Windows RT gets unofficial x86 emulator for desktop programs

Windows RT users may soon be able to install desktop applications to their tablets, if an early beta proves succesful

22 Feb 2013
Microsoft Surface RT

One of the biggest selling points of Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet over the cheaper Surface RT - the ability to run existing desktop applications - may become null and void, thanks to the work of an enterprising coder.

A member of the XDA Developers forum known as mamaich has released an early beta tool that emulates a desktop processor when run on an ARM-based Windows RT device, combining features of numerous open-source projects - including the Windows compatibility package Wine and the DosBox x86 emulator - to allow full Windows applications to be installed and executed on the cut-down Surface RT tablets.

Not restricted just to Microsoft's own devices, the software is designed for any ARM-based device running Windows RT with the developer himself testing it on an Asus VivoTab RT. While described as being an early beta, the developer has shown it running full desktop applications - including games - on Windows RT tablets, proving that it could expand the capabilities of Windows RT-based devices quite considerably.

There are, naturally, a few caveats. As unapproved third-party software, the emulator cannot be installed on a Windows RT device in the usual manner: instead, the tablet must be 'jailbroken' to remove protections designed to prevent the installation of unauthorised software before it can be used. It also doesn't work with all desktop applications, and the developer admits he's having trouble making it run natively on ARM-based hardware - relying on a desktop-based Windows RT emulator for most of his testing.

Nevertheless, it's an interesting project - and with Microsoft pushing the Surface Pro, a considerably more expensive device, as the only alternative to the Surface RT for those who want a tablet that can run their existing applications, one on which Windows RT users should be keeping a close eye.

Details of the software, and the installation files for testing, can be found on the forum thread.

Read more