Three Windows 8 Editions Clarify the WinRT Position
Written by Mike James
Tuesday, 17 April 2012
Microsoft has been keeping the important fine detail of Windows 8 to itself. Now we have a definitive outline of what will be in the three main editions of Windows 8 and it confirms some long held speculations - and they are not good.
While others are spending a lot of words discussing the implications for the end user of the announcement of three editions of Windows 8, developers will be scanning what has been said to try and clarify the WinRT situation.
The "WinRT situation", in case you have missed it, is the relationship between the traditional desktop and WinRT/Metro environment. We know more or less how this pans out on x86/64 hardware, the real issue is what happens on ARM platforms. So far all we have had is rumours.
We now know that Windows 8 will be available in three major editions - Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro and Windows RT. The first shock is that there are only three editions, four if you include the Enterprise edition that big business customers can get. Roughly speaking Windows 8 is the "home" edition and Pro is the "business" edition if you aren't big enough for the Enterprise edition.
The details of the x86/64 versions of Windows 8 are more or less what you would expect. The Pro edition comes with domain networking, group policy, remote desktop, boot from VHD, client Hyper-V and BitLocker. Both editions have WinRT/Metro as a sort of glued-on extra that gets between you and the traditional desktop.
Windows RT is the version intended for ARM-based systems and you won't be able to buy it -the only way to get it is via a tablet that comes with it pre-installed. This means it doesn't need to be capable of upgrading any existing systems. It will also come with a special edition of Office - Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. It also won't have any of the business features that are the extras in Windows 8 Pro.
Now we come to the confusing part. The specification makes it clear that Windows RT does have a desktop. However, it also says that "installation of x86/64 and desktop software" is not supported. The part about x86/64 applications not installing is reasonable as the CPU is different and hence the apps would have to be recompiled. However, the second part of the statement implies that you can't install any desktop software, even if it targets the new environment.
A rose by any other name might still be a rose but a desktop that doesn't run desktop apps is no desktop.
It seems likely that the desktop is just there to allow the office suite and a few other utilities and tools to run.
What all this means is that Windows 8 is a Frankenstein monster with a body of Win32 and a head of WinRT and that Windows RT is also a stitch-together of WinRT and something that looks like, but isn't, the desktop.
It's a mess that doesn't really hang together from the developer's or the user's point of view.
There is also the simple fact that calling the ARM version Windows RT is simply going to confuse the end user. Is it Windows 8? What is this RT all about?
It isn't even a particularly attractive name - and where does Metro fit into the branding?
The only advantage Windows 8 has is to stand on the shoulders of Windows 7 and attempt to be carried forward by being part of the Windows family. Now Windows RT looks like something else altogether different. It has none of the compatibility with Windows 7, or even Windows 8, that it needs to have an edge in the market.
Add to this, we now have at least three Microsoft platforms to code for:
Win32 desktop apps
Silverlight on WP7
and we are being completely locked out of the ARM desktop app market where Office seems to have a 100% monopoly.