Windows

Which version of Windows 8 should you choose for tablet deployment?

Patrick Gray talks about the two flavors of Windows 8 for tablets, and which you should choose for your organization.

With the release of Windows 8 just around the corner, a fairly difficult question is facing IT leaders who are considering testing or deploying the new OS on tablets: which version of Windows 8 do I choose?

Windows 8 comes in two distinct "flavors" where tablets are concerned -- Windows RT and regular Windows 8. The main difference between the two is that Windows RT is designed for ARM-based processors, which are built from the ground up to accommodate mobile devices. The regular variety of Windows 8 includes the familiar Home and Professional editions and is designed for traditional Intel processors.

This might seem like a bit of an inane technical discussion, but the two different processors and their relevant flavors of Windows 8 have some compatibility nuances. Applications designed for Windows 7 and prior versions of Windows are incompatible with Windows RT devices, since the ARM and Intel processors are fundamentally different, much like how you can't run an iPad app on a standard PC or Macintosh desktop.

The other relevant nuance between the two flavors of Windows is that certain applications designed for Windows 8 promise compatibility with both flavors of the OS. The regular Intel-based versions of Windows 8 should run just about everything targeted at the PC market, but for Windows RT, IT leaders will have to run through a bit of a mental decision tree to determine what software will work for the devices. In six months, as more software that's designed for Windows 8 appears, this will be less of a concern, but in the coming months, you'll need to ask if key enterprise applications have a Windows RT version available should you choose that route.

So, why would anyone want RT?

Rather than being forced into mental gymnastics every time you consider new software, it's tempting to simply drop Windows RT and the associated ARM-based devices from consideration. While the long-term viability of Windows on the ARM platform might be questionable, in the here and now, ARM provides three critical differentiators: price, size, and battery life.

ARM processors have long been optimized for low power use, so ARM-based devices are generally smaller and last longer than their Intel equivalents. The latter evolved from desktop computers, where power consumption and size only recently became concerns. Intel has been promising to gain parity with ARM on device size, weight, and longevity, but has been unable to do so for nearly a decade.

Price is a compelling factor as well, especially as ARM-based Windows tablets look like they'll be 20-50% cheaper than their Intel counterparts. Windows RT also includes a watered-down version of Microsoft Office, and this is a nice license savings if the user requires only basic functionality.

Further muddying the waters, Windows RT lacks some of the enterprise management functionality of its counterparts, causing some to suggest that it's primarily a consumer platform.

Which do I pick?

While I don't believe that Windows RT is solely a consumer product, one has to question the long-term viability of Windows on the ARM platform. On one hand, Microsoft probably knows more about Intel's plans and capabilities than the average CIO, and the millions they spent to deliver Windows RT makes it look like more than a one-hit wonder. On the other hand, if Intel is to be believed, an "ARM-matching" processor is just around the corner, and we can have our cake, eat it, and then brag about it on a lightweight, cheap, and long-lasting Windows-based tablet that runs all our software.

From my perspective, your choice in Windows flavor comes down to a matter of philosophy. If tablets in your organization are meant to be a user's primary computing device and must do everything from jockeying spreadsheets in accounting to running your ERP client on the shop floor, the Intel platform makes sense. The "standards" Windows 8 on a tablet lets you deploy a multi-role device that can act as laptop, tablet, and desktop, providing many of the best features of each. You'll pay monetarily for the privilege and give up some portability, but the Intel-based Windows 8 tablet looks to be fairly decent in each role.

If tablets are more of an content consumption device and designed to augment existing computing platforms, service highly mobile users who are information consumers, and also perhaps serve as the primary computing device for users to send email and browse the web, Windows RT looks compelling. You get the familiarity of a Windows platform and put all your users in front of a similar user interface vs. a Windows desktop and iPad or Android tablet.

Since Windows 8 applications will run on both flavors of Windows 8, application developers get a massive pool of potential customers, which will hopefully jump-start the development for what is essentially a new tablet OS.

In the near term, don't immediately dismiss Windows RT. Get devices with both flavors for your Windows pilot and seed some Windows RT devices with different classes of users. Ask IT to look at these devices more as iPads than inferior desktops that lack management capabilities. In the long run, if you can buy cheaper Windows RT devices for some users and wait for Intel to deliver an ARM-killer, you can seamlessly switch users with far less drama than going from iOS to Windows.

In all cases, it's exciting to see Microsoft reentering the tablet market with new thinking and new platforms.

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 ...

9 comments
hdn.de
hdn.de

where an iPad is adequate for the specific purpose, a "Pure Tablet" running Windows RT might for now be the the better choice, no matter if this will be a long term alternative or not. But what's more important (and I hope Microsoft understands this): This time for Microsoft to stay a real relevant competitor, it's not like the rollout of Vista or Windows 7 when it was all about winning enterprise customers to upgrade. This time to get back into the mobile game, Microsoft has to put a Windows sticker on a significant share of the tablets and smartphones sold to consumers in this year's holiday season and this can only work with ARM based low price offerings. A combined market share of > 20 percent would be great though not necessarity a breakthru, anything less then 10 percent, let's face it, a launch failure. Don't know how their chances are, but missing this one after so many they already busted, will almost inevitably mean that Android and iOS stay the only serious platform for mobile apps which will make them inevitably a part of most enterprise IT infrastructures in 2013 and lead to a sustained decrease of relevance of Windows based client systems also in the enterprise.

Gisabun
Gisabun

Why buy the RT version when the Pro allows you to run regular Windows apps, join a domain, etc.? You have no control over the RT edition.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

and MUST have Win 8, then Win 8 Pro is the only way to go - end of story. Mind you there are very few business situations where the tablet is the best answer as most business usage is better with a touch screen ultrabook anyway for the better resources.

OldHenry
OldHenry

How many companies are supplying their employees with iPads? iPads are very popular to be sure but most places I work with have iPads coming in as part of their BYOD program. Will a Windows RT device change this?

Necker
Necker

No mention of cloud, apple or any placard swinging end of the world tripe..... At last a refreshing insight into something new! Thankyou! More, more more....

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

under discussion as NOT being about using personal ARM devices, but about deploying devices for use in the corporate world. In that situation the ARM devices don't even come near to cutting the mustard as for a corporate usage and deployment you need to be able to easily connect to the corporate domain or there's not advantage in using the damn things at all. Once you accept that point, then the Win 8 Pro is the only choice. Once you get there, it then becomes a case of if you want a limited usage tablet or a wider usage ultrabook. For most corporate usages I see a touch screen ultrabook would be the better option. For limited usage such as logistics use for delivery drivers, then the surface or any tablet with Win 8 Pro would be suitable, if you insist on using Win 8.

reggaethecat
reggaethecat

RT devices will be 25% to 50% cheaper -- i.e. maybe half the price. IMO that means the Pro version will be overpriced (for a tablet) and therefore lots of people will stick to the iPad/Android tabs or buy the RT. But I'm crap at predictions so don't listen to me.

Gisabun
Gisabun

At least wioth the Pro edition, you can enforce policies. RT? Nope. With the Pro, you can run [just about] any Windows 8 application. RT? Applications made for RT - extra support. Depending on the company, most would prefer to support something that they can control. Better buying one Office edition than 2.

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