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Just to get this discussion going, before the product actually launches and we have to make hasty decisions. As a reference, here's the previous discussion: Should Tablet Computer questions be allowed on Super User?

Coming next fall, Windows 8 will launch and it will also be available on ARM. So I think it's time we revise our current non-tablet policy to start allowing these, effectively from the moment we make this decision.

The main argument for allowing them is the big difference between iOS and Windows. As the top voted answer previously said:

It all depends on what operating system it runs in my opinion. Most tablet operating systems are just glorified, "user-friendly" cellphone-based systems (Android, iOS, WP7), and should not be on Super User in my opinion. If the tablet runs Linux/OS X/Windows 7 or 8/Unix, then it's fair game.

Windows 8 should be mostly the same as regular Windows on a desktop computer, sure it'll have a touch screen and run on locked down hardware, but it's still Windows. So unless your app isn't available for Windows on ARM, your question will probably be the same as those of others.

So if we start allowing Windows 8 tablets, are we going to keep banning iPads? This policy would be needlessly complicating and luckily we have our sister sites Apple.SE and Android.SE to carry the burden. I would propose to either migrate these questions to their respective sites, given they (hopefully) have more domain knowledge and already have a sizable corpus of questions about these products. Or we make it fair game and start allowing any tablet questions and 'compete' with our sister sites for these questions, which I hope for their sake we'll lose except for the occasional hiccup.

That leaves problematic examples like the BlackBerry PlayBook or other types of tablets that aren't as mainstream as the iPad. I'd say that if we allow these other tablets, we should allow these as well, if only to have a clear policy. The worst thing that can happen to a question is that it'll go unanswered and we already have a fair deal of those, so I don't see tablets being special in that regard. Furthermore, we still uphold certain standards of quality, so if the question is poorly written or lacks sufficient information, we deal with it just like with any other poor question and close it. The same goes for questions that are basically feature requests, unless something has already been done before, we're not a forum to try and discuss possible ways to hack on some feature. Just close them.

As a final point:

Enter image description here

We nowadays get twice as many visits/day than when we made the original decision. So in contrast to Gadgets, which lacked sufficient users who could answer questions about a large plethora of gadgets, I think we have sufficient critical mass that as long as it isn't some obscure device, we should be able to answer it.

So I propose we start allowing tablet questions and see how this plays out. I also don't expect a massive influx of tablet-related questions, just because we would start allowing them, so it's just so we can deal with them when they do start coming.

Go forth and discuss!

  • Was the decision to not allow non metro third party applications on arm reverted? – Daniel Beck May 19 '12 at 4:18
  • Could you maybe separate question and answer in this post into two posts? – Daniel Beck May 19 '12 at 4:20
  • Well @DanielBeck I think slhck already provides a reasonable version of what my answer would be. Besides, I think my arguments are important enough that they shouldn't be buried in one of the answers and get overlooked. But feel free to post a version that you would support. – Ivo Flipse May 19 '12 at 8:14
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    We expand the Windows Phone site to include Windows tablets. Problem solved! :P – iglvzx May 24 '12 at 1:41
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    @IvoFlipse (I'm totally serious by the way. It could work.) – iglvzx May 24 '12 at 1:47
  • don't forget to include BSD in the list of OSes – Good Person Jun 8 '12 at 22:33
  • Wait. Why wouldn't tablet/iOS/Android/WP7/etc... questions be allowed? Is there another site for that? Seems to me that it would fit in fine here. We can be super-user's of those tiny but powerful computers in our pockets. – MetaGuru Jun 18 '12 at 20:20
  • Yes @Ryan, we have sites for Apple, Android and Windows Phone, so we don't need to duplicate their efforts – Ivo Flipse Jun 18 '12 at 21:44
  • @IvoFlipse Ah yes, I found them soon after posting. Thanks for the follow up :) – MetaGuru Jun 19 '12 at 13:04
  • @iglvzx Good luck getting Windows Phone to support something like this, they don't want to support other hardware – Tyler Faile Jun 19 '12 at 17:52
  • I'm sure Microsoft won't have any bugs in their OS, that would allow users to get root, and load another operating system ... <sarcastic grimace> – Sam Watkins Jun 19 '12 at 19:23
  • I posted this on Jeffs post in the linked previous discussion only to find that it was OLD. Here is my comment at any rate, since it is still relevant. The problem I have with "there are already good places" argument is that, if you create specific sites for the most commonly used tablets (iPad + Android) where are the not-as-common tablet questions going to go? They'll get closed immediately on iPand and Android... Should we just forward the users of these devices to Forum XYZ? Some of the stack exchange sites are too specific IMO. Broadening up the focus can create some benefit... – Dalin Seivewright Jun 19 '12 at 21:06
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Hmm. I still think this standpoint holds:

If the tablet runs Linux/OS X/Windows 7 or 8/Unix, then it's fair game.

We deal with these OSes all the time. It mostly shouldn't matter where it runs on. Let's allow these. My simple rule would be:

If the tablet runs a desktop OS, it's on-topic for Super User.

Of course, you need to draw the line between what's a desktop OS like common Linux distros or phone OSes that just use a Linux kernel (Android) or are merely based on Mac OS X (like iOS), but radically stripped down in terms of user interaction.


Or we make it fair game and start allowing any tablet questions and 'compete' with our sister sites for these questions, which I hope for their sake we'll lose except for the occasional hiccup.

No, please don't do that. Here on Super User, we have never had questions about iOS, Android or other (phone) operating systems. These are a completely different game, with a great and knowledgeable community available on other Stack sites.

Let's just do as previously suggested:

  • Move iOS (iPad) questions to Ask Different
  • Move Android (various manufacturers) questions to Android.SE

This is because their ecosystem is completely different from the Windows/Linux/OS X nature we've been dealing with on Super User for all the last years.

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    And for what it's worth, if my fridge fluently ran Windows 7, I'd even say fridges were on topic for SU. – slhck May 18 '12 at 22:12
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    My aging Palm Pre runs Linux with full root access out of the box... On topic? – Shog9 May 18 '12 at 22:16
  • See, that's the thing. WebOS, just like Android, is based on a Linux kernel. It's still a phone OS. (And the Palm Pre is not a tablet). Is your question about how to use the features of WebOS or do you merely want to move some files via command line, connect with SSH, etc.? – slhck May 18 '12 at 22:22
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    Sure, let's go with that. I'm trying to script automatic backups using cron and the subset of ordinary Linux utilities that ship on WebOS. On topic so long as I carefully avoid mentioning my device ("For reasons I cannot go into, I don't have gzip on this machine")? On topic as long as I don't touch on the GUI? Or completely off-topic unless I happen to be talking about WebOS on the TouchPad? – Shog9 May 18 '12 at 22:34
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    Tough call. The availability of (basic) Linux functionality on a broad range of re-branded operating systems definitely makes it harder to draw a line there (except in clear cut cases where we actually have a site dedicated to a brand, like Android). I personally would say it's on topic regardless. You could mention your device, as long as it's about doing something that you could probably do on a "normal" computer as well (i.e. not phoning or texting someone, or downloading apps from whatever the app store for Palm is called these days). But let's see what others suggest. – slhck May 18 '12 at 22:41
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    @Shog9 There is also a unix.stackexchange.com site, I think that would be a good site for such questions. – Lekensteyn May 19 '12 at 10:26
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    So iOS, "merely based on Mac OS X, but radically stripped down in terms of user interaction" is no go but WOA, "merely based on Windows 8, but radically stripped down in terms of user interaction" is okay? (The only software source in Windows on ARM is the Store; you only get Metro multitasking + Office.) – badp May 19 '12 at 12:44
  • @badp it'd be easier to allow iOS and Android if we didn't already have s site for both. But if we can open up for something new, why not? – slhck May 19 '12 at 19:31
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    @slhck Don't let the fact other SEs exist get in the way of defining your own scope. Sites can overlap - it's okay! – badp May 20 '12 at 8:12
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    @badp Dunno. I'm just pointing out its a grey area that is only going to get more grey until its totally drab. I suppose Apple has no choice but to travel the same route--having two distinct operating systems when the hardware for tablets is becoming cheaper and more powerful doesn't make sense. I'd suggest that any metro questions be on topic as they apply equally to W8 tabs as well as the desktop. – Will May 20 '12 at 10:51
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    Not sure yet. Right now I'm opposed of including Windows ARM (as it's just Metro and that's not better than unjailbroken iOS in its limitations) unless we open the floodgates to everything else as well. The availability of other sites shouldn't be the deciding factor though, as the sites should have an understandable and consistent policy when viewed on their own. – Daniel Beck May 20 '12 at 18:07
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    Good argument. I'm still somewhat uncomfortable with opening up to iOS/Android (just think about the migration/overlap issues we have with Apple). A radical everything or nothing approach might not always work here :/ @dan – slhck May 20 '12 at 18:09
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    Apple.SE was founded with a topic overlap that created a messed up migration situation right from the start, and nobody cared, despite "iOS.SE" being a reasonable alternative. The policy on migrations and overlap is reasonable and clear and was recently featured again on the SE blog. – Daniel Beck May 20 '12 at 18:15
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    @DanielBeck if you have a better/alternative proposal, feel free to post it. I personally agree, because I think its going to be a non-issue. I would always encourage people to ask their questions on Apple/Android first, but not ban them from asking them here. Just as we do with OS X and linux – Ivo Flipse May 21 '12 at 20:16
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    meta.superuser.com/questions/3306/… and meta.superuser.com/questions/3266/… are probably relevant on a wider aspect of it. I think the current/upcoming breed of dead simple SBCs (the Raspberry Pi and the Via APC) may be another thing that we'd need to look at - the latter is more powerful, has better specs but runs android, and the former is runs a desktop OS. – Journeyman Geek May 24 '12 at 1:19
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Are Windows 8 ARM tablets actually computers?

Windows 8 for ARM (unsurprisingly) only runs on ARM machines. This also means that (almost) none of today's computers will be able to run this version of Windows. They are stuck with the normal, full-featured Windows 8.

Windows 8 for ARM requires manufacturers to enforce Secure Boot, Microsoft's newest technology for ensuring a trusted boot sequence.

On non-ARM systems, it is required to implement the ability to disable Secure Boot via firmware setup. A physically present user must be allowed to disable Secure Boot via firmware setup without possession of Pkpriv. Programmatic disabling of Secure Boot either during Boot Services or after exiting EFI Boot Services MUST NOT be possible. Disabling Secure MUST NOT be possible on ARM systems.

(Source, emphasis mine)

Microsoft requires manufacturers desiring a certification to prevent the system from disabling secure boot.

I haven't been able to find recent information about this, but it looks like it's at least very difficult to get other OSes for ARM to run on these tablet devices, and it might even be impossible.

We've had Linux on Macs for years, even back when it was PowerPC. Now, Linux, Windows and OS X can run side-by-side on Macs. There's never been any issue with running Windows or Linux (or Solaris, or BSD, ...) on regular computer hardware.

From that perspective, ARM tablets look a lot like iPads with their missing versatility and vendor-lock-in.

Is Windows 8 for ARM a computer operating system?

When Apple switched from PowerPC to x86 processors, they developed an x86 version of Mac OS X Tiger and provided an emulation platform - Rosetta - that allowed execution of PowerPC software on new Intel Macs. There was no doubt that the new x86 variant was as powerful as the PowerPC one.

Windows 8 for ARM (actually Windows RT) on the other hand is severely limited and cannot be considered an alternative to existing Windows systems. It only supports execution of applications specifically designed for Windows Runtime, Microsoft's 2011 programming model for Metro applications.

Approximately 0% of today's Windows software is compatible with this new programming model. None of your software will work on Windows for ARM. It's not just a reduced feature set of what was there before: They developed something from scratch for the tablet use case. It's simply not as obvious as with iOS, because Microsoft reused it for their desktop product as well.

This looks a lot like Apple's approach to iOS: Cherry-pick a few nice things (like .NET), throw away decades of crud, and start with a blank slate. Of course, Metro is used on desktop Windows 8 as well, but integrating the iOS simulator well with OS X's GUI wouldn't make iOS any more of a desktop OS either!

Recap

  • Windows 8 ARM tablets will not run other operating systems.
  • Windows 8 for ARM does not support other hardware (due to secure boot requirement).
  • Windows 8 for ARM supports none of today's Windows software
  • Software has to specifically target Windows 8's new WinRT/Metro model to run on Windows 8 for ARM.

I completely agree with @slhck:

If the tablet runs a desktop OS, it's on-topic for Super User.

It's just that Windows 8 for ARM isn't a desktop OS. And it's not just the form-factor.

Should we care?

It's always been the goal in Stack Exchange to make sites that target a specific user group. This results in some topic overlap (Apple.SE and SU come to mind, as well as SU/Unix&Linux/Ubuntu.SE), and some topics not handled at all (like with the recent BlackBerry question on this Meta). This has been discussed before and found to be useful.

As a user, I should be able to participate on as few or as many SE sites as I want, and not be sent around from site to site, just because some other site exists for a particular topic. To that end, sites require easy to understand policies that make sense.

Just because there's Ubuntu.SE doesn't mean Ubuntu is off-topic on SU. And that there's no BlackBerry SE site doesn't mean we accept questions about it on SU either.

The only possible reason I can imagine for allowing Windows RT (Windows 8 for ARM) questions on SU is the fact that there's no other site for it on the network.

Beyond the simple issue that this has never bothered us before, because a site's policy needs to make sense without considering other sites on the network, it's short-sighted: Allowing Windows 8 for ARM will reignite the discussion about Android and iOS (at least the tablet variants) in a big way. And I have no idea what a good answer would look like, other than "Yes, we now accept questions about all tablet computers and their software".

I can understand your enthusiasm about Windows for ARM, but arbitrarily changing how we view tablet computers on SU is not the answer.

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    +1 in any case. These are all valid issues I wasn't completely aware of up until now. Didn't think it would be such a restrictive ecosystem, but I never even mentioned Windows 8 for ARM specifically in my answer. For what it's worth, I personally wouldn't have a problem with opening up to all tablets and mobile OSes if it weren't for a missing user base. I'd be interested to see how this would evolve though. – slhck May 23 '12 at 18:33
  • The concern I have regarding Windows 8 on ARM vs. Windows 8 on desktop is that the line between then will blur, which will confuse users. There may be questions which apply to both. You can run Metro apps on either. I'm not saying that we necessarily should allow them because of this, but it's something to consider. – nhinkle May 23 '12 at 21:25
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    @nhinkle If you have a better idea, that results in a consistent policy also for iOS and Android devices, please post it. I'm very much against "Windows RT tablets are on topic, the rest of them aren't", due to the reasons I brought forward here (essentially: all of the reasons not to allow iOS/Android apply to Windows RT as well), resulting in "No tablet devices are on topic". As indicated by both slhck and me in chat, "all tablet devices are on topic" might work as well, but the risk is that due to these platforms being very app-focused, it'll devolve into software-rec flood w/o substance. – Daniel Beck May 23 '12 at 21:34
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    @DanielBeck personally (don't take this as a statement of policy) I wouldn't be totally against thinking about opening it up to tablet questions. – nhinkle May 23 '12 at 21:46
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    @nhinkle what about a Tablets.SE that would have iPad, Android, Windows RT tablets, etc? That would solve Daniel's concern of app-focused environments, and it would allow SuperUser to stay power-user oriented. – Nathan Moos May 24 '12 at 0:22
  • @NathanMoos that's one possibility. I'm not sure how quickly we could push through a tablets.SE with the slow Area51 process, and I'm still worried about the split. But it's definitely something to consider. – nhinkle May 24 '12 at 0:32
  • I do believe there was a consumer electronics SE that might have worked, but it never got past beta – Journeyman Geek May 24 '12 at 1:23
  • Disabling the Secure Boot... it's only a matter of time for this hack to arrive. Definitely not impossible. – Chris O Jun 10 '12 at 22:28
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    I know this will sound condescending, but there's nothing to do for it, so here goes. A user that can't distinguish between a Windows RT tablet and a Windows 8 computer is NOT acting as a superuser. That being said if THEY don't know what they have, then their questions are likely to confuse those trying to give them answers, because responders will first have to decipher what the question is in the first place. I don't advocate leaving them out in the cold. But, this isn't the right place for those questions. – killermist Jun 17 '12 at 20:26
  • @killermist That makes sense and I believe that is why we are having this debate in the first place about WinRT tablets. – Nathan Moos Aug 16 '12 at 17:37

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