Microsoft details Windows 8 ARM (WOA) tablets, confirms safe for enterprises to keep buying iPads.

By now you've probably heard that Microsoft's main Windows guy Steven Sinofsky wrote an 8,000-word blog post last week describing the technical details of how Windows 8 will run on ARM-based tablets. Recall that we talked quite a bit about some of the weird things around Windows 8, tablets, Metro, and ARM on BrianMadden.

By now you've probably heard that Microsoft's main Windows guy Steven Sinofsky wrote an 8,000-word blog post last week describing the technical details of how Windows 8 will run on ARM-based tablets.

Recall that we talked quite a bit about some of the weird things around Windows 8, tablets, Metro, and ARM on a few weeks ago, and I gotta say, Sinofsky's blog post just creates more questions than it answers. The only thing I can say for sure is that Microsoft's Windows 8 tablet strategy is so wonky that everyone at Apple is high-fiving each other because they're going to sell 100 million iPads in 2013.

First, the facts about WOA

Ok, here's the new stuff that we learned in Sinofsky's post:

  • Windows 8 running on ARM processors will be called "Windows on ARM," or "WOA."
  • WOA will only be available pre-installed onto tablets. You can't buy it or download it.
  • WOA will only run apps from the official Windows Store. So no downloading your own apps. (Corporations will still be able to write their own apps which they can distribute through their private corporate connection to the Windows Store)
  • Metro style Windows 8 apps can include both ARM and x86/64 binaries, so the same app can be delivered to both platforms.
  • WOA will not support virtualization or emulation of any kind. So no X86/64 apps. No porting existing apps. No virtual machines. WOA is about new Metro-style apps only.
  • The main user interface for WOA will be Metro, however, there will also be a legacy desktop mode for apps that aren't Metro style.
  • The legacy desktop mode will be locked, however, so it will only run the legacy desktop apps that Microsoft includes with it. (And of course it's ARM, so it's not like existing apps could run anyway.)
  • The desktop apps that Microsoft will include are Internet Explorer 10 (so there will be two versions of that--a desktop version and a Metro version), Windows Explorer, and Office 15.
  • The Office 15 built-in to WOA will have some improvements for touch-based UI and has been tweaked to try to minimize the CPU load and power consumption, but it will be the full version of Office running in the "desktop" mode. (So desktop mode but still using touch.)
  • All of this only applies to WOA (with an emphasis on the "ARM" part). There will also be x86/64-based Windows 8 tablets with Metro, and those will be more like normal tablets and will be able to run existing, legacy, and non-Windows Store x86/64 apps.
  • Microsoft will make a distinction in the market between Windows 8 ARM tablets and Windows 8 x86/64

Notable quotes with my snarky commentary

If you have some time, you should read through Sinofsky's entire post, because there are a lot of cool things in there that aren't 100% related to our enterprise app delivery world. But if you don't have time, I've pulled out the relevant quotes below (along with my commentary).

"With WOA you can look forward to integrated, end-to-end products—hardware, firmware and WOA software, all built from the ground up."

> Except for desktop file explorer, the control panel, desktop IE, and Office 15.

"The availability of the Windows desktop is an important part of WOA. The desktop offers you a familiar place to interact with PCs, particularly files, storage, and networking, as well as a range of peripherals. You can use Windows Explorer, for example, to connect to external storage devices, transfer and manage files from a network share, or use multiple displays, and do all of this with or without an attached keyboard and mouse—your choice. At the same time, WOA (as with Windows 8) is designed so that customers focused on Metro style apps don’t need to spend time in the desktop. Availability of the desktop incurs no runtime overhead. It is just there should you want or need it."

> That's cool that the desktop doesn't take any overhead. But if so, why not let people write apps for it? I mean isn't it weird that Microsoft is saying "you have to rewrite all your apps for Metro... which is something that we couldn't do with Office, so we get a free pass to include the desktop version of Office, but you can't do that. Na-nana-nana-naaa!!!"

Obviously the conspiracy theorist in me thinks they're doing this just to force more people to use Metro. (Though the only behavioral change they might actually force is more enterprises to deploy iPads.)

"Some have suggested we might remove the desktop from WOA in an effort to be pure, to break from the past, or to be more simplistic or expeditious in our approach. To us, giving up something useful that has little cost to customers was a compromise that we didn’t want to see in the evolution of PCs."

> Like Internet plug-ins?

Seriously, this is some major spin BS.

When explaining why WOA won't allow any emulation or virtualization software, Sinofsky wrote, "Emulation and virtualization of existing x86/64 software also require the traditional PC environment of mouse and keyboard, which is not a good assumption for WOA PCs."

> But again they chose to include desktop IE, Explorer, and the control panel options.

"WOA can deliver on a new level of customer satisfaction: your WOA PC will continue to perform well over time as apps are isolated from the system and each other, and you will remain in control of what additional software is running on your behalf, all while letting the capabilities of diverse hardware shine through."

> This is true and awesome. And definitely the future. So good work there. (Except of course they still have desktop mode with apps that aren't isolated.

"If you need to run existing x86/64 software, then you will be best served with Windows 8 on x86/64."

> So go ahead and get that iPad!

Seriously, that statement is the nail in the coffin for me. If WOA is just about Metro apps, then why would anyone buy a WOA tablet instead of an iPad? Do you really think there's anyone holding out to write their app in WinRT for Metro in a year who hasn't already written an iOS version?

"If you’re already considering a non-Windows device, then we think WOA will be an even better alternative when you consider the potential of form factors, peripherals, Windows Store apps (and developer platform), and Office applications as well as a broad set of intrinsic Windows capabilities."

> So basically he's saying that the advantage that WOA tablets will have over iPads & Android tablets is that they'll come in more than one size and Office is built-in. I guess we just answered Jack's question from last month about why Microsoft hasn't released Office for iOS.

"we do want to assure you that, 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."

> I'm getting a headache even thinking about that. So there will be two Windows 8 tablets sitting side-by-side in the store. They both have the metro style UI and they both look the same. But one somehow communicates that it can only run apps from the Windows Store, while the other can run apps from the Windows Store and the customer's existing apps?

This reminds me of that old video "What if Microsoft designed the iPod packaging?"

(I die every time at 1:09 when the "this is an empty box" sticker appears.)

Why even bother with the desktop IE and Explorer on WOA?

So if WOA will come with a metro style Internet Explorer and file explorer, and if the desktop Internet Explorer won't even allow plug-ins, why bother? What's the point?

Ed Bott wrote an article on this last week, called "Why Windows on ARM has a desktop." The gist of his post was because there are a lot of things you need to do (system settings, security settings, real file maintenance, etc.) that you just can't do in the metro style versions of the apps.

If this is the case then it means that the desktop mode would be for occasional configuration-type tasks, and that it's a stop-gap measure that will go away at some point. It will be interesting to see how the desktop apps work without a keyboard and mouse. I know Microsoft said that they modified Office so that it can be touch-friendly, but I wonder about the other desktop apps? Will they operate in mouse emulation mode instead of true touch?

And what about the fact that iPads and Android tablets don't keyboard and mouse-based file managers and configuration applications? I find it hard to believe that Microsoft can port the entire Windows 20+ years of legacy to ARM, they can port Office to ARM and make Office lower power, better on battery, and have a multitouch interface, yet they can't find the time to make the f'ing control panel work?!?

What other questions did this post answer?

Last month I wrote that Microsoft tablets would have a tough time competing on price since a $70 Windows license would kill any chance that a Windows tablet maker would have at being price-competitive with an iPad. Well making WOA so restrictive we can now see that Microsoft could have a special lower price for Windows 8 on ARM, and then the regular price for Windows 8 on x86/64.

WOA for enterprise tablets? I think not.

So who's WOA aimed for? Enterprises or consumers? These guys at ZDNet say that WOA is an enterprise platform, not a consumer platform, but I would suggest the exact opposite.

If you're an enterprise, why would you buy this thing? There's no backwards compatibility. You can't run all the plugins to make the browser work with your enterprise web apps. You can't run Browsium on it. Why would an enterprise want this thing? Is adding it to the domain really that important? There are plenty of MDM tools for iOS and Android now. So WOA is like an iPad, except it doesn't exist yet and when it does exist there will be no apps. It's like Windows Starter Edition.

And that awesome HTML5-compliant metro style version of Internet Explorer? Congratulations Microsoft, you just built Safari for iPad!

So instead enterprises are stuck with the slow, expensive, short-batteried x86/64 Windows 8 tablets. (Maybe Intel's behind all these WOA limitations. :) Because if you don't need that kind of freedom or compatibility, you'll just buy iPads and make your users happy.

This is quite ironic since Microsoft seems to be so afraid of the iPad. But this defense is just so uncoordinated and haphazard. Are they defending with an app compatibility story? Or a better tablet story? Or a better UI story? Or more freedom of choice? And you can't say "yes" to all of these because they don't have one device that fits all of these.

What other questions remain?

Of course there are plenty of other questions that remain too. Will OEMs be able to ship WOA tablets without the desktop mode? Will they be able to add their own legacy apps to the desktop mode? Will the desktop mode actually require a keyboard and mouse? (If not, what will that be like? Touch-based mouse emulation? Yikes!)

So now for Windows 8, Microsoft has the desktop/laptop, the slate PC/tablet, the tablet, and the phone. Some run ARM, and some run x86/64. Some run Metro, some run desktop, and some run both. Some can run any apps, and some can only run certain apps.

And of course, none of this is available today.

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It's obvious that you love your iPad.  I was looking for a little less bias.  I found it here:




Hi Joe, Paul's article that you linked to was about 95% retelling Sinofsky's post with two paragraphs of questions at the end. So while it wasn't biased, it also wasn't interesting.

With my article, what exactly did I write that you don't agree with that you think is biased? Do you think enterprises will buy WOA tablets? If so, why? Or if you don't think enterprises will buy them, then I guess that means you think consumers will? If so, how will Microsoft position a WOA tablet against a world with 100m iPads and 500k iPad apps?


Technical details aside, the fact that Sinofsky had to write an 8,000-word blog post shows that Microsoft just doesn't get this whole consumerization thing.

Successful consumer tech is successful because it's simple. Dropbox has a six-page "getting started" document that's written in plain English, with lots of pretty pictures. And I don't even think my iPad came with a manual. You know why? Because these products are easy to use!

How easy-to-use are Windows 8 devices going to be when you have to figure out which apps will run on the Metro interface, which will run on the regular desktop, which will run on tablets, etc.?

Microsoft could have had a good story to tell: one OS with one set of apps that works across PCs, phones and tablets. That would've been a huge differentiator, especially in the business world. Instead they're taking different approaches with all three form factors, and it doesn't seem like any are setting the world on fire.


I agree with Colin. It's not a consumer device cause it's not all about dumbing things down for the average joe.

Microsoft had the chance to do it right here.

Use the x86/64 platform as hybrid version with the desktop and all that for those that need while the metro style apps are being developed.

use WOA as an excuse to make the real move to mobile touch devices by killing the desktop and making a really easy to use device for consumers that will match up against the ipad/androids.

If the price ain't right and consumers will keep buying and loving ipad's. Why would you make a business case around a device nobody really wants to use?


Right, more phones/tablets go into enterprise, more chances for Microsoft. There are new universe of enterprise back end apps, waiting for new devices to be connected, many of which were created with Microsoft development development platform.


WOA (in its current implementation) feels like a solution to a problem no-one has.

Its certainly not a method of delivering a low power, desktop system/laptop replacement.

The only thing I can see delivering on the "enterprise" credentials of the device are if Microsoft play an absolute blinder with an Metro App-V / RemoteFX delivery of datacentre hosted enterprise apps.

Remove the security risk and complexity of producing locally hosted ARM apps and datastores - run it all from the DC via Metro optimised RDP (Or RemoteFX as we're calling it across the board these days right?)

Transposing enterprise apps to be metro interface (if not ARM code) compliant so they play nice with touch over RDP should be quite possible.

Perhaps thats Micrsofts angle - make WOA devices the go-to for companies who want the usability of tablets etc but are scared of consumerization or tieing into a by-design non controllable device like the ipad. If anything, its an ANTI consumer device play. Maybe they don't want consumers buying the WOA devices, they want them buying full fat x86 tablets with a full Windows8 license?


Hey Brian. For what it's worth Paul Thurrott seems to agree with you.

"And really, it's very simple: WOA is for consumers and x86/x64-based PCs are for business."

Full article at



Why would enterprises buy WOA tablets? I can give two excellent reasons (which are core to Windows in general, such that I am assuming that WOA will also carry that functionality):

- Group policies for applications -- current application configurationmanagement on tablets is disastrous. You have to rely on the good will of the application developer to implement an enterprise-scale configuration solution. I pity all the helpdesk guys that have to configure SharePoint site links in all those individual applications, on a per-user basis.

- Multiple identities per device -- in the enterprise, you have more frequently the tension between single-user and multi-user devices than at home (where the actual user is less relevant, information can be more freely shared). Sure, there are some multiuser applications also for iOS available, but they sometimes require jailbreaking (a no-no in an enterprise environment), or do not integrate well with domains (multiple credentials?). Roaming profiles on WOA?

To be honest, these are the obvious reasons. Furthermore, I am not sure if you ever looked at the management tools available for iOS & Android. Especially Android support is ... limited (I am being gentle), and iOS support is usually a slightly pimped version of the iPhone configuration utility. There is certainly a lot more work here, especially with integrating mobile device (configuration) management and mobile application management solutions.

Don't get blinded by some desktop mode for legacy apps which should not be in WOA in the first place -- why focus on something that irrelevant? Why are you already assuming that Win8 x86 tablets will be shortlived in battery? Standard laptop hardware currently gets 7-8 hours of battery life and that is for a laptop with more bells & whistles than a tablet. Why are you assuming enterprises need to go back to x86-64 in the first place -- they are currently using iPads too (with some sources citing up to 90% enterprise market shares for iPads), which are also not compatible with any existing x86 software. Yes, mobile devices are all about the apps, but no, I don't think that is what is holding back enterprises to massively adopt mobile devices... Anybody in their right mind knows that using desktop applications on a tablet is not a good idea from a productivity/efficiency point of view (.. and is that not one of the most important reasons to introduce a tablet in the enterprise?).