Why Does Windows 8 ARM Still Have The Desktop

When Microsoft showed Windows 8 on ARM there was a lot of enthusiasm. It was clear that Windows on ARM is Microsoft’s attempt of developing an OS for tablets that will consume less resources, have a long battery life, and provide a nice UI/UX.

One of the biggest concerns raised by critics was the presence of the traditional desktop in the tablet version. Like many, even I’d like to see Windows 8 tablets to not have the desktop UI. Office 15 shows why I don’t want the desktop interface on Windows tablets–it’s schizophrenic. Having to switch between the tablet and desktop interface is confusing and at many times annoying. Behind the intuitive Metro interface and Metro inspired apps lies the dormant ghost of Windows waiting to be unleashed every few hours when you use your tablet, haunting you as you hold that tablet.

Steven Sinofsky in his post about Windows 8 on ARM explains why the design decision was taken to include the desktop interface. Long story short, to give you the best of both worlds. Sinofsky and Microsoft believe that there are features and capabilities in Windows that users have become familiar with over the years and would want to have them going forward as well. Sinofsky explains:

[…] Enabling Windows to run super well on the ARM architecture is a significant engineering task. We undertook this work because when you look to the future you can see that so many of the capabilities that have been added to Windows over the years are things that customers will inevitably desire or require in the types of devices supported by today’s ARM-based products—changes in form factors and the desire for mobility only add to the scenarios and capabilities we all desire in our search for no-compromise PCs. While it is tempting to make bold statements about “starting over,” we believe in the evolution of technology assets when the foundation is strong. The foundation of Windows, the core, is the most solid, scalable, and secure one around. Our desire to deliver a no-compromise experience motivates our efforts. […]

[…] 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. This is all familiar, fast, efficient, and useful. […]

[…] 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. […]

Sinofsky does make a valid argument. The iPad does not have a file explorer and is tied to iTunes. Microsoft sees the tablet as a mobile computing device somewhere between the phone and a laptop. By keeping the desktop in WOA, Microsoft is letting the end-user have the familiarity of good ol’ Windows while on a tablet.

Sinofsky says that having the traditional Windows desktop on ARM will not result in performance loss. The other way to look at it is, because Microsoft can.


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Manan Kakkar

Manan is a technology enthusiast keenly following the consumer products from Microsoft, Google & Apple.