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Windows RT is Dead, Long Live Windows 10 on ARM (Same Stuff, Different Day)

As you read the news stories this week about Windows RT kicking the bucket, I think you should keep in mind that the app compatibility issues we currently have now with Windows RT is still going to be around with Windows 10.

The Verge reported yesterday that Microsoft had retired the Lumia 2520, quoting MS as saying  "We are no longer manufacturing Nokia Lumia 2520." This followed about a week after MS stopped making the the Surface 2, marking the end of the unloved Windows RT variant of the Windows 8 OS.


Windows RT was disliked because of the compromises Microsoft had to make to get Windows on to ARM CPUs. They had to drop support for legacy Windows apps and limit users to only running apps which had been developed for Windows RT or Windows 8 (aka Metro apps).  This cut users off from a few decades worth of still functional apps, and reduced the value and usability of any tablet running Windows RT.

So at this point we should be celebrating its demise, right?

Yes and no. Given that Windows 10 is very likely going to share a similar issue, this is simply a case of same stuff, different day.

Windows 10 is intended to run on PCs, tablets, and smartphones. This includes both ARM and intel chips, and that raises the question of just how much support the Windows 10 on ARM will have for the legacy PC apps which were written to run on Intel chips.

Based on how MS has avoided mentioning this detail, I wouldn’t expect any support for legacy apps – just "universal" apps. And that means that Windows 10 on an ARM tablet or smartphone will have the same limitations as a Windows RT device has right now.

A reader pointed out this issue when the Raspberry Pi launched earlier this week (Thanks, Thomas!) and based on what I haven’t been able to find online, I would say he’s probably right. At the very least we can’t assume support, and that strikes me as a good reason to avoid a tablet running Windows 10 on an ARM chip.

Luckily for us, this should not be an issue. Intel has been making headway in the tablet market, so I don’t think it is very likely that any of the major tablet makers will even release a Windows 10 tablet that doesn’t have an Intel CPU.

But if one does hit the market, I would avoid it until after I could confirm that it supported older Windows apps.

Or did I miss something?

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fjtorres February 4, 2015 um 11:15 am

Older Windows apps expect and x86 processor and ARM cpus don’t have the power to run an x86 emulator at acceptable speed.

The issue for Windows on ARM isn’t whether it can run old apps but rather it can be useful running only new apps. And that will depend on how many apps are available and which ones they are.

If the devices remain around long enough, the apps will eventually appear.
Intel’s goal is to provide price and performance parity with ARM devices and make the sale based on x86 compatibility. In other words, the fate of Windows on ARM is in Intel’s hands, not Microsoft’s.

Paul February 4, 2015 um 11:41 am

It might be a problem for companies who thought they could run their specialized apps on RT, but that’s why they can get a Surface Pro. For the rest of us, it shouldn’t make much difference if you can access the basics (office, Skype, Facebook and email).

fjtorres February 4, 2015 um 5:39 pm

That is the idea.
But what if an Intel based device matches or betters an equivalent ARM-based device on all counts?
Size, weight, price, performance?
Why go with ARM and forgo legacy apps then?
Windows on ARM is only useful as long as ARM has some end user advantage. Take that away…
From MS’s point of view, Windows on ARM might end up being just a prod to get Intel to take the low end seriously.

Jeff April 14, 2015 um 1:55 pm

Because Intel will not be able to achieve a CPU with a TDP envelope matching an ARM chip for a smartphone. And the phone market is where the majority of the action is at. Hence the dilemma. Smartphone compatibility among applications will be more important than desktop compatibility. Hence Microsoft’s future is essentially with ARM and NOT Intel or legacy X86.

If Microsoft plays their cards right, they can take marketshare from Google’s Android. And that is going to absolutely require ARM support. Legacy X86 is a path to no where.

dfgvd April 14, 2015 um 3:47 pm

Intel chips have already been used in smartphones (and the Razr i even had a nice design). I wouldn’t bet on ARM processors maintaining a possible current lead in performance per watt. TDP won’t be a problem at all, since structure sizes that lithographic processes can approach won’t suddenly stop shrinking.

Name (required) February 4, 2015 um 1:04 pm

Long time ago I used Cassiopeia A-11 as an e-book reader. Even then it was a hopelessly obsolete machine. It had Windows CE 1.0.
Very short time after Cassiopeia A-11 came to market Microsoft came up with newer version of Windows CE and threw owners of *very* expensive Windows CE 1.0 devices overboard. In the entire history of the A-11 there were less then 10 programs available for the device. Fortunately, one of them was a patch, because Microsoft programmer forgot to deactivate some hardware during sleep so the device used up battery when switched off almost as quickly as when the device was on.
I used the built-in pocket Word to read the books exported from PC application, but the very expensive device had little use beyond a small handful of pre-installed programs.

So throwing owners of expensive devices overboard soon after they were brought to the market and cutting support is a time honoured tradition wit Microsoft. As you say – SSDD.

Loïc Lacombe February 5, 2015 um 3:54 am

Technically, yes you could perfectly run a x86 binary on ARM. For not CPU demanding tasks, the performance would be good enough. Most CPU demanding applications are well identified (games, emulators, 3D stuff and codec conversion) so a nice, acceptable compatibility could appear. Furthermore, MS has stakes in virtualization solution and in emulation. They emulated Xbox (x86) on Xbox 360, which is a RISC architecture , like ARM.
About Windows 10, do not forget there will be two versions: Windows 10 and Windows 10 IoT. We do not know yet of the technical details of the IoT edition, but it will be able to run on the Raspberry Pi 2 which uses ARM.

hob February 5, 2015 um 12:39 pm

There have been a lot of cheap and absolutely amazing Windows Tablets which run a full version of Windows on an Intel x86 structure perfectly fine and fast. There are even videos on YouTube of people playing even heavy games on them without a single problem!

All thanks to Chinese manufacturers. There are even lots of Dual-Boot Windows+Android tablets out there which are just fantastic! Just check websites like AliExpress and BangGood…

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