and minimized power/resource consumption" while also being fully-featured and providing "complete document compatibility." WOA supports the Windows desktop experience including File Explorer, Internet Explorer 10 for the desktop "which have been significantly architected for both touch and minimized power/resource consumption."
  • And WOA and x86/64 are the same in important ways, too: Out of the box Windows on ARM will feel like Windows 8 on x86/64. Sign in, app launching, Windows Store access are the same. And, like x86/64, there is access to Internet Explorer 10, peripherals, and the Windows desktop with tools like Windows File Explorer and desktop Internet Explorer. "The availability of the Windows desktop is an important part of interact with PCs, particularly files, storage, and networking, as well as a range of peripherals. You can use Windows Explorer, for example, to connect to external storage devices, transfer and manage files from a network share, or use multiple displays, and do all of this with or without an attached keyboard and mouse."
Inside a Windows on ARM device.
Inside a Windows on ARM device. Microsoft