Any confusion about what ARM-processor-powered Windows 8 devices could and couldn't do has been cleared up by Microsoft. This new class of non-Wintel machines will do a limited amount of what your current PC can do, as they are limited to apps from the Windows Store.

Welcome to the Family

We've already seen a lot of what Windows 8 will do and how it will evolve the desktop experience, but until now no one was completely sure how the ARM-powered Windows devices would play with the new OS. Would they only run the tablet-friendly Metro-style side of the OS? Was some form of emulation or virtualization required to get desktop apps running? 

One thing that is certain is that a fully compatible version of Office 15 will be developed for ARM processorsso that business users can buy either type of PC and have access to all theirdocuments and run all their apps. No word of SharePoint, yet! In a new Windows 8 blog post, Microsoft explains Windows for ARM (WOA), and the key points are as follows, but read the full post because there are some major differences:

Learning Opportunities

  • Windows on ARM, or WOA, is a new member of the Windows family that builds on the foundation of Windows.
  • Metro style apps in the Windows Store can support both WOA and Windows 8 on x86/64.
  • WOA includes desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

Using WOA “out of the box” will feel just like using Windows 8 on x86/64. You will sign in the same way. You will start and launch apps the same way. You will use the new Windows Store the same way. You will have access to the intrinsic capabilities of Windows, from the new Start screen and Metro style apps and Internet Explorer, to peripherals, and if you wish, the Windows desktop with tools like Windows File Explorer and desktop Internet Explorer.

Phone, Tablet, Desktop, Office

So, with Windows 8 appearing across a gamut of devices including the newly revealed smartphones in the not too distant future, it looks like the big name Microsoft apps will run on ARM processors, but what about x64 games and other specialized software like music apps, you ask? It seems like they won't run, as ARM PCs will only be able to download software from the ARM-side of the Windows store...

When a consumer buys a WOA 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.

WOA PCs will be serviced only through Windows or Microsoft Update, and consumer apps will only come from the Windows Store, so you never have to worry if a program will run because you are not downloading or installing from a DVD outside of the store experience. A WOA PC will feel like a consumer electronics device in terms of how it is used and managed. For example, as previously detailed, the new refresh and reset functionality will be available, and for WOA this provides the equivalent of a “clean install” or imaging.

So, as we read it (and there's a lot to digest) if you invest in an ARM Windows 8 PC, your old software collection will pretty much go out the window, unless you keep the x86 device kicking around to run those games and apps on. Basically, ARM PCs will be a forward looking device, one to start with a clean slate on, they don't appear to be suitable as an upgrade in any sense.

Over time developers are like to migrate their x86 apps to ARM and put them up on the Windows Store, but that will take time and effort, which may perhaps be better spent on all new apps and products, leaving a generational gap between Intel and ARM PC users.