What Does Windows RT Mean for My LabVIEW Applications?

Publish Date: Dec 23, 2012 | 6 Ratings | 3.83 out of 5 | Print

Windows 8 is arguably the largest change for Microsoft's operating system since Windows 95. Microsoft poured a lot of development into Windows 8 to help them catch up with competitors in the tablet space. Sales of desktop PCs, where Windows has historically dominated with over 80% market share, are stalling. In contrast, tablet sales are growing exponentially. Because of this trend, Microsoft made mobile devices the primary target for Windows 8, but the new OS also works for desktops and laptops.

This article highlights the key differences between Windows 8 versions and how they can impact your NI LabVIEW software development. Customers using Windows RT tablets, such as the Surface, will not be able to run their LabVIEW applications on their tablets, but can use Data Dashboard for LabVIEW to interact with their systems.

Differences in Windows 8 Versions

With Windows 8 developed with tablets in mind, Microsoft created different versions of the operating system for different hardware sets. The versions of Windows 8 that this article will discuss are Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro. RT is simply an initialism and does not stand for "real-time".

The first thing that most people notice about the new operating system is the new Start screen. Microsoft developed the Modern UI style, called Metro during development, to greet users as they boot up. The Modern UI style uses dynamic tiles that display information tidbits for the apps living behind them. For example, the Weather app on the Start screen can display the current temperature in your local city.

You can change the settings of these colorful tiles. When you click a tile, the app opens full screen and displays more information, such as 5-day forecasts. People who have seen Microsoft’s mobile operating system will find this behavior familiar. Some apps come preloaded on Windows 8, but you can get more for free or purchase from the Windows Store.

Windows 8 Start Screen

Microsoft designed these Windows Store apps specifically for this new Modern UI interface. Existing software applications, such as Adobe Photoshop or NI LabVIEW, would need to be completely restructured to run in this new environment. Microsoft promised that thousands of apps would be available at launch, but a majority of them are applications with smaller code bases to port. Larger applications that target business or productivity will arrive eventually, if the platform takes hold. Many companies hesitate to invest in porting a larger application to a new platform with an unproven market.

These Windows Store apps are created using the Windows Runtime (WinRT). The Windows Runtime API is different from the Win32 API that most existing applications used in previous versions. To run as a Windows Store app, existing applications must be ported to Windows Runtime, which can be an arduous task. These Windows Store apps can run on Start screens of both the Windows RT and Window 8 Pro versions, but the Windows RT can run only Windows Store apps. Microsoft imposed this restriction because Windows RT runs on lower-powered ARM architecture chips. The Windows Runtime API sandboxes the Windows Store apps for better stability and security.

Windows 8 Pro, on the other hand, runs on x86 architecture chips. Windows 8 devices can run most existing software applications, such as LabVIEW, that can run on earlier versions of Windows. You can install x86 compiled software applications, but they run from the desktop instead of the Start screen.

Windows 8 Kernel Services

Windows 8 computers appear similar to Windows RT computers when first booted up. Users see the Start screen first in each version. Windows 8 Pro includes a Desktop tile, which takes users to a desktop similar to the desktop in Windows 7. However, the Windows 8 Pro desktop no longer contains a Start button. All of the browsing functionality contained in the Start menu was transferred to the Start screen. Other functions of the Start button were transferred to the Charm bar. You can find the Charm bar by hovering your mouse on the right-side of the desktop screen or by swiping your finger to the right if you are on a touch screen. You can use the Charm bar to search for a document or application, change the settings, or shut down your Windows 8 device. Although there are a few other minor differences, users interact the same way with the desktop. When you install applications meant to run on x86 architecture, the installer creates a tile the Start screen that contains an icon of the application. When you click the tile, Windows 8 switches to the desktop and launches the application.

LabVIEW for Windows runs on the x86 architecture, so it will run in the Windows 8 Pro desktop. If a LabVIEW developer creates a LabVIEW executable using the Application Builder, this application also runs on the x86 architecture and will also run in the Windows 8 Pro desktop. As of LabVIEW 2012, Application Builder cannot specifically target Windows Store apps, which run from the Start screen.

Because Windows 8 Pro supports x86 architectures, some tablet manufacturers are promising devices with USB support. If a Windows 8 Pro tablet is powerful enough, a developer could create an entire LabVIEW application on the tablet and use hardware that is plugged directly into the USB port.

Data Dashboard for LabVIEW on Windows 8

One of National Instruments more popular products in the past few years is available for Windows 8 devices. Data Dashboard for LabVIEW is available through the Windows Store for Windows 8 devices. The app will run from the Start screen and will be available for both Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro operating systems. At launch, the Data Dashboard for LabVIEW will have the same functionality as the app running on Android tablets or the iPhone. Users will be able to remotely view LabVIEW applications using shared variables or web services. These tasks used to need custom app development, but you can now view applications easily for free.

For more information on Data Dashboard for LabVIEW, visit ni.com/mobile.

Data Dashboard for LabVIEW

With Microsoft ending support of Windows XP in 2014, Windows enterprise customers may update to Windows 8, but no one knows whether the new operating system will take off in the mobile space. The Windows 8 Mobile operating system should also be releasing in Q4 2012. With a current market share of less than 4% for smartphones, Microsoft still has a long way to go to be a large player in smartphones. They have potential to disrupt the tablet market though with Windows 8. If the public chooses Windows 8-powered devices over iPads or Android devices and if app developers flock to the Windows Store, then expect a strong surge for Microsoft. Either way, more innovation in the mobile space is good for the end users. National Instruments will continue to invest in cutting edge technologies that empower our users.

Visit ni.com/windows8 for more information about how Windows 8 affects your test and measurement systems.

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