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Intel: Windows on ARM Won't Run 'Legacy Apps'

By - Source: Register Hardware | B 47 comments

Windows 8 will arrive in two flavors: one for x86 with legacy support (Windows 7 mode), and one for ARM without legacy support.

Tuesday during Intel's Investor Meeting 2011 in Santa Clara, California, senior vice president and general manager of the Software and Services Group Renee James said that Windows 8 will arrive in two versions: the "Windows 8 Traditional" for the x86 platform and another version that runs on ARM's architecture.

According to James, the x86 version will support legacy programs and include a "Windows 7 Mode." The ARM version will not.

"[Windows 8 traditional] means that our customers, or anyone who has an Intel-based or an x86-based product, will be able to run either Windows 7 mode or Windows 8 mode," she said. "They'll run all of their old applications, all of their old files – there'll be no issue."

But on ARM, there will only be the new experience centered around mobile platforms, specifically tablets and some limited clamshell devices, with no legacy OS. "Our competitors will not be running legacy applications. Not now. Not ever," she said.

Intel also has the upper hand having established a close relationship with Microsoft over the last twenty years. In fact, there's an on-site development team in the Microsoft HQ that actually works "deep in side the OS to make sure that the platforms, and the features, and the new instructions – whatever new thing we're inventing – is ready to go at the time of introduction of the latest Microsoft environment."

"We've been working for the last couple of years – very, very focused – on Windows 8," she told the audience. "I'm very excited about it. We've been working on it for a long time. There's a lot of exciting new features and things about it that I think are going to be great for users, great for the PC and tablet industry."

She also pointed to Intel's unified architecture, that applications and operating systems can run from one generation of Intel platform to the next. Applications can even be executed across multiple versions of Intel's architecture including Atom, Xeon and Core. That's not the case with ARM-based solutions.

"There will be four Windows 8 SoCs for ARM," she said. "Each one will run for that specific ARM environment, and they will run new applications or cloud-based applications. They are neither forward- nor backward-compatible between their own architecture – different generations of a single vendor – nor are they compatible across different vendors. Each one is a unique stack."

Windows 8 for x86 will run both legacy and SoC.

James is also doubtful that consumers will flock to an ARM-based, non-legacy PC experience based on past consumer behavior.

"People do not change their usage models that frequently," she said. "We've done a lot of studies – you go back and you look, and on average it's about 10 years between people changing their usage patterns. So even though we see a huge change in the way people are using applications from the cloud, there's still a long tail on legacy – something that's uniquely a value proposition from Intel."

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  • 1 Hide
    NapoleonDK , May 18, 2011 10:51 PM
    Saw that coming. =|
  • 2 Hide
    cbrownx88 , May 18, 2011 10:56 PM
    Honestly, Kudo's to Wintel....

    Compatibility is something us from the 'PC-era' take for granted. I'm not looking forward to relying on any other companies (beyond Intel/MS) to provide the updates necessary to run on my new gear! Screwed we are...
  • 1 Hide
    joytech22 , May 18, 2011 11:06 PM
    Great..
    Well at least I can still look forward to Windows 8 for ARM.
  • 3 Hide
    pelov , May 18, 2011 11:10 PM
    I really hope the word 'cloud' dies a horrible hindenburg-like death. We're still very far from "the cloud" being viable. In an era where ISPs are capping bandwidth somehow the notion that I can download the information instead of my PC doing the work just doesn't sound right. Furthermore, US internet infrastructure is laughable at best when compared to other developed nations (nordic, eastern european and japan/south korea). There are a lot of things that need fixing before the cloud becomes feasible and relying on the cloud to bring forth an ARM revolution is simply unrealistic.

    Kudos to intel and AMD in realizing this (or maybe they're just happy they're the only real x86 license holders). It sounds like intel has a card up its sleeve, i just hope it isn't another atom.
  • 2 Hide
    socalboomer , May 18, 2011 11:13 PM
    Anyone notice that nobody from Microsoft is quoted here - only from Intel. . .who stands to profit if people stay away from any ARM based Windows installs. . .

    Not saying she's wrong, but I would prefer to hear from Microsoft on this matter, not Intel.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , May 18, 2011 11:20 PM
    HAHAHAHA... I dont want legacy crap on my new Arm Powered windows 8 device thank you very much, for that I will stick to my PC!

    And by saying they will not have forward or backward comparability within the ARM architecture i simply cannot believe, why would Microsoft branch to ARM with one off designs for specific SoC sets, no not a chance.
  • 0 Hide
    belardo , May 18, 2011 11:22 PM
    So, its just "windows 8." By name. But no actual NT code? So perhaps its repackaged wp7 OS. And so we'll have a longer product name? "Windows 8 64bit professional traditional retail"
  • 0 Hide
    dalethepcman , May 18, 2011 11:38 PM
    BelardoSo, its just "windows 8." By name. But no actual NT code? So perhaps its repackaged wp7 OS. And so we'll have a longer product name? "Windows 8 64bit professional traditional retail"


    Don't forget the "Windows 8 64bit Samsung SOC ARM Cortex A9+ Dual Core professional retail"
  • 0 Hide
    nforce4max , May 19, 2011 12:05 AM
    Figures as much that this would come at some point so this is no surprise plus ARM does not offer the raw power that of PowerPC or X86 when most are barely 1ghz or less and only focus on Integer calculations rather than Floating Point with reduced and more simple instructions. ARM is no replacement for gamers and professionals that depend on raw performance or support for existing applications that are not likely to be ported to ARM or moving over would be to costly.
  • 0 Hide
    tomfreak , May 19, 2011 12:21 AM
    Oh really? Thats like saying Microsoft giving up win9x compatibility when they change to WinXP NT kernel system.

    When consumer showing up their money wanting an OS that support both combined, I dont see how Microsoft gonna reject this, especially there is a huge advange if your OS can run both ARM/x86 base apps by using emulation regardless of what the CPU(Arm/x86).
  • 0 Hide
    molo9000 , May 19, 2011 12:32 AM
    Microsoft should take a look at how Apple managed the transition from PowerPC to Intel: Universal binaries, PPC and X86 and X86-64 versions of the OS on the same disk, software emulation of the old architecture.
    Apple hasn't shipped a PowerPC Mac since 2006 and yet they still support PowerPC emulation in Mac OS 10.6.

    Windows 8 is going to bomb if they don't get this right. Try explaining to a consumer why he can't install the same programs on his desktop and his tablet even though both run Windows 8....

    Btw: Do phone makers have to modify Android for different SoCs? Is Intel serious that ARM based SoCs aren't compatible with each other?
  • 1 Hide
    liveonc , May 19, 2011 12:48 AM
    No MS-DOS emulator so I can play King's Quest? :-(
  • 0 Hide
    captaincharisma , May 19, 2011 1:01 AM
    so does this mean i can't run my 30 year copy of lotus 1-2-3? ")
  • 0 Hide
    MeanSquare , May 19, 2011 1:03 AM
    As my daughter might say, "Well, duh!" Of course ARM can't run legacy apps, just because it's running Windows. We're talking machine code incompatibility here.
    On phones, MS "solved" this issue by tacking a CE, Mobile, and then Phone on the end of the moniker to indicate that it was a different OS. That wouldn't work in the case of tablets, where you're supposed to be running full applications.
    The only solution seems to be running a virtual machine, as Apple did post-PowerPC, at the cost of slowing performance. You might not notice that on legacy apps anyway.
    Games? Forget it. Emulation would make them too slow and the various bits get written in optimized assembler to goose speed even more. The graphics rendering might need to be redone for tablet graphics "cards" as well. It's probably more work to rewrite and recompile it all than it would be worth until (if) the ARM tablets take a substantial market-share.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , May 19, 2011 1:05 AM
    OMG, how am I going to run Norton Antivirus '95?

    Seriously, few need to run old software anyways. Only businesses require legacy software.
  • 0 Hide
    schmich , May 19, 2011 1:14 AM
    socalboomerAnyone notice that nobody from Microsoft is quoted here - only from Intel. . .who stands to profit if people stay away from any ARM based Windows installs. . .Not saying she's wrong, but I would prefer to hear from Microsoft on this matter, not Intel.

    I might be wrong on this but logically I think I'm not (if I am please correct me). Legally, an emulation software would most likely require an x86 license from Intel. Having an x86 emulation for ARM to run legacy apps would be AGAINST Intel's interest. So Intel would is not going to 1) make an emulator 2) license it to eg. Microsoft to make one.

    This is quite unfortunate since one of the main reasons for Win 8 on ARM would have been the ability to run all the applications. However you can understand Intel's decision.

    Considering people have managed to emulate complicated consoles such as the PS2 maybe we'll see illegal x86 emulators for Win 8 ARM.
  • 1 Hide
    alidan , May 19, 2011 1:34 AM
    nusk00000LOMG, how am I going to run Norton Antivirus '95?Seriously, few need to run old software anyways. Only businesses require legacy software.

    i run acdsee 8 pro for home use. i cant upgrade even though i want to because they took out key features in newer releases that make them unusable.

    there is allot of software that i use thats old with no viable upgrade solution

    not to mention games.
  • -1 Hide
    ravewulf , May 19, 2011 1:50 AM
    "Legacy Apps" may not work out of the box, but if you have access to the source code you can recompile for ARM and if you don't there will probably be virtual machines and emulators available.
  • 0 Hide
    palladin9479 , May 19, 2011 2:02 AM
    schmichI might be wrong on this but logically I think I'm not (if I am please correct me). Legally, an emulation software would most likely require an x86 license from Intel. Having an x86 emulation for ARM to run legacy apps would be AGAINST Intel's interest. So Intel would is not going to 1) make an emulator 2) license it to eg. Microsoft to make one.This is quite unfortunate since one of the main reasons for Win 8 on ARM would have been the ability to run all the applications. However you can understand Intel's decision.Considering people have managed to emulate complicated consoles such as the PS2 maybe we'll see illegal x86 emulators for Win 8 ARM.


    Except we already have an x86 emulator, known as Bochs or QEMU. I've run Windows 95 x86 on my Sun UltraSparc III+ using Bochs before, it wasn't pretty and it was missing network support but it worked. And this is from opensource, imagine what would happen if someone actually wanted to create an optimized 32-bit x86 on ARM emulator.

    For the "different SOC" you saw, that really ~really~ depends on drivers. Each different SoC will require a different set of drivers, namely in the memory controller and video processor departments. Android runs into the situation and they've made immense headway in incorporating lots of vender driver support into the Android kernel or as a loadable module. Remember ARM isn't a single CPU, its a licensable architecture / ISA. Different implementations of the ISA will require customized drivers from the vendors.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , May 19, 2011 2:12 AM
    "i run acdsee 8 pro for home use. i cant upgrade even though i want to because they took out key features in newer releases that make them unusable.

    there is allot of software that i use thats old with no viable upgrade solution

    not to mention games."


    Well then, I guess that'd place you in this group:

    "FEW need to run old software"
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