CXO investigate

Even if Windows RT vanishes, its spirit will live on

Tech chiefs are downbeat about the future of Microsoft's latest operating system but the shift in strategy it embodies is here for good.
Only Microsoft and Nokia – which is in the process of selling its devices arm to Microsoft - are still making Windows RT devices; the other manufacturers who were initially involved have now all given up. And there was a notable lack of new Windows RT devices appearing at CES this year.

The positioning and marketing of the operating system has been confusing both to business and consumers. And when asked 'Is there a future for Windows RT?' members of TechRepublic's CIO Jury were downbeat about its prospects.

"It is a halfway house product that that tempts you into thinking it is more than it is and can lead to frustrations due to its limitations," said Ian Auger, head of IT and communications at UK news company ITN, while Duncan James, infrastructure manager, Clarion Solicitors said "RT is a good concept, unfortunately the rest of the world have not seen any reason to take time developing for it, certainly not as much as Microsoft would have liked. If there's no demand, the applications simply won't get developed."

Michael Spears, CIO at NCCI Holdings said: "Microsoft is really marketing the concept of [the] same experience on any device. Sound good, but it's a horrible implementation on a tablet still.

"The reduced functionality of RT apps just make it worse.  Customers are also confused over the difference between RT, Modern Apps, Windows Phone, Windows 8.1, etc.  Both Apple and Google have found the sweet spot for bringing consumer technologies to the work world, while Microsoft wants you to take your work home. The concept just isn't that appealing."  

John Gracyalny, VP for IT at SafeAmerica Credit Union similarly failed to see a future for Windows RT: "the only version of "mobile" Windows supported by my software vendors is Windows 8 Pro on Surface."

Microsoft has acknowledged that change is likely to be coming. Julie Larson-Green, Microsoft's executive vice president of devices and studios said in November: "We have the Windows Phone OS. We have Windows RT and we have full Windows. We're not going to have three."

But even if Microsoft drops the Windows RT branding, or even ditches the OS in favour of Windows Phone on tablets, it doesn't really change anything. That's because the shift in emphasis embodied by Windows RT is central to Microsoft's 'devices and services' evolution.

As such, it's worth noting what Larson-Green went on to say next: "We do think there's a world where there is a more mobile operating system that doesn't have the risks to battery life, or the risks to security. But, it also comes at the cost of flexibility. So we believe in that vision and that direction and we're continuing down that path."

Windows RT was always going to be a stopgap, a bridge from Window's past to its future. Microsoft was hoping for a glittering suspension bridge but ended up with something a lot more rickety.

The desktop mode, for example is an clunky oddity that exists because a touch first version of Office does not (the very presence of Office on these devices reflects how little Microsoft understands what motivates tablet buyers).

The lack of apps is a reflection of Microsoft's failure to take the iPad seriously when it should have, thus losing the race for the hearts and minds of developers.

Still, Microsoft desperately needs to make a tablet device that consumers want to buy, if only to secure its place in the enterprise in the longer term and guard against erosion by Android and iOS devices.

Whether than means Windows RT will be dropped or merged with Windows Phone (or Windows Phone beefed up to power bigger devices rather than Windows RT being squeezed into a smartphone chassis) remains to be seen. It's a transition that could take some time. But the idea of a closed, turnkey version of Windows sitting alongside the full version of Windows is something that Microsoft is unlikely to abandon.

Further reading

About

Steve Ranger is the UK editor of TechRepublic, and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, business and culture for more than a decade. Before joining TechRepublic he was the editor of silicon.com.

11 comments
bmiddendorf
bmiddendorf

My Surface RT has been a lifesaver 2nd device for meetings as well as travel. All the negative features the author pointed out are positives to me. I use Office on my RT all the time, wouldn't trade it for any other tablet. Lack of Cisco support (VPN, WebEx) is the most frustrating. But I blame that on Cisco.

No other tablet has the value of the Surface RT for a work tablet. Wouldn't trade mine for anything.

Asok Asus
Asok Asus

"Even if Windows RT vanishes, its spirit will live on"


Yes, indeed. RT will live on in a few million orphan devices that become more and more obsolescent each day on their march towards the graveyard of spectacularly failed consumer products.

SHCA
SHCA

The title is the best part of this article, and it prompts a lot of good discussion.  All of the responders clearly think deeply and logically about their choice of devices and OS's.


The computing world of the next decade (because despite recent furore, Microsoft still controls the future) looks like this:


1.  New Windows (I.e.8) is the standard user interface.  It embodies an entirely new concept of interfacing to computers, one whose time has come.  Old Windows was about the hardware bits and pieces, because it all seemed so magical in the 90's.  New Windows is about what the device can do, i.e. Apps.  Apple made a great step along this road with Mac OS, but they haven't updated the concept in a decade and a half. Since the turn of the millennium, while Apple chased short-term revenue from short-term gadgetry and refused to contribute to mainstream IT, Microsoft thought deeply about the ENTIRE data environment, and steadily moved our expectations to where they need to be. 


The new age Luddites will continue to point to Windows 8's unfamiliarity as evidence that it is heresy, and that suddenly Windows XP was always the true saviour.  But real people will figure it out and move forward, just like they did with Windows itself, and Mac OS. We will all realize how right the New Windows fits the way we use devices now and no one will dream of going back, any more than we would consider returning to the golden age of Windows 3.1.


2.  Just as New Windows ignores the platform to focus on the Apps lying on the surface (Oh Surface, I finally get it!). the glamour of devices will give way to consistency of interface.  Just like the consumerism of IT, consumers will demand interoperability between devices without suffering another learning curve with every new gadget.  And who figured that out years ago and does it already?  New Windows.  Now departing on the New Windows platform, Phone, Phablet, Tablet, Convertible, Laptop, Desktop, and even Server.


3.  At the same time, we will demand a consistent interface for Apps across devices.  The OS vendors will duke it out, but who will carry the day?  New Windows.  Market reach always rules, and who got there first in the 2000's won't matter any more.  We'll be where we are now on the desktop:  Windows for real work and a variety of tinker-toys for the zealous hobbyists.


4.  Eventually, devices manufacturers will be forced to meet an OS interface standard, and keep all their hardware peculiarities to themselves.  In the interim, Microsoft will get proficient at their own tactical versions of Windows that maintain the New Windows user interface, and add the apps interface to come.  Users will follow along, for the simple reason that its easier, and is just the sensible way to go.


So Windows RT is just a tactical solution to help us stick to the path until all of the paving is finished.  So what?  So were DOS 2.0, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows Vista, and also I suspect, Windows 8.. Until the hardware and hardware layer settles into standardization, Microsoft will do what is necessary and we will all enjoy the practicality of it.  Sure RT is dead.  All hail RT's bastard children for just as long as we need them. 

ernie
ernie

Interesting article.  In my position, I try to evaluate most of the current crop of "mobile"devices.  I own:


-iPad 3rd gen.

-Samsung Chromebook

-Surface RT 1st gen.

-Acer Win. 7 tablet

-Asus 13" Win 7 laptop

-HP Spectre 13t Win 8.1 touch screen laptop with touch-pad and high def graphics


Many of the above are forgettable.  With that said my Surface RT is among the best of these devices.  For most users the problem is not the device, it is learning Windows 8 which is interesting!  The keyboard, quality build, MS Office, 16;9 screen, capable app store, USB and SD card slots make it a great choice. 


Especially if you have to purchase between 300 and 3000 machines like many of my school clients do.  The Surface RT is a great choice for schools.  


My one Win RT gripe...no Chrome browser :-(

jmfcosta
jmfcosta

It is rather curious how some people look at the same points as positive or negative depending if they are talking Apple or Windows.


For eternities Apple users mocked of their Windows counterparts because of the never-ending system and driver updates, user-unfriendliness. Long-time Windows users have learned to deal with it and since Win7 these maintenance requirements have finished to be a real problem.


I own a Win 8.1 Laptop and a Surface 8.1 RT for almost a year. If I am happy to deal with the maintenance matters an open system as Windows requires when at my desk during a current work day, while away those would be the last issues I would like to have to cope with. And that is one of the strongest points of RT: it is an adequately closed system enabling suitable work and leisure to be done with minimum (if any) hassle. An Apple strong point for ages.


I really cannot understand the reason for a Surface Pro. Not only the trouble (even if limited) that a Wintel system carries is back, but it comes in a 10” screen. Office is the most I can efficiently do in a tablet with a keyboard; for any other legacy applications, I need a larger screen, memory, storage, a mouse. At least a 13/14” ultrabook or a laptop, never a tablet.


I don’t know if regular people have been confused by the “three OS” discussion. Perhaps to have just “Windows 8” and “Windows 8 Mobile” might have been more easily marketable, it’s possible.


What I DO know (different from what “I think I know…”) is that having a laptop with Win 8.1, a Surface with RT 8.1, recently joined by a smartphone with Windows Phone 8 makes my life much easier and I can operate in each in virtually all the same routines. Everything is in the same place, same tiles, same file management practices, I just change devices.


And use each one for the purpose it was designed for. I don’t use Surface RT for Autocad or MatLab or InDesign, the same way I do not use the laptop to watch a movie in bed or send a sms; but I can do e-mail or read a book or watch YouTube or check files in all of them in the same way.


Three OS’s my foot! Fantastic job!

Curtis Quick
Curtis Quick

The author really does not understand RT. RT is not a tablet for iPad fans. For those of us who have one, we love it because it's light, thin, and allows us to get work done away from the office with MS Office. If this is not what you want, probably a Surface is not or you. A Surface 2 is almost a laptop replacement. It is light years ahead of a laptop in terms of size and weight and also an iPad because of its functionality AND MS Office.


The whole app issue is beating a dead horse. 200K apps is plenty. Besides, a great advantage of RT is that in many cases an app is not needed - just use the web browser (and you can always just create a tile on the Start Screen that points to the website). Anyway, it already has the one app that is was purchased for - MS Office.


And why do the reviews ding it for not running legacy Windows software when they do not ding the iPad for not running MacOS software? I smell a double-standard here! To be fair, reviewers should point out that Windows RT is more stable over the long haul precisely BECAUSE it does not allow 3rd party software to be installed without being vetted in the MS Store fist. I have been using my Surface RT for just over a year now and it has not slowed down in the slightest (if anything updates have sped it up). This is not the case with full Windows PCs that often seem to get clogged up and slow down over time by un-vetted 3rd party software additions.


Those who don't use Surface don't understand it, don't like it, and see it as a threat to be squashed lest it become accepted by the marketplace and upset the status quo. Those that have a Surface love it.

techrondo
techrondo

O I forgot another important nail in RT's coffin...


Can't run non windows apps or Android os or their apps unless they have been written for RT.


RT = RIP 2014,


Unless

Wintel or outsiders jailbreak RT for Android.


Outsiders will most likely not make it to the mainstream biz end of things so unless

Microsoft itself imbrases coexistence with Android and other ops...

RIP

techrondo
techrondo

RT is a stopgap at best.

Dead on arrival because it is not backward compatible with old windows applications.


I want a arm compatible (aka RISC) AND x86 (aka CISC) compatible processor.


This was the holy grail of reconquering the future of computing with the new mobile computing "para-dime".

Assuming you bought into that past glory kind of mindset.


Until the resent news from intel about solving this the Wintel (old "para-dimes")

The RT was dead on arrival until this announcement.


We will see if this will change now that intel sais it has solved this.


For now the only reason to  buy and RT is because you don't have the 175$ to get a full blown x86 machine.


And that is now not even true except in the surface world (read news of other hardware running win8 news vacuum).

Asus win8 Laplet = 349$

CR2011
CR2011

I agree with tjrobill , I bought my Surface RT  because of price and that it had Office loaded One note in the beginning and then was extremely happy they added Outlook 2013 with the 8.1 update. Prior to this I have owned several android tablets, however, this tablet is far and away much more useful to me.

tjrobill
tjrobill

Part of my decision to buy surface R/T was that it had Office loaded.  I know dozens of people who own R/T tablets and love them.  But few of these people loved it at first, including myself.  It takes time to get familiar with and is a relationship that improves over time.  If you approach R/T with iPad preconceptions (simple to use) it can be frustrating.  When I read an article like this I'm certain it is written by someone who hasn't really tried it.