In a move that makes Windows 10 on ARM more capable than Windows 10 S, Microsoft announced this week at Build 2017 that the former will support all of your legacy Win32 apps. “You also have all of the apps that you’re used to,” said Microsoft Group Product Manager Hari Pulapaka during the Windows 10 on ARM Build 2017 session.
“For example, all of the UWP apps in the store, all of the centennial apps will be available on Windows 10 on ARM. And not just that, Windows 10 on ARM will also provide you with full support for running x86 Win32 apps. Your existing x86 apps will run completely fine on this device through the magic of the x86 emulation layer.”
What this means is that running Window 10 on ARM with a device powered by, for example, a Snapdragon 835 processor, will not limit you when it comes to app compatibility. The same cannot be said, however, for Windows 10 S. Windows 10 S, which is primarily being aimed at the education market, is only capable of running UWP (Universal Windows Platform) apps that are available from the Windows Store. Even though machines running Windows 10 S are fully x86 compliant, Win32 apps cannot be installed or run. You can, however, pay an extra $50 to enable the functionality.
Microsoft’s decision to give Windows 10 on ARM the ability to run the full library of Windows 10 apps (and not just apps from the Windows Store) ensures that the company won’t repeat the mistakes of the past with operating systems like Windows RT (which was also specific to ARM-based devices). With Windows 10 on ARM, any app that you would typically run on Windows 10 with your x86-64-based system will run on future ARM-powered devices. Developers don’t need to change a thing, as all of the magic happens at the OS-level. Developers do have the option to provide ARM-specific binaries with their UWP Windows Store apps, but it is not necessary.
Of course, there will be some tradeoffs with choosing a Snapdragon-based device running Windows 10 on ARM (Microsoft says that laptop and 2-in-1 convertible form-factors will be released by year’s end). These machines won’t be able to offer the high-end performance that you’d expect from a PC running a Core i7 or Ryzen 7 processor, but they should be able to offer far superior battery life thanks to the ARM CPU architecture.