Windows

Should Windows RT be in your future?

Patrick Gray discusses Windows RT and what it means for your organization.

One of the niceties of Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 operating system is that the number of "editions" of the OS has been reduced from six to four, with much of the consolidation coming at the consumer end of the spectrum. When considered in light of the traditional Windows desktop model, however, Windows 8 really only has three editions, with new entrant Windows RT rounding out the offering. Windows RT is the final name for what was commonly called "Windows for ARM," Microsoft's attempt to bring Windows to ARM-based processors commonly found in mobile devices.

Why ARM?

ARM Holdings, the company behind so-called "ARM CPUs," has been around for decades, originally producing processors for low-power devices like networking equipment and consumer electronics. The design's low power requirements and relatively open licensing of the technology quickly found ARM-based processors powering the world's mobile phones. Companies like Qualcomm and NVidia developed "system on a chip" packages, where core components of a smartphone -- like the CPU, video processing, and mobile network hardware -- were contained on a single chip, further reducing power consumption.

Contrast this with Intel's x86 design, common to traditional desktops and laptops, which was originally designed with little concern for power consumption or space savings. This rarely presented any challenges to Intel until the smartphone and tablet era took hold, leaving Intel in catch-up mode while ARM-based designs dominate tablets and smartphones, with Intel "inside" a grand total of three smartphones as of this writing.

While this is a simplified history and overview of the nuances between two very complicated computing platforms, the essential takeaway is that ARM currently dominates tablets and smartphones, and the two platforms are essentially incompatible. Even if you have a common operating system running on an ARM and Intel platform, you can't take an application compiled for one platform and run it on the other. As we'll discuss, this means you can't run your existing x86-based Windows applications on Windows RT (with some exceptions).

What ARM means for Windows tablets

While Windows has a long history of running on tablet-style devices, they traditionally met with little success, primarily due to power. An iPad or Android tablet likely lasts an entire workday and appears to "turn on" instantly, since the device is effectively always powered up and only in a standby state -- a computing trick that's only possible if your platform is extremely miserly with its battery. Intel has struggled to match ARM platforms on the power front, but Microsoft has essentially opted to hedge its bets, creating a version of Windows for ARM-based platforms.

The application situation

Microsoft is betting that its upcoming Surface tablet presents a "hat trick" of sorts to enterprise IT leaders. It provides users with a familiar computing experience, it leverages the existing pool of Windows applications and Windows developers, and it fits nicely into organizations familiar with deploying, managing, and maintaining Windows. With ARM, the big question for CIOs should be around application support, since ARM trades the great power characteristics and associated size and weight advantages for what is presumably Windows' biggest asset: its huge application pool.

While Microsoft has provided development tools that will allow newer "metro-style" applications to run on any version of Windows 8, existing Windows applications will likely not be supported on the ARM platform. Presumably the "big boys" like Oracle and SAP will quickly deliver tools that are universally compatible, but your niche and in-house applications will not run natively on Windows RT without recompiling, which is a potentially major undertaking.

Another interesting twist with Windows RT is that Microsoft will be including an ARM version of its Office suite with the operating system. This sweetens the deal for a good portion of your workforce who wants a lightweight computing device, and does little beyond jockeying spreadsheets and wading through a crowded Outlook inbox. If your average employee works in Office, accesses web-based applications, and perhaps connects to a handful of large-vendor systems, Windows RT looks fairly compelling. If you're awash in in-house applications that haven't been developed using the standard Windows framework or are beyond a few years old, you're likely looking at a major overhaul if you want to go the Windows RT route.

Does Windows RT makes sense for your organization? What factors are you considering before signing on the dotted line with Microsoft's latest push into the tablet space?

About

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 ...

17 comments
Gisabun
Gisabun

For the tecghie and any company that has a Windows domain, only the non-RT edition(s) should be used. You can't add an RT Surface to a domain. The only concern of the RT is that whether developers will continue to support the RT if it tanks. Unlike the non-RT edition, the RT edition requires it's own build. You can't take Office 2007 [for example] and install it on a RT edition - but you should be able to for a non-RT model. If developers don't support it, it will be like the HP tablet that was dumped last year by HP.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Cause of my stomach condition, I tend to be up late some nights, and when I am at the cottage or camping or something, I like to use my laptop to watch downloaded TV shows or movies, A tablet would be much easier to haul around for this purpose.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

to the enterprise? Also, how many people could really use one? Sure the marketing people might find a tablet useful, so will delivery drivers, but the vast majority of people in an enterprise work situation are just using their computers to do a few tasks like: Enter accounting information into the accounts program; Prepare standard correspondence and other documents, including emails; Use analytical programs to analyse business trends, including presentations; Use scanners for stock management and sales, including point of sale devices; Review statistics and information from the corporate databases. The above covers over 90% of corporate computer usage by staff and management. When you add in the IT required usage for management of data storage and Internet gateways, you don't get much left. The only people who will have a legitimate daily usage are really the sales force, based on their industry. Even then, many would have a greater need for a full blown notebook over a tablet. I wonder how many would take a tablet and stick with it for a few years if it was the tablet and no notebook at all, or the notebook and no tablet! I see many people using them today because it's a 'new toy' item but some are finding it impossible to justify getting them as a business expense due to it NOT adding any business benefit to the situation.

Hazydave
Hazydave

Microsoft is adding a whole stack of restrictions on ARM based systems that are not imposed on x86. Windows 8 adds a whole new OS API, WinRT, next to the now "classic" Win32 API. Only, on ARM, only Microsoft signed apps can use Win32 calls. So its not a simple matter of a recompile... it will mandate the Metro UI, its basically a whole new OS. There are things that can't be done via WinRT, which is going to, for example, limit full function web browsers to being shells over IE... similar to the iOS situation. Folks have already mentioned the lack of domain support... no reason they couldn't support domains, just that MS figures enterprise level organizations can afford more expensive x86 devices, and this serves to lock that in. And finally, it appears that MS's vision of an ARM tablet is an appliance fixed at Windows 8 forever... SPs and bug fixes but no version upgrades. In an era in which not only PCs, but pretty much all smart phones, Blu-ray players, digital cameras, game consoles, RC controllers, etc get version upgrades, its very backward looking to force the HW upgrade just to stay current with the OS.

Jason_Netherland
Jason_Netherland

I think in the business world the biggest thing that will hold Windows 8 RT back is the fact that you wont be able to add these devices to a domain. Speaking in terms of the Windows Surface Tablets that were announced I see the Pro edition being a better option for businesses simply because it will leverage existing applications and the new Metro apps. The big question though is what kind of battery life can we expect from the Pro edition. I have faith though that if Apple can claim up to 7 hours on their new Mac Book Pro that Microsoft can get good numbers on this tablet.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

Windows RT means a total vendor lock-in to Microsoft approved apps and only those apps, as already declared by Microsoft. This means a huge reduction in versatility and choice of apps and the lose of many very useful apps. It also means a total lock in expensive replacement of hardware and software every five years or so, something that is very counter productive in most business environments, especially small businesses like we're involved with.

M Wagner
M Wagner

Microsoft's problem in the enterprise though is that IT decision-makers with light computing needs are buying iPads as secondary devices when they don't need the power of their Windows 7 notebooks. In this scenario, a Windows RT tablet (a "Surface RT" if you like) is the "iPad Killer". In a more typical scenario though, the IT decision-maker will completely replace his/her Windows 7 notebook with a Windows 8 (or "Surface 8") tablet - savings hundreds of dollars by purchasing just one device. In short, the "Surface RT" tablet is really a consumer product directed at consumers who have been choosing to replace their Windows notebook with an iPad. Its value in the enterprise is limited to its success in displacing the iPad in the enterprise on the short term. On the longer term, the Windows 8 tablet will be the device which Microsoft hopes the enterprise will migrate.

primartcloud
primartcloud

With Win8 MSF gives companies options for their staff and sales force by providing hardware options. The RT version should be inexpensive and yet provide the connectivity and continuous interchange of information for a seamless data flow. There should be an interchange of ideas, data and creative interplay in realtime increasing the sped of collaborative content creation.

Kent Lion
Kent Lion

Let's see: "It provides users with a familiar computing experience, it leverages the existing pool of Windows applications..." In other words, it allows the user to continue or go back to being forced to repeatedly learn/adapt to unfamiliar, less efficient ways of computing, so Microsoft can continue to worsen and bloat their OS and applications for the sake of their bottom line at the expense of their customers.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

only way to load anything onto an RT ARM device is to sell it through the Microsoft Shop and Microsoft will have tight rules on what you can and can't do and will also take a large slice for themselves from the sale, just for letting you develop on their system. All of which will reduce the potential productivity for the developer and discourage them from working with it.

seanferd
seanferd

frequently share many of the same considerations and issues as you have mentioned. ;)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Before I can answer the question "Should RT be in my future?", I have to answer "Is there a place for tablets in my future?" Short term, the answer is still, "No."

Gisabun
Gisabun

Because you can't connect a Windows RT device to active directory, entrerprises won't use it. They'll opt for the other Surface edition.

TNT
TNT

Just because it isn't managed by Ad doesn't leave it off the table for enterprise. It can be managed the same way other tablets and phone devices are managed now -- through certificates or apps like MobileIron. I agree that for serious work in labs and so forth Surface Pro is to be preferred by Enterprise; but for inventory or POS check outs, etc there is no reason to avoid the cheaper Surface RT. It all depends on the purpose.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The 'buzzword to content' ratio on that one is as high as I've seen in quite a while. The first post from someone who's been a member for a minimum of 18 months, and it's a doozy.

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