How to Jailbreak Your Windows RT Device and Run Unapproved Desktop Software

Windows RT is the locked-down version of Windows 8 for ARM computers, as seen on Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet and a few other Windows RT devices. Unlike the standard version of Windows 8, Windows RT doesn’t allow you to install your own desktop programs. You’re limited to the included desktop programs written by Microsoft or Modern apps from the Windows Store. However, there are ways to jailbreak your Windows RT device and run unapproved software on the desktop.

These tricks aren’t for the faint of heart. They’re for the geeks out there who have a Surface lying around and want to hack around with it, making it do more than what it was designed to do.

Microsoft-Approved Desktop Apps

Windows RT includes most of the standard Windows desktop programs that come with Windows. You can use Internet Explorer, File Explorer, Remote Desktop, Notepad, Paint, and other tools — but there’s no Windows Media Player. Windows RT also comes bundled with desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. In Windows RT 8.1, you’ll also be able to use the popular Outlook mail client on the desktop. These Office apps are limited versions, without support for macros and plug-ins.

If you want to run another desktop program, tough luck — you can only run desktop programs specifically written by Microsoft. To get a new desktop program, users will have to ask Microsoft nicely — just as they asked for Outlook or Windows RT and will be receiving it soon. On a Windows RT device, you’ll need to install Modern apps from the Windows Store instead of desktop apps from the web. However, intrepid hackers — in the good sense of the word — have been hacking away at Microsoft’s limitations.

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Jailbreaking a Surface RT or Other Windows RT Device

Like an iPad, a Surface RT or other Windows RT device can be jailbroken. This removes the protection against running any desktop program not specifically written by Microsoft.

Note that jailbreaking your Windows RT device won’t allow you to run any Windows desktop program. Windows RT devices run on ARM chips, while standard Windows PCs use Intel x86 chips — that means you can’t just run standard Windows software on an ARM device, even after jailbreaking it. We’ll cover the software you can run later.

Jailbreaking was once a bit more complicated, requiring you to run a special hack every time you booted your device. There’s now a dedicated RT Jailbreak Tool that can automatically run at startup, jailbreaking your Windows RT device every time it boots. To jailbreak your Windows RT device, just follow the instructions in the thread — download the .zip file, extract it, and double-click the runExploit.bat file.

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Running Apps Compiled for Windows RT

After jailbreaking, you can immediately run apps that have been specifically tweaked and compiled for Windows RT’s ARM architecture. As many popular tools are open-source, this means that you can run some popular desktop programs, including BitTorrent clients, text editors, VNC programs, older games, and other tools. Consult the Desktop apps ported to Windows RT thread on the XDA developers forum for a maintained list of desktop programs you can run. You’ll find common tools like 7-Zip, Notepad++, PuTTY, TightVNC, Keepass, Miranda IM, and Audacity in addition to game engines and emulators that can run old SNES and DOS games.

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Running Standard Windows x86 Software

One enterprising developer has created a tool named Win86emu that functions as an emulation layer, enabling standard x86 Windows desktop programs to run on Windows RT ARM tablets. It’s still in beta, so don’t expect to work with too many programs. There’s also a thread that lists compatible apps — you can use IrfanView, WinRAR, and the Windows 95 version of Pinball decently, but other programs will be too slow. Fallout 2, Might and Magic VI, Heroes of Might and Magic III, and Age of Empires 1 work okay, too.

This is certainly a start, and if you need to use IrfanView, WinRAR, or play a few old games, this could be useful. This tool would likely improve with time if Windows RT became more popular, but it’s unclear if that would ever happen — so don’t hold onto your hats.

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Should You Jailbreak Your Windows RT Device?

Microsoft says the limited desktop makes Windows RT devices more secure — no unapproved desktop programs means no viruses. After a jailbreak, a Windows RT device will behave more like a standard Windows 8 device, so security shouldn’t be an issue. Performance and battery life might be an issue — desktop programs running in the background might be a drain in the CPU as they can’t be managed by the system in the same way Modern apps are — but this will be no more of a problem than on standard Windows 8 systems.

In reality, it seems more like Windows RT has a desktop because Microsoft couldn’t port Office to the Modern environment fast enough and they couldn’t get all of the important settings into the Modern PC Settings app. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the crippled desktop fully removed from Windows RT within a few versions.

The bigger concern is the actual usefulness of these tweaks. If you already have a Surface RT and want to do something a bit extra with it, these tricks can be useful. However, you won’t be able to do more than run a few small desktop apps. Developers won’t compile their apps specifically for Windows RT, so you’re relying on enthusiasts to get them working for you.

If you want a touch-based Windows device, pick up one that uses Windows 8 on a standard x86 chip. With devices running Intel’s Atom chip offering similar performance and price to ARM devices as well as compatibility with traditional Windows desktop software, there’s no real reason to purchase a Windows RT device. You should go with a Windows 8 device instead of a Windows RT device if you want to run desktop programs.

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Have you jailbroken your Surface or other Windows RT device? How have the third-party desktop apps worked for you? Leave a comment and share your experiences!

Image Credit: John Bristowe on Flickr

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30 Comments -

0 votes

likefunbutnot

Anything that can run DOSbox can run Windows 98, opening up a rather spectacular amount of desktop software compatibility.

0 votes

Lee

If some compilers are ported, couldn’t you technically just compile any open source program and run it? Or would you run into issues with the different architecture?

0 votes

Niall

Maybe somebody could even use a cross-compiler from there desktop computer. Might be a bit awkward although.

0 votes

Henk van Setten

Theoretically interesting, Chris. I hope you will write a similar piece about how to jailbreak a Toyota Prius and convert it into a hotrod. Even if this means it won’t go faster than 30 mph…

0 votes

Radek

Exactly!

0 votes

a500

I run the jail break on the Surface RT tablet so I can run a couple utilites that I find usefull. Putty is one that I needed and am glad I can run it on RT now. You really do not need to install much on a tablet if you also have a full PC available. Surface RT makes a great moble terminal, I connect to my/works workstation via RDP when I need to run Windows apps. So, now I do not need to carry a heavy laptop around with me. There is nothing wrong with RT except it is more restrictive (than x86 Windows 8), I wish Microsoft did lock the device and we did not have to “Jail Break” the device to install a few applications that we need. Desktop mode is usefull for mapping drives, formating disks, browsing the network.

0 votes

bob

what is putty

0 votes

Alex

how do you get a Nintendo DS emulator??

0 votes

jody

Search ”ds emulator” on a regular computer and download desume and download a ds game from cool rom and drag the game into desume,just YouTube it.

0 votes

JT Smith

alex brown

0 votes

Lauryn

Any word on the jailbreaking of the new Surface 2?

0 votes

Netham45

It’s coming soon, another hacker has already cracked 8.1 twice over on the RTs.

Stay tuned to XDA.

0 votes

bob

how do you install the third party apps?

0 votes

Dr Emam

Dear
I recently bought windows RT 8.1 tablet to use for my work
Unfortunately it doesn’t run my electronic book file with extension exe named CVP (compendium of veterinary pharmaceuticals )
1. Does jailbreak will let it be run
2. I tried to jailbreak but it gives me an error after hitting ( r) in jailbreak options as u know,
(error: the system was unable to find registry key or value then shut down

Please help to keep this tablet or sell it

Thanks in advance

Dr Emam

0 votes

C Daniels

It will not likely run CVP.exe. You may have a slight chance if you can get Win86Emu to run, but doing that requires several steps that are as difficult, if not more difficult than the original jailbreak. Sell it.

0 votes

Faheem

I have a local program related to stock exchange (It is not a heavy program and consumes only 30MB of storage) . Can i run that program on Surface RT by jailbreaking it?

0 votes

jaxon

After jelb. Can run apps like whatsapp ??

0 votes

abbey

This probably sounds trivial, but I am wondering if I should jailbreak my Surface RT since it doesn’t support Dropbox. I already have the app but I’d prefer to be able to access my files while offline, which requires me to download the program first.
Any opinions?

0 votes

david

I’ve been thinking on whether or not to jailbreak my Surface RT because I got it for Christmas and I only wanted a computer to play games on, I didn’t really need it for work but since its restricted I came here to ask if I we’re to jailbreak my Surface RT would still run as smoothly as it did before because there is no point to jailbreak it if its going to be slow or laggy.

0 votes

alex

I too am interested in this exact topic

0 votes

mike

Could someone give me an update on 8.1 jailbreak at mikec2241@gmail.com thanks

0 votes

karlo ponce

is it possible to install java in the surface rt? i need to install eclipse and it wont run with out it. Any tips that you can give would be great. thanks

0 votes

kentz

is this working on Surface 2 Rt 8.1? i just have it last week its 64Gb surface 2 8.1 RT and cant run any exe files so i want to jailbreak it is there anyway i can jailbreaK it?! if you guys can help me email me thank you

0 votes

Octaze

chrome setup doesn’t work :(

0 votes

alex

hello all folks just want to know why don’t try to change the os on surface RT? why don’t try to hack the bios and install windows7?

0 votes

etking

this is not OS problem, is the architecture that doesnt support normal Windows app. It was running on ARM as the author told.

0 votes

Andi

My windows rt tablet says :
ERROR: The system was unable to find the specified registry key or value . how to solve this problem .anyone can help. thanks
waiting for uptime to reach to minute.

0 votes

dan sherlock

Yeah isn’t working on my rt, its windows 8.1

0 votes

bobcetopce

Does this work for windows 8.1?

0 votes

Brad

Can I get chrome drive etc on a surface 2?