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Windows 8 on ARM: a confusing mess

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Great news! Microsoft has cleared up the confusion over whether ARM-based Windows 8 machines will run legacy apps!

Terrible news! It's still going to confuse people!

For those of us who spend an inordinate amount of time troubleshooting friends' and relatives' PCs and offering buying advice, Microsoft's policy regarding old Windows apps on ARM - WOA, as Microsoft calls it - has just guaranteed us weeks of confused faces and the odd tear as we lose our rag and bellow "YOU CAN'T, OKAY? YOU JUST CAN'T, DAMMIT!" at our grans.

Here's the policy: Windows 8 on ARM - WOA - won't have any old-fashioned Windows stuff on it, apart from some old-fashioned Windows stuff, and it won't let you run old Windows apps, apart from some new Windows apps that look like old Windows apps.

Phew. For a minute there I thought it was going to be confusing.

There's no business like WOA business

As Steven Sinofsky explains, WOA is all about Metro and Metro apps.

However, for technical reasons that some people may interpret as "we can't be arsed making a Metro version of Office right now", WOA will also include the traditional Windows Desktop so you can run Office 15, and only Office 15.

WOA might look like Windows and run Office like Windows, but it won't run old Windows apps.

I understand why Microsoft's done this - as Intel and ARM are different architectures, running legacy apps would require virtualisation, which won't help performance or battery life, but from a marketing point of view I think it's going to cause unnecessary confusion.

Microsoft says WOA is a separate thing like Windows Server or Windows Embedded. That's true, but people don't see machines running those OSes next to the normal PCs in John Lewis or PC World.

I'm imagining the conversations with my relatives now.

"No, I don't think you should buy that one. Yes, I know it runs Office. Yes, I know that's the Windows Desktop. No, you can't put your old programs on it. No. No, that's a new Office, there's - no, that's because there's a LOOK YOU CAN'T, OKAY? YOU JUST CAN'T, DAMMIT!"


Former lion tamer, Girls Aloud backing dancer and habitual liar Carrie Marshall (Twitter, Google+) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to .net, MacFormat, Tap! and Official Windows Magazine as well as co-writing stacks of how-to tech books. "My job is to cut through the crap," she says. "And there's a lot of crap."