HP Envy x2 (Qualcomm) Review Check-In: App Compatibility

Posted on March 22, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 59 Comments

HP Envy x2 (Qualcomm) Review Check-In: App Compatibility

Many of the apps I use everyday install and work with Windows 10 on ARM. Some, however, do not.

We’ve long understood that Windows 10 on ARM would present app compatibility compromises and challenges. But Microsoft really needs to work on the user experience here. The types of users who would be drawn to this platform will be confused and frustrated by how often things don’t work.

The issue here is multifaceted, and it involves two levels of limitations: Those imposed by Windows 10 S—soon to be S mode—and those imposed by ARM emulation.

The S mode limitations are well-understood and easily bypassed. You can only run the apps that come with Windows 10, plus those apps you acquire from the Microsoft Store. Escaping from this hell is straightforward and, best of all, free: You can switch to whatever full version of Windows 10 you’re using (today, Pro, but Home or Pro in the near future). This happens on the fly in just seconds, and it doesn’t even require a reboot.

The limitations imposed by ARM are a bit more complicated and are much less well-understood.

As I reported back in February, Windows 10 on ARM drops several technologies and features that are available to those with x86/x64 versions of the OS. These include certain classes of apps (utilities that modify the Windows user interface, like shell extensions, input method editors (IMEs), assistive technologies, and cloud storage apps), x86/x64 drivers, Hyper-V, and older games that rely on out-of-date versions of DirectX or hardware-accelerated OpenGL.

But the biggest limitation, and it’s a bad one, is that Windows 10 on ARM does not support 64-bit apps of any kind. You cannot install 64-bit desktop (Win32) applications, or 64-bit (x64 or ARM) Microsoft Store apps either. And … that is a problem.

(To be clear, Windows 10 on ARM is a 64-bit operating system. And support for 64-bit ARM Store apps is coming in a future update, possibly Redstone 5, which will arrive in September/October. What’s not clear is whether the emulation solution software in Windows 10 on ARM will ever support 64-bit desktop applications or x64 Store apps. I will try to find out.)

In just a day of testing—which involved installing the core apps I always use plus some purposefully challenging other applications for testing purposes—I ran into several problems. And while some had workarounds, many did not. I find this interesting, like a puzzle. But in the real world, the average users who would gravitate to Windows 10 on ARM, especially for the streamlined S mode experience, will only be frustrated by this stuff.

Let’s consider desktop applications first.

When I downloaded Google Chrome from the web, I was apparently automatically provided with the correct 32-bit version of the app. It installed correctly and without drama. And after I signed-in to the app, it proceeded to do what it does on my “normal” PCs: Install all of my extensions and sync my settings. I was also able to pin the web apps I use—Google Inbox, Google Calendar, and Twitter Lite—to the Envy x2’s taskbar normally. Excellent.

I also had a surprisingly good experience with MarkdownPad, which is an excellent example of an application with serious (some might say debilitating) x86 software requirements. You need a special (now out-of-date) version of a programming interface, plus a certain version of the Microsoft Visual C++ library that was written in an era when Windows 10 on ARM wasn’t even a distant possibility. Surprise! It all installed just fine, and MarkdownPad runs normally.

But other applications you might download from the web will be less forgiving. Many Windows desktop applications are 64-bit only, and there is no way to know, in most cases, what you’re getting. In fact, I don’t believe that most normal users should never even need to think about this kind of thing.

Consider Visual Studio Code as an example. When you download the installer from the Visual Studio website and run it, you get the following nonsensical error message.

The issue? Visual Studio Code is a 64-bit application, and it will not run on Windows 10 on ARM. But as it turns out, Microsoft does provide a harder-to-find 32-bit version of the application. And that installed just fine. (Oddly, the full-featured Visual Studio suite is still 32-bit. That also installed fine on Windows 10 on ARM.)

Put simply, downloading desktop applications from the web is going to be a crapshoot. Some will work fine. Many will not work at all.

The Microsoft Store should offer a better experience. After all, the Store is designed so that it examines your PC and only displays those apps and games that will actually work with that PC. There should be no gotchas.

But there are gotchas.

One class of gotchas is caused, I think, by the Xbox Play Anywhere system. That line above about the Store tailoring your experience to your PC is only mostly true: The Store also displays Xbox games, which you can remotely install to your Xbox One from the Store on a Windows PC. And among those games are some Xbox Play Anywhere titles that have both Xbox One and Windows 10 versions.

I don’t expect full-featured, modern 3D games like Resident Evil 7, Middle Earth: Shadow of War, and Forza 7 to run on Windows 10 on ARM. And they don’t. But there is a class of games that sits just north of true mobile nonsense like Candy Crush that I figured might work, if slowly. Games like Cuphead and Super Lucky’s Tail.

These games do show up in the Store on Windows 10 on ARM, which would give a user a reasonable hope of playing them. But they won’t work. And the error message here is really cryptic, too, for a norm: Why on earth would they know what an x64 app was and that such a game will not work on their new laptop?

Games are one thing. But I had hopes that my standard productivity apps would all work. But they don’t. I use the Store version of Photoshop Elements 15 every single day on all my PCs, including my Windows 10 S-based Surface Laptop. But that app is not available on Windows 10 ARM because it is an x64 app. It doesn’t even appear in the My Library apps list.

There are a surprising number of x64 apps in the Store, so this, too, is a crapshoot. As someone on Twitter pointed out today, Newton Mail, a Store-based email app, is only x64, so it will not run on this system either.

I’ve been able to install enough of what I need for the system to be usable. (For example, I can substitute Paint.NET for Photoshop Elements 15.) But the uncertainty of app compatibility is going to be a real pain point for early users of Windows 10 on ARM. And it’s especially disappointing to see these issues after switching from S mode to full-blown Windows 10 Pro specifically to improve application compatibility.

I’ll have more soon, including a look at app performance, especially for emulated x86 apps, and cellular connectivity.

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Comments (62)

62 responses to “HP Envy x2 (Qualcomm) Review Check-In: App Compatibility”

  1. wunderbar

    I almost feel like Microsoft made sure that Markdown Pad would work specifically for Paul. It's too random of a thing to work otherwise. ;)

  2. gabbrunner

    It's funny, I had a Dell Inspiron Mini netbook about 9 years ago. I loved it, with a sharp screen for the size, decent keyboard, and plenty of ports!! That thing lasted about five hours which was sensational at the time. And it ran any program you threw at it! It's a funny thing, progress ?

  3. lilmoe

    It's painful to watch this unfold. The sad part is that Microsoft, and everyone else, have no idea why!

    They messed up. But unlike what everyone believes, it's not because of "Apple envy", Windows 8 or the demise of Windows Mobile per se. The iPhone WAS NOT what killed Windows, it was GOOGLE. Youtube, Maps, SEARCH, etc. When Steve Jobs revealed the iPhone, it wasn't the "iPhone" that impressed everyone per se, it was the fact that GOOGLE MAPS and YOUTUBE worked on a darn phone so well, fluidly and seamlessly!

    Where Microsoft messed up in the past was in SERVICES; Bing, Bing maps, etc. They did what they did best, they approached each and every single one of these services in a HALF ASSED manner for the sake of "competing" without going all in. They FAILED to realize the simple fact that these services were the future. Instead, they invested in thin "clients", NOT the service. The PC was so intertwined with the "business" model yet completely disconnected from the people's personal lives and reality. Steve Jobs demonstrated Starbucks on a phone, Facebook, NOT OFFICE!

    I might be going too far with what I'm going to say, but I have this crappy gut feeling that Android itself was a vessel, insurance for the iPhone (a DEAL with Google) against monopoly regulation AND to keep Microsoft out of that market. Android was designed to be non-profitable to any OEM, but be act as beta tests for services and technologies to further the iPhone's success. The playing field is different now, they never thought it would be the success it was. You can thank Samsung for that.

    Holy crap, Microsoft. Someone needs to step in and steer this ship back into shore, before it freagin' sinks from hitting that massive iceberg called IDIOCY, also known as managerial greed, ego, stubbornness, shortsightedness, SABOTAGE or whatever the heck you want to call it.

    WAKE THE HECK UP! They don't realize this, but now they're f'ing up the thing that made Windows successful!!! Productivity!!! Microsoft LOST the consumer battle, now they're trying to blow the productivity of these consumers into oblivion! Stop right there. This isn't the battle you should be fighting, Microsoft. Go back to the roots, and do what you always did WELL.

    What exactly is the difference between this approach and Windows RT's??? This isn't 2010!

    • Consumers will NOT put up with a non-optimal experience, regardless of the means! If legacy applications don't work well, they might as well not be supported. If UWP apps don't work as well as legacy applications AND IMPROVE upon that, what's the point? Stop dumbing down the experience! You're not Apple, and even if you were, this is NOT like taking away TouchID and replacing it with FaceID, or removing the headphone jack.
    • Developers will NOT support the trainwreck that is UWP in its current incarnation! It doesn't provide the tools they need to compete in a SATURATED (hard luck!) and increasingly competitive consumer market. And even if it did, Microsoft has a long way to build back all the good will they lost after screwing developers over, MULTIPLE TIMES, with the mistakes they made starting from Windows Phone 7. You start by building back the trust you lost, NOT by creating more confusion and doubt.

    They had a chance to make UWP a viable successor to .NET and Win32 since the early betas of Windows 10, but THEY DIDN'T. They still don't know the first thing there is about the consumer market after all these years.

    Their problem is NOT ARM, it's NOT x86, nor any other 3rd party platform. Their problem is UWP and the idiocy in their deciding their priorities. When you build a new development platform, your first (and VERY first) goal is to get rid of all the overhead of legacy platforms and APIs. Holly cow, they did it backwards! ROFL!!! There is MASSIVE amounts of overhead on UWP for x86. Overhead akin to what they're exactly doing now in emulation of x86 code on ARM.

    I had a gut feeling about this at first when I interacted with Windows 10's taskbar the VERY first time; UWP and the APIs it support on x86 DO NOT RUN NATIVELY. The latency is insane. It's MUCH worse than the problems they had when they initially introduced WPF in .NET 3.0, EXCEPT it's not nearly as powerful in terms of complex UI. They're killing the whole philosophy of Windows; PRODUCTIVITY. Even if the current incarnation of UWP was fast and instantaneously responsive, you just can't build a productive application built with such gimped, under-powered tools.

    I get it, it makes sense. There's a massive portion of GDI+ (Win32) that isn't hardware accelerated, and WPF is bogged down with huge code overhead and wrappers to communicate with DirectX.

    But I'm baffled. Is Apple seriously the only software company that can create a graphically accelerated UI with ultra-low latency?

    It's painful watching Windows being shredded by idiots. It really is. Dear Microsoft; YOUR market didn't shift, at least not nearly as much as all these analysts are portraying. PCs, IF DONE RIGHT, are still RELEVANT. The problem is NOT battery life. It's not connectivity. The problem is you..................

  4. sandeepm

    Buddy, you are missing the point... the intent is to force google types to get on-board the modern app platform... the very reason you don't like the platform. The battle has been on for many years and this time around, MS is serious and heading for it broad-side-on. If this does not succeed, there is no hope for Windows in the long term. But it will succeed. I am the same age as you but am glad this is happening and have no remorse that Windows 7 is history. Once the battle is won, they will open up the platform for cowboys.

    when it comes to google and Android, you are such a saint, with all the wrath directed at Windows. Did it ever occur to you how much google goes out of its way to make sure that its sites, like utube and mapping don't work correctly on Edge and Windows Mobile? There is evel out there that you conveniently ignore.

    BTW, I would wait till Snapdragon 845 before I buy a device.

    • Stooks

      In reply to sandeepm:

      There is NO WAY this will succeed unless developers get behind this. History shows they won't. Windows Phone and Windows RT were both Windows on ARM and they, developers, largely rejected them both times. I doubt they will come back.

      Sorry but this will fizzle quickly and fail.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to sandeepm:

      PC users are flocking to UWP like moths around a bonfire?

      Windows does need an overhaul, but UWP ain't it. UWP is a band-aid on a compound fracture. The problem with Windows and security is that too much can't be done without Administrator privileges, but too much can be done with Administrator privileges. At least in Linux and other Unix-like OSes, some things can only be done in run level 1 (single user, no network, no daemons [services]).

  5. NazmusLabs

    I remember the days when finding 64-bit apps were rare. Most devs made 32 bit apps because they ran fine on both 32-bit and 64-bit system. Oh, how the tables have turned. Who would have thought that in 2018, we would need to start hunting down 32 bit versions of apps. This is very ironic and unexpected.

  6. Mark from CO


    So Windows on ARM runs a few more apps than Windows S Mode, but both cannot run the modern 64 bit apps that really provide the value to the platform. Seems to me V 3.0 of Microsoft not learning the lessons that apps count (WP, W10S, and now W10ARM). Used to be V 3.0 of Microsoft's efforts were actually useable and desirable.

    Paul, how is this not a pigs ear? With Google racing ahead with Chromebook (and possibly a new OS), Microsoft needs to release a market ready product, not a alpha or beta version. One fears the worse for the expected Andromeda release. Huge expectations, but a Microsoft track record of releasing something significantly less.

    All these missteps seems to reflect a broken strategy, a failure to understand what its customers want, and an inability to execute.

    Mark from CO

  7. John Jackson

    So this device doesn't run decent applications ... and $MSFT have withdrawn all their services from useful amounts of Onedrive storage ... to music streaming ... leaving only expensive subscriptions.

    So it's going to be available all day ... doing nothing.

    Time to check-out, already.

  8. Aritting

    Hi Paul, How do you plan on testing the connectivity? I use Thinkpad X1 and a Sprint Mifi device on the train with VPN, Web apps and Remote Desktop. The experience is terrible because of the internet connection. How is the network experience of an Intel laptop with a sim compare to a Qualcomm laptop?

  9. TonyB

    Paul, Photoshop Elements older versions are 32bit so it would be great to see the performance on ARM emulation.

  10. Daekar

    Hmmmm... well, a bit disappointing but not surprising. We will hope the situation improves soon. Yet another reason to pin our hopes on PWAs.

  11. nbplopes

    Don’t think there is much of a problem here. I remember when tech moved from x32 to x64. One even needed to decide between installing Windows x32 or x64 OSs.

    But the Store should not definitely show apps that do not run on the machine.

  12. Tony Barrett

    There is going to be massive amount of confusion with consumers and these 'Win10 on ARM' devices. At the moment, stores will usually just show row upon row of x86 laptops (Intel or AMD). They'll generally just work, whatever you throw at them. Add these ARM devices to the mix with ignorant buyers, and you're in for a world of pain.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to ghostrider:

      I can't see brick & mortar retailers having any interest in trying to sell Windows on ARM laptops. Too much chance of generating ill will. Gotta wonder how good a job MSFT's own brick & mortar stores will do making clear to customers what Windows on ARM laptops can and can't do.

  13. Stooks

    "And while some had workarounds, many did not. I find this interesting, like a puzzle. But in the real world, the average users who would gravitate to Windows 10 on ARM, especially for the streamlined S mode experience, will only be frustrated by this stuff."

    DOA. Windows RT R2.

  14. IanYates82

    I don't really see the lack of 64-bit Intel as a big problem. I've still got some small machines doing tasks around the place that are Atom 32-bit CPUs and haven't had any software I've wanted not work on them.

    Most common utilities have x86 or x64 Intel version downloads. We even still all mainly run 32-bit MS Office even with a 64-bit Windows installation because we don't need the larger address space and appreciate the compatibility with existing COM add-ins.

    As for full Visual studio being 32-bit still, there is a great series of blog posts by Rico Marioni about this

    • https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/ricom/2009/06/10/visual-studio-why-is-there-no-64-bit-version-yet/
    • https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/ricom/2015/12/29/revisiting-64-bit-ness-in-visual-studio-and-elsewhere/

    (and a couple of others he's done on his blog)

    You'd find it a *lot* worse if it only had 64-bit support and not 32-bit support (like some versions of Windows Server where you can disable the WOW64 stuff).

    What I'm keen to understand are things like how these apps are installed and separated. Are they typically put into a c:program files (x86) and c:program files folders (where the latter would have the ARM versions of DLLs, etc)? Does Task Manager show a little *32 after 32-bit Intel apps?

    This era will be similar to when 64-bit desktop hit the mainstream with Vista (XP 64-bit was a server derivative and was never even close to mainstream). We'd have separate Internet Explorer versions to run for 64-bit & 32-bit due to plugin compatibilities. 32-bit extensions for Explorer wouldn't work. And on it went. This time around it's better in that browser extensions aren't using native code anymore.

    One area where it'd just be interesting to see if 32-bit Intel explorer extensions worked would be to run a regular Intel 32-bit application that has a file->open dialog. That embedded shell dialog is effectively an Explorer shell with all the right-click goodies available. It'd be interesting to see if 32-bit Intel explorer extensions appeared within that dialog.

    (all of the above is directed at regular non S-mode)

  15. craig.martell

    I am ok with the Office apps and a few from the store. That, combined with the web, is fine for me. The ONLY app I actually need to run is Cisco AnyConnect. It is 32-bit, but it wouldn't complete the install. If I could either get this to work, or figure out how to use the built-in VPN, I would be fine. Otherwise, the HP Envy X2 (Snapdragon) is going back.

    It's a shame. 15 hours of battery life and acceptable performance is a beautiful dream.

  16. dvdwnd

    But developers will be all over this and recompile their apps for ARM (or x86 at least). Just like on iOS. Right?


  17. PsychoSuperman

    Might I suggest/request testing Xbox game streaming and Steam Big Picture? If games don't run natively, I wonder if they can at least stream locally.

    If MS does introduce a cloud streaming service, this might be an early indicator of how/if it will work on ARM.

  18. jhoff80

    Microsoft hasn't officially ever said that AMD64/x86-64 apps won't ever work on this, but in a developer video Kevin Gallo pretty much said just that.

    There was a direct question to Kevin Gallo: "Are you working on 64-bit emulation?" to which he replies "We're not really looking at 64-bit emulation. Instead we want to go and look, just compile to an ARM64. We think most people who are going to want that 64 are going to want better, you know more optimized performance for x64, so we're just going to go and support that natively with an ARM64 compiler."

    Posting a video isn't working but if you search Kevin Gallo Community Standup January 2018 you get the video I'm talking about, and this starts at 27:52.

    On top of that, they've got years and years of experience with WoW compatibility layers for x86 on x64 hardware, but emulating x64 would be a whole new can of worms. And you also greatly increase the storage space needed by the OS to do so, as you'd end up with two WoW versions. Again, no official statement that it's never happening, but based on all public facing information it is highly unlikely.

  19. Jorge Garcia

    Microsoft is in a tough place. They are saddled with incredibly useful software products that are tied to the "Wild West" past, yet must (somehow) be brought into the future. Given the scope of that task, I feel they are doing impressively well. I just hope that they will always allow ways for more advanced users to "back out" of the "future" model if we find it to be worse that what we currently have. By the looks of things, the day is coming where that will not always be the case.

    • skane2600

      In reply to JG1170:

      "yet must (somehow) be brought into the future"

      Hello from 22 minutes in the future. Windows is still here - mission accomplished.

      • Stooks

        In reply to skane2600:

        How is it doing in US schools after 22min....better or worse. I would say worse.

        My company is seriously looking at Gsuite. We have been MS for 20 years. I would have NEVER thought they would consider it. I am in meetings with multiple VP's and owners talking about how the love Google Docs/Gmail/Classroom because their of how their kids use it at their expensive private schools. Everyone else can relate because the public schools use it as well.

        Hearts and minds is taking its toll on Microsoft.

        • hrlngrv

          In reply to Stooks:

          Re minds, Office has been overkill for most white collar employees for over a decade. Perhaps half of Excel users know how to use Pivot Tables already set up, but fewer than a quarter know how to set them up. As for Power Query and VBA, less than 10%. Word? How many times does the average workplace user make tables of contents, footnotes, indexes, heck, even different sections on the same page each with different margins and tab stops?

          Problem is accountants and actuaries still need Excel, lawyers and some professional writers need Word, and PowerPoint has become the ubiquitous soporific of the white collar workplace. Everyone else hasn't been able to admit their needs were much less until recently.

          Times may be changing. People may come to realize that Google's online apps are sufficient. [Tangent: IMO, Zoho's apps are better, but whatever.] There's now choice, something MSFT had tried to extinguish in the 1990s.

          God help MSFT if Windows and Office start to decline at the same time.

          • skane2600

            In reply to hrlngrv:

            I think most Office competitors extinguished themselves.

            WordPerfect with its leadership saying "A lot of people are asking for a Windows version but we don't want to make one" (not an exact quote but mostly true) and then eventually caving in with a terribly buggy first version ( I crashed it in the first 5 min of use).

            • hrlngrv

              In reply to skane2600:

              Lotus Development Corp also came out with a sucky first Windows version of 1-2-3. Lotus also screwed up between 1-2-3's Release 4 and Release 5 by introducing lots of incompatibilities (one of which led to a cross-country business trip for me to discover that the NJ field office had been upgraded to Release 5 before any other field office).

              No doubt about it: MS Office didn't become an effective monopoly only due to MSFT's anticompetitive practices. MSFT's major competitors had a lot to do with the failure of their own products.

              As a follow-on, consider how little effort went into Office XP (2002) as upgrade from Office 2K, so damn little that there was an Office 2003. MSFT really knew the monopoly wallow back in those days.

              There's still a WordPerfect Office, but it stank the last time I tried it in 2011 or so. Lotus SmartSuite died off more than a decade ago. I'm thinking more of Google Docs, LibreOffice and maybe a few other online suites as current competition.

        • skane2600

          In reply to Stooks:

          The long-term future of Windows is uncertain (along with every other OS's) but its survival isn't likely to be extended by UWP or running on ARM. Of course if MS focuses all their efforts on these "future" technologies to the detriment of their Win32 cash cow, they could accelerate Windows demise.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to JG1170:

      The Wild West of Windows was Windows 98. By then most new Windows software was 32-bit, and still at that time all accounts effectively had Administrator privileges. Plus FAT file systems had no way to store much less apply different privilege levels.

      XP and everyone using NTFS changed that. By XP SP2, no longer Wild West, but most 32-bit software in use would be more recent.

  20. the_real_entheos

    Sounds like another dumpster fire, which sounds bad until you realize there will be less garbage in the end.

  21. adamcorbally

    Only early days, hopefully these arms devices will take off and app compatibility will improve

  22. innitrichie

    Where did you get that wallpaper? I know it's from one of the pay stock photo sites, and it has been linked before, but I've lost the link. I love those bright and colorful backgrounds and I'm happy to pay the stock royalty fees.

  23. Waethorn

    One of the docs that I had read regarding this (that was also publicly leaked) stated that Microsoft IS NOT going to support ARM applications outside of the Windows Store *AT ALL*. ARM apps will only run if they are compiled using full Windows Store UWP restrictions. There won't be any support for Win32 binaries compiled for ARM outside of what is included as Windows "middle-ware" (accessory applications and Windows components). ARM64 is supposed to be supported in a forthcoming update, but they haven't said when, but even when it is, again it's restricted to UWP apps only. The only Win32 apps that will be supported on W10-on-ARM will be x86 32-bit.

    So, just to keep score:

    ARM32 UWP apps run natively.

    x86 UWP apps run under emulation.

    x86 Win32 apps run under emulation.

    Emulation doesn't mean "100%-compatible".

    ARM64 UWP apps may be supported "sometime", but not now.

    ARM Win32 apps are never going to be supported. Not happening. Sorry. (Not sorry.)

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