Early last month I had posted an article on Windows On ARM where I explained what are benefits of Windows 10 on ARM and why Microsoft is doing so.

Microsoft was vague about what were the limitations of Windows 10 on ARM (or WOA).

But Microsoft recently published a document under its Windows Dev Center about all the limitations of WOA, what it can run and cannot.

Briefly, this is what Microsoft says:

  • x64 / x86 Drivers not supported – WOA will not run drivers compiled in x86 / x64 architecture and they must be recompiled for ARM64. So common drivers for printers and scanners that work with regular Windows 10 will not work in WOA. This could be a big hindrance in early adoption of WOA until manufacturers release ARM64 drivers for their hardware.
  • x64 apps won’t run – So applications compiled in x64 architecture will not run on WOA. Though support for x64 is coming in future releases.
  • Some games won’t work – Games that use OpenGL 1.1 or later or require hardware accelerated OpenGL don’t work. So it means, Games using Microsoft’s DirectX 9, 10, 11 and 12 does work.
  • Apps that tweak Windows Experience will not work – So apps that try change elements in the Shell Extensions, such as Input Method Editors (IMEs), assistive technologies and cloud storages will not work. Eg, Cloud storage apps such as OneDrive and Dropbox have right click context menu events, icons such as sync status will have to be recompiled to work in WOA. I think apart from Microsoft’s own OneDrive which I guess will be recompiled right away for ARM, other vendors like Dropbox, Box and Google Drive will take time to re-release their applications targeting Windows 10 on ARM for better part of this or next year.
  • Targeting Windows Mobile and not full Windows – Apps that assume the device is running mobile version of Windows and fail to execute mobile specific functions will not run.
  • No support for Hyper V – Microsoft’s virtualization software, Hyper V that is available in Windows 10 Pro will not be supported in Windows 10 on ARM. I personally don’t have problem with this because someone buying WOA machine intentionally must know that this is not a workstation or for heavy lifting workload. WOA devices are meant to work like an iPad, light, fast, long battery hours and instant on experience. People expecting WOA to run professional software or doing development and running Hyper V should instead buy regular Windows 10 Pro devices. For WOA, it is targeting normal/average home users and students.

I highly hope Microsoft advertises well what will people get when they buy WOA devices and the things they won’t be doing.

The biggest problem and reason for Windows 8 RT to fail was that people who bought Windows RT on Surface RT or other limited released devices at that time when they went home and ran some legacy apps and got sudden shocks, those people really got upset with Microsoft for not educating them about Windows RT’s limitations.

WOA should not bring similar experience as it does run most of the regular apps including traditional Windows desktop applications. But the buyer should know that their 1 year old printer or scanner, or a digicam that they bought last summer may not work with their shiny new Windows 10 on ARM device. Or someone using x64 application will now not work on this device until later this or next year when a new update arrives.

When people buy iPad, they very well understand they will not be able to run MacOS desktop apps on their iPad. It’s a no brainer. These are two separate systems with different OS names, iOS and MacOS. The average user has that understanding.

In case of Windows it’s a bit complicated. Because, first of all, it’s still Windows. The name Windows has been on computers and on people’s mind for many decades and people are used to and expect it to behave like their normal computers. But, when you start mixing on new versions of Windows with classic Windows (full Pro editions) where one runs full Windows, the other runs only UWP apps (Windows 10 S before it died), and now Windows 10 on ARM, people get confused.

Most users the moment they read/hear Windows they assume it’s going to run anything and everything. It is unfortunate that some of the IT professionals I personally know also get confused or don’t know about these limitations of various Windows versions. Imagine what happens to the average consumers? Microsoft must educate its users or else face backlash again.

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