Microsoft Surface

Microsoft retries Windows RT, but does it matter?

Microsoft now has a well-qualified hardware partner, software that’s matured rapidly in the last year, and a complete set of Office functionality -- but is Windows RT even relevant?

Surface RT

Just shy of a year after releasing the Surface RT tablet, you would be forgiven for thinking Windows RT had largely been abandoned. However, Microsoft and Nokia, which will soon be part of the software giant, have redoubled efforts around Windows RT, creating a tablet-friendly version of Windows 8 designed to run on ARM processors. 

Nokia recently announced the Lumia 2520, a long-promised tablet that shares many of the features of the Surface, including detachable keyboard options and the Windows RT OS. On Microsoft’s part, after a few hiccups, the company released an updated version of its OS, which I recently installed on my personal Surface RT tablet. Do you think these moves can revitalize Windows RT?

Nokia’s tablet

In a tablet market dominated by Apple and Android, it’s easy to forget Nokia once pioneered tablet-like devices that connected to cellular networks. The company has long promised a tablet, although it’s somewhat of a surprise that its first foray into tablets was with the poorly received RT version of Windows. Also somewhat confusing is the fact that there’s little to differentiate the device from Microsoft’s Surface RT series of tablets. The Lumia looks to be a well-engineered piece of hardware, but few people complained about the quality of the Surface hardware, focusing instead on the OS and its inability to straddle the tablet and productivity worlds effectively.

The good news for enterprise tablet purchases is that Nokia has demonstrated it can successfully apply the popular Lumia design queues to a larger format and, as the company integrated with Microsoft, continue to deliver solid hardware. However, Nokia’s fall from grace has never been due primarily to hardware, so the success of Windows RT as a viable platform rests largely on the software.

Outlook, finally

One of the glaring problems of Windows RT is that it can't run the massive catalog of legacy Windows software that's designed for x86 processors. While the OS looks and feels like regular Windows 8, download an .EXE file, and you’ll quickly realize that it’s certainly not standard Windows. Microsoft attempted to offset this gap by including Microsoft Office with the device, with one glaring omission: Outlook was missing in action. Thus, Microsoft delivered a device purporting to offer laptop-like productivity with tablet features, but it left out a critical application. This was a major oversight, because not many road warriors would actually prefer the poor Mail application to full-fledged Outlook.

With Windows RT’s recent update, Outlook has become part of the standard suite, and it appears on the Windows RT desktop with little fuss beyond a long download and installation cycle. Nearly a year of software updates have also brought stability and usability improvements to the device, and the Office experience on Surface RT is now indistinguishable from a standard desktop. Microsoft has also sorted some of the strange behaviors of its SkyDrive cloud storage service. SkyDrive now seamlessly syncs files in the background, making RT a more viable device since your files “just appear” when disconnected.

Does RT even matter anymore?

Microsoft now has a well-qualified hardware partner, software that’s matured rapidly in the last year, and a complete set of Office functionality -- but is Windows RT even relevant? The OS was conceived largely in response to battery life concerns in the original Windows-based tablets. Devices that were lucky to get 3-4 hours away from a plug suddenly looked far less useful in a world of iPads and Android tablets that could easily achieve a full workday of battery life without recharging.

Windows RT also promised better economics, including a full suite of MS Office at nearly half the cost of a “regular” Windows tablet licensed for Office. With better processor technology, the battery life difference between x86 and ARM is becoming moot, and recent “regular” Windows tablets boast full workday batteries. The cost differential is also rapidly diminishing as well with recent tablets, checking in below $300 (USD) at the low end of the quality scale.

In the enterprise, RT might still make a great deal of sense for the average knowledge worker who spends more time in email than in any specialized applications. With no fans, lighter weight, and an OS that presents less opportunity for unauthorized application installation, a “stripped down” platform that offers tablet functionality and familiar Office applications looks somewhat compelling.

However, a larger variety of “regular” Windows tablets is coming from the major vendors -- at competitive costs and with good battery life -- and it increasingly appears Microsoft itself will be the only source of RT hardware. While current owners of Surface RT tablets will be pleasantly surprised by the functionality improvements present in the Windows RT update, it’s still a stretch to envision enterprises opting for RT over standard Windows. Do you agree or disagree? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.


Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...


Well Surface 2 (RT) is just great. It beats my iPad for occassional functionality when out of the office or travelling abroad on a holiday shooting pics.

Key pluses for me (us)

1. It has file management - I can upload gigabytes of data and move it around absolute essential when shooting lots of pics in RAW

2. uses a standard USB3 port for connecting additional devices & memory

3.Whilst away I can still work on standard Office programmes as if I was on my PC (or iMac) so great to kep in touch with office or take standard files with m,e (NO APP CONVERSION ISSUES)

4. Great screen - colour rendition with super clear text. I can read small print so much more easily and photos are rendered in sRGB

5. MS own Photos app is basic but just right balance. On trips I just want to show colleagues large images (in RAW) I have of underwater creatures. Photos is smooth and quick easily handling hundreds of 20 Mb files. Photos also has some basic easy to use tools for improving the image. Great if I want to impress fellow divers on the trip with some of my better shots. All the real work and time will be done on return using Lightroom and Photoshop when I have more time to spend on processing images.This quick and easy app from MS is a fantastic addition to my workflow.

I can hear some of you saying why not a Surface Pro 2.

It was definitely a thought but why should I spend the extra bucks. For any serious work I need all the software and hardware to hand. I need my network, large monitors, attachments etc.  The Surface 2 gives me everything I need and more when on the road. iPads are just too closed a system and Androids are just the same. 

No wonder Apple took time out to pooh poohing  the Surface in its Oct launch. It knows when a threat is real. They should be worried.


Surface RT is a consumer device and should not have any desktop at all.  It should be a pure tablet where you live in the Metro environment.  This would allow Microsoft to make Windows RT much leaner by removing the desktop portion all together. Removing the overhead of the desktop OS in Windows RT would make everything run faster.

The problem with doing this is that Microsoft needs a version of Office on the RT devices and sadly the touch versions of the Office apps do not yet exist.  Therefore the consumer will have to suffer with desktop office apps on an underpowered touch device.

If you want an enterprise device then get a Windows Pro device like Surface Pro and be done with it.


"Lumina"?  When did Nokia introduce that brand?

 All I know about is Lumia.

Poor fact-checking/proof-reading in a tech publication.


I remember the days when setting up a user's desktop or desktop image involved the installation of:

- OS, Productivity Suite. Browser, Plug-ins, Anti-virus, various dedicated telecomm apps to remote services.

Now, there's pushback against many plug-ins. Better anti-virus solutions are coming installed with the OS. Dedicated telecomm apps to remote services have given way to the Web. Some firms run a thin client model. There simply are not as many required 3rd party apps for the regular office productivity user.

In this case, it's conceivable to use an RT tablet as a user's sole device, but the perfect RT tablet does not yet exist. You must have a simple cradle dock for the tablet, enabling high bandwidth activities like wired networking, dual monitor support, full size keyboards and mice/trackpads and USB expansion. A "Drop In/Lift Out cradle dock. Provide this, and for corporate knowledge workers with remote needs, a RT tablet can possibly displace a desktop, laptop and thin client network.

And I could care less if I manage such a device via directory based GPOs or a web based service much like InTune. If an InTune web style management app gives me central control over installation of new Metro style apps and default settings, I'd be happy.

Tim Jordan
Tim Jordan

Linux runs on ARM and if you look at the Wikipedia page "List of Linux supported architectures," you will see that Linux runs on all architectures. Microsoft writes a new OS for new architectures. Linux is already on hundreds of CPU architectures. Windows is on one, x86. RT in on one, ARM. Microsoft is good at copying so they should copy Linux Inc and port regular Windows to each new architecture.


Can RT still not join a domain? As long as it is not part of my domain I cannot manage it and it makes no sense in my enterprise environment.


"One of the glaring problems of Windows RT is that it can't run the massive catalog of legacy Windows software".

I'll go back to the comment I've made on similar articles: why is this seen as a "glaring problem" for WinRT when it isn't considered a glaring problem for iOS? I understand the huge difference with the number of apps available for iOS compared to the number available for WinRT. I also remember getting the first gen iPad when it debuted and sitting around with my IT peers going "cool, now what do we do with it?"


With Outlook now a part of Windows RT the surface is now complete for me. And with a ~$500 price point with the type pad keyboard it does everything I really used a laptop for anyway. I can't justify twice the price for its big brother when I don't need to run other software while travelling. The only complaint I have it that it wont run Silverlight and so I can't manage clients Intune dashboards with it. Outside of that I am pleased.


@stnwall There's some sort of enterprise file sync thing built in, can't remember what it's called but no you can't join it to a domain, so RT will never be of much use to an enterprise imo.  The real pain is when someone walks in and says "I just bought one of these and want to use it at work".


@asaturley Well for one thing I have a lot of Access databases, so for that reason alone, no go.