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Windows 8 on ARM tablets: Using desktop virtualization to run unsupported apps

Windows 8 on ARM tablets don't support some legacy and third-party apps, but before you riot, know that connecting to a virtual desktop will let you run any application.

Desktop virtualization can help users overcome the problems of running legacy or third-party applications on Windows 8 on ARM.

Windows 8 on ARM (WOA) is a new, full-blown operating system designed specifically for tablets, as Microsoft attempts to take on Apple's iPad. The new functionality means more OS options for tablet users, but Windows 8 on ARM tablets come with some support limitations that could get in the way.

Windows 8 on ARM Metro interface
Figure 1: The Metro interface runs Metro apps.

Fortunately, ARM users can get around support restrictions by connecting to a virtual desktop session, because applications connect to a back-end server rather than running on the device itself. But before we dive into WOA in a virtual desktop environment, you need to understand how Microsoft limits application support on ARM tablets.

Support limitations for Windows 8 on ARM

First, Windows 8 on ARM uses the new Metro interface. The Metro interface uses dynamic tiles (similar to the Windows Phone interface) instead of static icons, but it can only run Metro apps, which are specifically designed for Windows 8 and its touchscreen (Figure 1).

Windows 8 on ARM Desktop mode

Figure 2: Windows 8 on ARM runs legacy applications in Desktop mode.

Of course, there would be a major revolt if Microsoft didn't also support legacy Windows apps. To help with this, Microsoft developed Desktop mode, where you can run non-Metro apps by clicking on the Desktop tile (Figure 2).

Still, Desktop mode will only be able to run Windows legacy apps that Microsoft pre-loads on the interface. (Microsoft is planning to pre-load most of the Office applications on ARM tablets to run in Desktop mode, along with Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer.)

It would be impractical for Microsoft to recompile third-party applications, however, so the company is limiting support for third-party applications to only Metro apps.

Connecting to virtual desktops from Windows 8 on ARM

Given the restrictions surrounding Windows 8 on ARM tablets, you may wonder what to expect for support when connecting to virtual desktops. ARM-based support limitations won't matter in a virtual desktop environment because the applications run on a hosted virtual desktop, not directly on the device. The back-end host servers will continue running x64 processors, just as they do now, making it possible to host Windows 8 virtual desktops.

More on Windows 8
on ARM:

What Windows 8 on ARM means for tablets and desktops

Windows on ARM poses unique challenges, benefits

Gadzooks! Windows 8 on ARM gets realer and realer

Windows 8 on ARM users can therefore access legacy and third-party Windows applications through their virtual desktop session, even though their tablets are not natively capable of running those applications. Once connected, the virtual desktop experience should be similar to what it is today. It's the same way users can connect to a virtual desktop session and run Windows apps from an iPad, even though the iPad isn't capable of running Windows code.

So, from a client prospective, connecting to a virtual desktop from ARM tablets running Windows 8 is simple. Looking back at Figure 1, you'll notice a Remote Desktop tile on the Start screen. Clicking on that tile instantly connects you to your virtual desktop session.

Windows 8 ARM tablets are somewhat limited compared to the x86/x64 editions of Windows, but you can get out of those confines by connecting to a virtual desktop session.

Brien M. Posey
, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer, he has written for Microsoft, TechTarget, CNET, ZDNet, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies.

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