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Windows 8 on Intel is unlike ARM in crucial way, Microsoft confirms

Yep, there's one big gotcha if you choose a Windows 8 tablet using an ARM processor.

Microsoft's Michael Angiulo speaking at the Microsoft 8 Consumer Preview keynote Tuesday.
Microsoft's Michael Angiulo speaking at the Microsoft 8 Consumer Preview keynote Tuesday.

Microsoft made it clear today why Windows 8 on an Intel-based tablet will be different from competing tablets based on ARM chips.

After speaking in Barcelona for close to an hour today about how Windows 8 on Intel and Windows 8 on ARM (WOA) will be the same, two Microsoft executives addressed, albeit briefly, a much more sensitive topic: why they're also very different.

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

First, let's review the similarities as spelled out by Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows Division at Microsoft, and Michael Angiulo, a corporate vice president, at the Windows 8 Preview keynote in Barcelona. The presentation was streamed on Microsoft's Web site.

Why Windows on Intel and Windows on ARM are the same:

  • "All of these (ARM platforms) are showing the same progress as on the X86 software." --Sinofsky
  • "The reasons it's the same UI is that it's the same code." --Angiulo
  • "It's the same app, it's the same code. So, a developer that writes a Windows app and puts it up in the store can ship to customers of ARM systems as well as on X86 systems using the same code." --Angiulo
  • "One of the biggest innovations we did to help to deliver this is we developed a new level of class driver. A class driver allows 80 to 90 percent of the printers to just work by plugging them into the device and the driver will download automatically." --Sinofsky
  • "And those are full versions of those applications (Office 15). Same document format compatibility, same feature set as their X86 counterparts. Those (applications) have been tuned in a very significant way for touch capabilities but they inherit all of the keyboard and mouse and the precision so you can just choose." --Sinofsky

Why Windows on Intel and Windows on ARM are different: this list is much shorter but probably a lot more important for a certain class of users that need access to older Windows applications:

  • "Intel Clover Trail (X86 Atom chip) can also run all of the desktop software that already exists for Windows PCs. So, on the Intel platform it's really everything." --Angiulo
  • " If you're a professional and you have dedicated utilities, devices...all of that runs completely on an X86 Clover Trail machine. " --Sinofsky

Again, the way the differences were presented by Sinofsky and Angiulo they almost seemed like an afterthought. But if you're one of probably millions of consumers that expect to run Windows 7 apps (and older apps) on your new Windows 8 tablet, then Intel-based tablets and PCs are your only option. Not a trivial point.