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."