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According to this arstechnica article and this mozilla blog post the Win32 API is present on Windows RT, but Microsoft chooses to not make it available for third party applications.

Office and Internet Explorer on WinRT ARM use the standard Win32 library and are allowed to run. Microsoft has stated that the reason they don't make it available for others is ... "longer battery life, predictable performance, and especially a reliable experience over time.".

Is there a method of enabling classic Win32 Desktop apps to run on Windows RT, e.g. via the registry or some other method.

N.B. I know that offically they are not supported, but what I'm asking here is if there is some workaround to allow it to happen.

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ARM and x86 are VERY different incompatible architectures. Step 0 would be to recompile the whole damned thing. –  Journeyman Geek Nov 14 '12 at 5:09
    
@Journeyman Geek. Because it is using the Win32 API, then there should be minimal code changes required? Yeah, of course being able to compile would be the problem then, thanks. –  dodgy_coder Nov 14 '12 at 5:15
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Basically what you're asking is whether you can jailbreak Windows RT tablets. I think the answer is going to be the same as with every other "walled garden" device: probably, but only because the developers can't typically keep up with the hackers. It should also be noted that there's no real guarantee that parts of the Win32 API not used by Office, IE, and WinRT will behave as expected; in particular, Win32 has lots of special tricks for compatibility with third-party applications which might have been or might in future be left out. –  Harry Johnston Nov 15 '12 at 20:40

2 Answers 2

As Journeyman Geek pointed out, a recompile is necessary first to target the ARM processor.

I've found some steps documented here as how to achieve this: Compiling Desktop Apps for Windows RT

The method above produces an ARM executable, however when its run on a Windows RT device, it results in the following error message:

Windows cannot verify the digital signature for this file

There's some further detail here regarding possible ways to circumvent this error message: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?p=31519618&postcount=1

And an ongoing discussion on StackOverflow here: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/11151474/can-arm-desktop-programs-be-built-using-visual-studio-2012/

UPDATE (JAN-9-2013) - EXPLOIT BY CLROKR

A developer by the name of clrokr has come up with a method of getting arbitrary desktop applications to run on Windows RT without having to sign them.

The method used is by hacking a single byte in the Windows kernel...

... deep in the kernel, in a hashed and signed data section protected by UEFI’s Secure Boot, lies a byte that represents the minimum signing level.

To do this requires the use of a remote debugger every time you want to run the application, so its not an easy hack to make use of, but in time will probably be improved upon to the point there is a simple jailbreak-type installer.

There's some more information about people using this method here: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1885399

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There is no work around. win32 apps are compiled for x86 or x64 architectures. Windows RT is the ARM version of Windows. The applications themselves would have to be recompiled as ARM in order to work on Windows RT.

I would email the app vendor's support requesting the make an ARM build.

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Yes they do need to be recompiled, but Win32 apps are not specific to x86 or x64 architecture only - that's why the Win32 API was introduced in the first place, to enable platform independence. The Office and Internet Explorer running on Win RT tablets still use the Win32 API for example. –  dodgy_coder Nov 14 '12 at 12:19

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