July 18, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA

Will your business apps run on the latest Copilot+ PCs? – Computerworld

Microsoft's first wave PC Copilot+ It’s here. They’re powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite hardware, which is a big deal for Windows. This is Microsoft’s take on Apple’s transition to Arm architecture with its M-series Macs. And existing Windows apps aren’t guaranteed to run on an Arm-powered Windows PC.

The good news is that most Applications willpower run — and Microsoft's Prism translation layer does a good job of running them at a decent speed, even. But not everything will work.

Here's what you need to know.

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Qualcomm Snapdragon Arm Copilot+ Rule #1: There are no guarantees

The move to an Arm architecture is a big change. If Microsoft had not created the Prism translation layer, No Existing Windows apps would “run seamlessly” on a Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered PC. It’s similar to Apple’s transition to the Mac, where Rosetta software allowed existing Mac apps to run on an Arm-based M-series chip.

But the Mac is different. With the transition to the Mac, Apple warned developers: all future Macs would be Arm-based. For Windows, things are different: only some New PCs are powered by Arm processors. Intel and AMD are not far behind: most Windows PCs will likely continue to use the traditional x86 architecture for years to come.

To ease the transition, many existing Windows apps will work on an ARM PC. And when I say “work,” I mean it: you can double-click their installers and run them as normal. Unless you dig into the process details in Task Manager, you might not even know you’re using an x86 app.

But that support has its limits. Certain types of applications do not run on Prism's translation layer and are not functional. Some hardware devices may not work with these PCs either. In addition, some high-performance professional applications may be so slowed down by the translation layer that they become unusable.

Google Drive on your arm
Google Drive flatly refuses to install on a computer running Qualcomm Snapdragon Arm Copilot+.

Chris Hoffman, Director of Industry Development

Qualcomm Snapdragon Arm Copilot+ Rule #2: Some apps will have issues

There are some types of applications that won't work properly with Prism. They will work if developers port them to Arm, but there's no guarantee that developers will bother to do so, especially for existing enterprise applications.

Specifically, pay attention to:

  • File sync tools that integrate with File Explorer:These need to be ported to Arm to work properly. For example, as shown above, you can't install Google Drive on a Windows PC on Arm at startup. If this tool is important to you, you'll need to access Google Drive in a web browser or use a third-party sync app.
  • Hardware devices that require drivers provided by the manufacturer:The Prism translation layer will not help Windows on Arm use hardware drivers for x86 PCs. In practice, this means that many existing hardware devices, especially printers, will not work. This is one of the reasons why Microsoft Moving away from manufacturer-supplied printer drivers.
  • Any application that needs a driver:Some applications use drivers to integrate at a low level with the Windows kernel. For example, many PC games use this for anti-cheat features. Here's why Fortnite won’t work on Windows on Arm. But the problem extends beyond gaming and could also affect enterprise-specific productivity tools, as any type of application that uses a low-level Windows system integration won’t work. Many third-party antivirus tools also don’t support Windows on Arm.
  • High-end demanding applications:At launch, the Adobe Premiere Pro video editor doesn’t yet run natively on Arm. While it’s possible to run the x86 version via Prism, many users are reporting severe performance issues. Microsoft says a native Arm version is coming later in 2024. This is just one example, and you might run into a demanding business application that can’t be scaled. (And a demanding application that requires a lot of hardware resources might not offer the performance you’d expect on an Arm PC.)

Slowdowns are not exclusive to high-end applications. All applications will run better on these PCs If the developer ports them to run natively on Arm hardware, but many lightweight applications that don't need low-level integration with Windows will run just fine, with no noticeable slowdown.

Task Manager Details
The Task Manager Details pane shows which applications are 64-bit x86 localized software (x64) and which applications are 64-bit native Arm code (Arm64).

Chris Hoffman, Director of Industry Development

3 Ways to Check if Your Windows Apps Work on a PC with Arm Copilot+

I wish there was a big database listing apps and how they run on these PCs. At the time of release, it doesn't seem like such a website exists; perhaps someone will release a resource in the future.

For now, Microsoft has backed the ​Windows on ARM compatible software​ website. However, despite the promising name, this site is only about PC games, which is not very useful for users who focus on work productivity.

Here are three practical ways to determine if an app is supported:

  1. Contact the seller or developer:The best way to know if an app will work is to contact the vendor or developer and simply ask if they support your app on Arm-based versions of Windows, such as PCs using Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite hardware.
  2. Investigate for yourself:You may just need to search the web for the name of the app and “Arm” or “Snapdragon” to see if other people are reporting their experiences. You may find some interesting discussions on Reddit. Your results may vary depending on how many people use the app in question.
  3. Try it yourself:Many companies will want to try out the applications they rely on before buying Arm-based PCs for their employees. There's really no way to determine if a workflow works, short of trying it yourself. If you're an individual, I recommend thinking about return policies: for example, the Microsoft Store has a 60-day return policyIf you purchase a Copilot+ PC with a Microsoft Arm processor and find that it doesn't work with your apps or hardware, you can return it.

With these new laptops launching in July 2024, it's still early days. While Windows on Arm has been around for many years, it's finally starting to look competitive. The demand for compatible software will likely motivate app developers to start taking it more seriously.

But we all know how Windows works: some enterprise applications were written many years ago and will never receive a major update to adapt them to a new architecture. The good news is that many should work just fine on these new PCs without any additional development effort. The bad news is that applications that don't will be left behind.

Anyway, maybe it's not so bad. Intel promises that its Upcoming Lunar Lake hardware They will compete with these Arm-based PCs when it comes to fast performance and long battery life. Intel's main argument is that you will get these advantages. without the headaches of an architectural change and with compatibility for all your existing x86 software, without the need for a Prism translation layer.

We'll see if Intel can deliver on its promises when its next-generation Core Ultra hardware starts arriving in late 2024.

I'll have a lot more to say as I spend more time with these new PCs! Subscribe to my free Windows Intelligence newsletter to receive all my latest thoughts along with three new things to try every Friday and free Windows Field Guides as a special welcome bonus.

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