Is the ARM version of Windows 8 imminent?

Microsoft's First Apps contest offers tantalizing hints, but there's still no guarantee when we'll see ARM version of Windows 8

At the Windows Store presentation yesterday, Windows Web Services VP Antoine Leblond mentioned that the much-anticipated Windows 8 beta would arrive in "late February" -- but there's more to the story.

Part of the presentation included a call for developers to submit Metro-style applications to a First Apps contest. Winners will be "part of an exclusive group of developers invited to participate in the Store when it first opens." If you can build a Metro app that knocks the judges' socks off, your app will appear in the Windows Store when the Windows 8 beta ships.

Scratching through the details of the contest unveils a few interesting nuggets.

Developers are expected to use the Windows 8 Developer Preview -- the version you and 3 million other people downloaded a couple of months ago -- to create a Metro app. Developers need to submit the app by Jan. 8. Finalists will be notified on Jan. 15. Here's the interesting part: Finalists must then "update their app to run on a new, confidential Windows 8 build provided by us and resubmit their app before February 3."

Apparently Microsoft plans on shipping a second developer version of Windows 8 -- at least to this small group -- on Jan. 15. While it's entirely possible that the Jan. 15 developer version will only run on Intel hardware, just like the Sept. 13 version that you already have, is there a chance it'll also run on ARM hardware?

It's deucedly difficult to read the tea leaves. On the one hand, nobody -- at least nobody who's talking -- has ever worked with a version of Windows 8 that runs on ARM architecture. While it's clear that the ARM version of Windows 8 won't run x86 applications, Windows president Steve Sinofsky has said that Metro apps -- the kind sought in the First Apps contest -- will be able to run on both Intel and ARM architectures, "when you write a Metro-style application, all the tools are there to enable you in any of the languages that we support to automatically support ARM or x86. I think that's the key part of everything that we'll run."

Will Microsoft have an ARM version of Windows 8 ready for the First Apps winners on Jan. 15? Will developers who write to the Sept. 13 version of the Windows 8 Developer Preview have to rewrite (or at least recompile and debug) everything in a hurry to get it to run on ARM hardware by Feb. 3?

It isn't a theoretical question. According to provision 3.3 of the Certification Requirements for (Metro style) Windows Apps, released yesterday, "Your app must provide the same user experience on all processor types. If your app has a different user interface or functionality when it runs on different processor types, you must submit a separate app for each processor type and describe the differences in the Description of each app."

I guess Microsoft had better release an ARM version of Windows 8 on Jan. 15.

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