Which Windows will make for a better tablet?

Which Windows will make for a better tablet?

Summary: With the Release Preview due in a few weeks, there are still many questions about Windows 8 and Windows RT. They look similar--and share a lot of the same code under the hood--but there significant differences. Which will be better on tablets?

TOPICS: Windows

With the Release Preview due in just a few weeks, there are still many questions about Windows 8. Some of the biggest mysteries surround Windows RT.

Microsoft has made no secret of its plans to target tablets with the next release of Windows. But there will actually be two different types of Windows tablets. The first will look a lot like current Windows PCs complete with processors from Intel and AMD, based on the x86 architecture, and either Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro. The second type will use processors based on the ARM architecture--like nearly all smartphones and tablets--and Windows RT. (Until recently, Microsoft referred to this as Windows on ARM, or WOA.) Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments will provide chips for these tablets.

Like Windows 8, Windows RT will eventually be available on devices of all shapes and sizes including tablets, laptops and hybrids. But it is really meant for tablets. The question is which will make for a better tablet, Windows 8 on x86 or Windows RT on ARM?

Both types of tablets will look similar. Microsoft has already stated that Windows 8 and Windows RT have "a high degree of commonality and very significant shared code." But there are major differences. Windows RT won't be sold separately; it will be available only on devices with integrated hardware, firmware and software just like current tablets. Windows RT will have Metro apps such as Mail, Calendar and People, but its version of desktop Windows will be limited. It will include File Explorer and desktop Internet Explorer, but you can't add your own desktop apps. Windows RT devices will come with touch-optimized versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Finally, like Windows 8 for consumers, Windows RT is missing several enterprise features in Windows 8 Pro designed to make devices easier to manage and secure.

For companies, the appeal of Windows 8 Pro on x86 is obvious. Both laptops and tablets will have the same operating system and run the same Metro and desktop apps. And they can be managed using existing Windows tools and policies. Then again, the same can be said of Windows 7 tablets and, aside from certain niches, they've failed to make a dent. Instead employees have been choosing their own devices--a phenomenon known as BYOD-- forcing companies to find new tools such as Good for Enterprise to support and manage tablets and smartphones.

Manageability won't be enough. The x86 ecosystems still has to demonstrate that it can deliver a tablet that is thin and lightweight, has long battery life and is priced competitively. Intel also needs to deliver on features such as rapid start-up and connected standby that it has been talking about for some time. Later this year Intel plans to release an Atom dual-core processor, code-named Clover Trail, and it says more than 20 Windows 8 tablets using it are already in the works. Rival AMD plans to release a Z-Series family of single- and dual-core chips, code-named Hondo, for Windows 8 tablets later this year.

There is no doubt that the ARM architecture is a good foundation for a tablet. The iPad has settled that debate. Instead most of the questions have to do with Windows RT:

  • How will the Metro user interface and apps stack up to iOS and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich?
  • Will the ARM version of Office have all the key features and file compatibility?
  • Will the lack of support for legacy apps and desktop apps, such as Google Chrome and Firefox, hold it back?

Nvidia is bullish on Windows RT. At the company's GPU technology Conference last week, CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said Windows RT tablets will appeal users who want Outlook and Office, but are looking for something completely new. The same week Rob Csongor told shareholders Windows RT would mark the "end of the Windows and Intel--Wintel--monopoly." And yesterday, at Nvidia's analyst day, Michael Rayfield, the head of the mobile business, said it was a great opportunity to combine Tegra 3 with Windows and Office.

Qualcomm and TI have been a bit quieter, but both should have competitive Windows RT platforms. Qualcomm will offer its Snapdragon S4 platform while TI will launch with the OMAP4470 later this year, followed by OMAP5 devices in 2013.

Unfortunately the Release Preview isn't going to shed much more light on Windows RT. The bits will only be widely available for x86-based devices. So it won't be until the commercial release later this year that we will really get to see how Windows 8 and Windows RT on tablets will stack up.

Topic: Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • hmmm

    I say windows on x86/64 chips. best of both worlds for now until more robust Metro/WOA apps gets released.
    • Except for battery life

      If an x86/64 chip could get 8-10 hours on a 10" touchscreen MS wouldn't be bothering with ARM.
      Michael Kelly
      • Don't know

        x86 isn't energy efficient, Thats why arm even at the lower clock rate is able to handle more workloads.. like 720p & 1080p decoding..
        Anthony E
      • video decoding

        @Anthony E
        720p & 1080p decoding isn't really a good measure since it isn't a CPU bounded and almost always decoded with hardware acceration. The reason of why ARM can be more efficient is modular design which you can pick and choose but it also cause great deal of fragmentation as well.

        If x86 can further shrink down the process and integrate GPU inside the CPU die like ARM, it isn't beyond the realm of getting the same power efficency of ARM.
      • Correct

        But i was going to use the easiest example..

        There's many ways to explain it, but the simplest is video decoding.. Which arm @ 800mhz can do but a P4 @ 2.8ghz have issues with
        Anthony E
      • Wrong. MS knows there will be x64 based tablets this fall with 8-10 hour

        battery life and they've known it for a couple years. They went ahead with arm support anyway. Battery, heat, etc. are no longer arm advantages and the Intel chips are showing about 10x arm perf at the same energy. Don't know if amd is as well or not. Plus Intel is on track for another sizable perf and battery gain with broadwell.
        Johnny Vegas
      • Hmm

        AMDs APU products are very efficient... by this time next year the AMD product will have superior GPUs and 10+ hours of battery life when compared to ARM based products. Right now the only place they are losing to ARM is battery life buy add a few more cells and that battery could hit 8 or 9 hours... especially of you shrink the screen size and add an ambient light sensor.
      • well you might get surprised

        I am testing Windows CP on a exo PC and the battery life is surprisingly good. It is lasting for couple of days of moderate usage. If I am constantly on the system, it is lasting for 7 to 8 hours. Not bad at all. ExoPC runs on Intel Atom Processor.
        Ram U
  • the best tablets are running android

    not windoze!
    The Linux Geek
    • don't start it.

      As i do support linux largely.. Please don't troll on a windows specific topic.. It makes the community look bad.
      Anthony E
  • A hybrid for me!

    I'd love a 13" to 17", x86 / x64 hybrid ultrabook.
    P. Douglas
  • Windows 8 renamed to Win 7 Tablet Edition

    Screw Windows 8! I am going to use Windows 7 until they terminate support, or Microsoft releases Windows 9 with a start menu and no metro! Windows 8 is going to be DOA. It is too radical of a change for a majority of long time Windows users. We will see how it plays out when Microsoft releases Windows 8! They shoud just rename Windows 8 to Windows 7 Tablet Edition and totally restart from the beginning on Windows 8. Make a desktop and laptop, or more specifically a mouse and keyboard friendly operating system.
    Pollo Pazzo
    • i think....

      I think everyone is entitled to their own opinions and choices.
    • LOL

      So you can't figure out how to use a computer without a start button! I wouldn't be bragging about that in public if I were you.

      Also, since you are so clueless, you can simply click the Desktop tile in Metro to get that experience, sans start sbButton of course, but as you point out, you aren't able to figure anything out beyond that.
    • Millions of Win7 users have already deprecated Start button use for taskbar

      Seems like you are behind the mark.
    • Win8 renamed to Win7Tablet

      I've had Win 8 CP on my primary machine ever since Microsoft refused to give me a new product key (I've played with other OS' so much) for my bought-and-paid-for Windows 7 and haven't had any *serious* issues whatsoever. I rarely venture to the metro side of the OS as all my stuff is on the desktop side. You can still put short cuts on the desktop like for your favorites, common "I use this an this file every day" files or, you can do the windows explorer thing - just like in W7 back to 95.. or older come to think of it Win 3.1 you had the choice of "basically" the same choice as today. You need a list of what programs you got? press Win+C and you'll see ALL the apps installed. I've found I don't need a start menu button. It's nice, but, it's not needed now. C'mon - get your big-boy pants on.
      Crashin Chris
  • Can I install the next release on my Kindle Fire?

    A 7" Metro only low cost tablet would be fantastic for consumers leaving x86 for convertibles, laptops and desktops. What MS is really missing here is the opportunity to use a 7" tablet running RT to control Win 8 Media Center via an xBox 360. Or are they .... ?
    • Any OEM could make such a tablet. if they think there is a market

      Self installation is only possible with the x86/x64 version.
  • Which Windows will make for a better tablet?

    Microsoft Windows RT because it was designed for tablets, although you won't be disappointed if you run Microsoft Windows 8 on a tablet. Now that I think about it, both will work equally well.
    Loverock Davidson-

    You can expect 2-hours of Wintel battery life, a cooling fan and an antivirus app will be required.

    RT-Serious fragmentation, speed and battery life will range from "just okay" to "unacceptable". Build quality will range from "marginal" to "cheap plastic horrible."

    This Mickey Mouse OS will crash constantly and require critical updates daily\weekly. It will also ship without quality apps, and you WILL need antivirus. Come on, this is Microsoft....what planet you from?