Jailbreak tool gives Windows RT tablets desktop-like functions

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Just a few days after hackers figured out how to run unauthorized desktop apps on Windows RT tablets, a hacker on the XDA Developers forum has posted a download-and-click jailbreak tool for the exploit. The jailbreak utility will allow any user, who wants to take the risk, to temporarily open up their Windows RT tablet to legacy Windows applications, XDA user netham45 claims.

The new temporary jailbreak tool has the potential to solve what some have called Windows RT's “desktop as barren wasteland” conceit. Unlike a traditional x86/x64-powered Windows PC, the desktop interface on ARM-based Windows RT tablets can only run a select number of apps such as Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer. Third-party apps are not allowed.

The jailbreak tool also comes a few weeks before Microsoft is set to release Surface Pro, a Windows 8 tablet packed with an Intel Core processor capable of running legacy desktop apps. Microsoft in October released a version of the Surface running Windows RT.

Anyone yearning to put legacy Windows apps on their RT touch tablets, however, should keep in mind this jailbreak method has limitations and risks. PCWorld also has not tested this tool. So if you choose to try it, you are doing so at your own risk including potentially voiding your device's warranty and opening up your device to malware. The number of apps available to install is also fairly limited right now.

Installing the jailbreak tool sounds pretty straightforward: you extract a ZIP folder on your tablet, open a .bat file and click through the instructions. But the developer reports there are a few complications. You can't just fire up your tablet, log in and start running the .bat file. If you do, you run the risk of seeing the dreaded BSoD (blue screen of death), meaning you have to reboot your tablet. To avoid any BSoD complications, you have to wait a few minutes after booting your tablet before running the .bat file.

ARM-based Windows RT tablets can only run a select number of apps.

You also have to run the .bat file every time you reboot your device since restarts wipe out the jailbreak. Netham45 claims the jailbreak tool worked with Windows RT as of January 10, but Microsoft at any time could issue an update closing down the loophole used to jailbreak your device. Shortly after the basic exploit making this jailbreak possible became public, Microsoft issued a statement applauding the hackers' ingenuity. The company said the vulnerability did not pose a security threat to users, but Microsoft could not guarantee it wouldn't issue an update to shut down the hackfest.

Netham45 says that if a future update does shut down the ability to run third-party desktop apps, you could just have a recovery partition set-up and roll back your OS software to a previous version. The down side of that approach, however, is that you would also lose any new features or security updates that Microsoft issues. Newer devices could also come with a fix in place rendering the jailbreak tool useless.

Once you get your RT tablet primed for running desktop apps, the next problem you'll have is finding apps compiled for ARM devices. The good news is hackers on XDA are also hard at work compiling a list of legacy Windows apps recompiled for ARM. Currently, most of the apps are very hacker-centric such as VNC and telnet clients, a zip archive tool, and Notepad++. There is also a Nintendo Gameboy emulator called CrystalBoy available, but it may not work particularly well. You can find the complete list on XDA.

The list of ARM-compiled apps are not being vetted so there's no telling whether any of them are loaded with malware. But netham45 argues that if you did get infected with malware, rebooting your device would wipe it out. Rebooting your device erases your jailbreak and unauthorized apps, including malware, will no longer run. It's not clear if you would have to find the offending files and wipe them out before using the temporary jailbreak again.

Another downside to using legacy Windows apps on RT is that you'll be using an interface designed for the keyboard and mouse on a touch device. But if you're interested in taking a look at what the burgeoning RT jailbreak community is up to, it's now just a few clicks away.

The Windows RT jailbreak tool was first reported by The Next Web

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