Windows RT: Worthless or the future of Windows?

Moderated by Lawrence Dignan | January 21, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (23:00 PST)

Summary: Ed Bott sees a bright future for Microsoft's mobile Windows OS. But Matt Baxter-Reynolds sees no future at all.

Matt Baxter-Reynolds

Matt Baxter-Reynolds

Worthless

or

The Future

Ed Bott

Ed Bott

Best Argument: The Future

35%
65%

Audience Favored: The Future (65%)

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Mic Check

    Are my debaters standing by? I'll be delivering my first question at 11am ET / 8am PT sharp.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Ready to go

    Debater A is ready

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Worthless

    All set

    Let the games begin

    Ed Bott

    I am for The Future

  • Great Debate Moderator

    OK, first question: Windows RT strategy

    Does the Windows RT strategy makes sense to you and is developing on the ARM architecture worth pursuing?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Great idea

    Strategically, building a version of Windows that would run on ARM is a great idea. Post-PC devices like smartphones and tablets needs what ARM brings in terms of low-power, long-battery life devices that are always connected. Those devices are hugely important from an industry perspective.

    My problem with Windows RT is the execution. If they’d had taken the Windows Phone OS and scaled it up for different screen sizes, and left behind more of the Old Windows stuff and Office -- that would have been a better solution.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Worthless

    A success story

    Of course it does. ARM has been a success in the marketplace for very good reasons and any technology company that wants to be competitive has to take it seriously. Microsoft’s approach isn’t all that different from what Apple did so successfully: start with your existing kernel and build on that. What you see right now is version 1.0, which has succeeded in delivering both a platform for new apps and a foundation for a future that migrates the best parts of “old Windows” intelligently.

    Ed Bott

    I am for The Future

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Advantages from ARM?

    Windows RT has its advantages from ARM, notably battery life, but lacks the legacy support. Is this an issue two to three years from now? How about today?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    I'm not concerned with legacy support

    I’m not concerned with legacy support. People don’t necessarily need a tablet to do what a normal PC does, and I think the argument of a single converged device is overblown such that people will generally continue to carry two devices if they need the specialist functionality that each brings. For example, generally people don’t miss the ability to run a full version of Word on their devices.

    We know that Intel are working on reversing their design philosophy from being one focused on “horsepower” and over to more power-conservative design, but I question their ability to ever equal ARM in terms of the power efficiency of their designs. ARM are still progressing and innovating -- Intel remains some way behind them.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Worthless

    There is legacy support in Windows RT

    Hold on a second. Windows RT doesn’t completely lack legacy support. It has a full file system, multi-user support, and drivers for printers and external storage devices just like x86 Windows. It even has specially compiled versions of Office apps (all but Outlook) so you get almost full access to those legacy apps. No, you can’t install random desktop apps. But in theory, a future RT, two or three years from now, could allow additional apps on the desktop, if they’re written right and recompiled for the ARM architecture.

    Ed Bott

    I am for The Future

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What could Microsoft have done differently?

    The way I see it, Microsoft needed to do something for ARM. What could Microsoft have done differently to bring Windows to ARM without a splinter RT OS?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    A better idea

    I don’t think they could have done it without splintering. As I mentioned above, the better idea would have been to leave Windows on the desktop, and move Windows Phone forward such that it was able to address the needs of both smartphone and tablet users.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Worthless

    Room for error

    Splinter OS? I disagree with the premise of the question. Microsoft has been working on low-power solutions for Windows for years, with nothing to show for it. Development for what has become Windows 8 and RT started in 2009 or earlier, with the goal of having two operating systems that share a single kernel and a common app platform. I suppose it’s possible that Microsoft could have chosen to start completely from scratch and develop an ARM-based OS that would have had nothing in common with x86 Windows. But it sure seems like that would have been the “splinter OS.” It also would have been a horrible mistake.

    Ed Bott

    I am for The Future

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Clarity or confusion?

    Do you see Windows RT becoming more clear in tech buyers' minds or will it continue to be cause for confusion?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Confusion is expected

    I actually can’t see a world where this isn’t mostly confusing. You have two products, running on devices that both similar and are priced about the same. Yet one is “normal” Windows that you’re used to, and the other looks like Windows but doesn’t run Windows

    Even Microsoft’s own website is sketchy on the legacy app support.Reading the official Windows RT website, you have to know what you’re looking for (i.e. a lack of legacy app support) in order to confirm it and even then you can only find it by digging.

    The difference isn’t necessary anything Microsoft wants to highlight because most buyers would see a lack of legacy support as a problem. (Although I should point out, it’s likely such potential buyers would be happy with an iPad which obviously has zero legacy Old Windows software support.)

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Worthless

    Not an issue

    It’s an understatement to say that Microsoft has done a less-than-perfect job of defining the differences between Windows 8 and Windows RT. But at this point in the game it’s really only an issue for early adopters, who are perfectly capable of understanding the differences. Look, there’s new Windows and old Windows. Windows 8 runs both of them, side by side. Windows RT runs only new Windows (and Office). Was that so hard?

    Ed Bott

    I am for The Future

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What's the elevator pitch?

    How should Microsoft educate the masses about Windows RT?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Is it fixable?

    Honestly, I’m not sure it’s fixable. If Microsoft are expending cash on educating the masses, it would be better spent educating around the advantages of touch interfaces and the work that’s been done in that regard in Windows 8 and trying to push more interest in that technology in the consumer market.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Worthless

    Answered

    See my previous response.

    Ed Bott

    I am for The Future

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Five years from now...

    ...will Windows RT still exist?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    No way

    I’m not convinced it will exist even five months from now.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Worthless

    It's the future

    Of course it will. Except it will just be Windows. It doesn’t require a lot of imagination to see a future where the RT portion of Windows 8+n is more important than the legacy portion—a flip-flop of the current situation. Likewise, a future Windows RT can fill in many of the holes in the current desktop (a SkyDrive sync utility, for example) relatively easy. Today, we focus obsessively on apps that were written years ago for the x86 Windows environment because that’s what matters. In five years, those will be far less important.

    Ed Bott

    I am for The Future

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Orphaned?

    What are the chances that Windows RT will be orphaned if it does exist?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Long-term commitment

    Microsoft doesn’t like to drop support for software that they’ve put out, so I presume that even if they do can it, it’ll remain supported for a long time. In fact, they’ve already pledged long-term support for the platform, ostensibly to make enterprises feel more comfortable.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Worthless

    Four-year cycle

    Microsoft has already committed to a minimum four-year support cycle for the current release of Windows RT, and every new app that’s written for the Windows Store gives it that much more relevance. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Microsoft abandons ARM, unless ARM itself becomes irrelevant.

    Ed Bott

    I am for The Future

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Samsung isn't using Windows RT in the U.S.

    Does that strategy make sense and do you expect other hardware makers to follow?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Makes sense

    Yes, I think it makes lots of sense. In at least one recent survey, we know that Surface accounts for 82% of the Windows RT devices on the market, and that same survey shows that Samsung’s ATIV Tab only gets 1%. If Surface is selling in very poor numbers, why should Samsung continue to invest? I also expect other hardware manufacturers to follow. Even if they do continue to deliver Windows RT devices, I don’t see a broad range of devices, nor do I see devices being updated frequently. It’ll be more “a tick in the box” rather than anything that has any serious investment.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Worthless

    Correction

    Correction: Samsung isn’t selling its first-generation Windows RT device in the U.S. They’ve decided, probably wisely, that they can let Microsoft deal with the pain and cost of establishing RT in the marketplace. Meanwhile, ASUS and Dell both appear to have planted firm stakes in the ground now. Microsoft is doing a lot of the work of helping them develop and spec the platform, and I don’t see either of them backing off.

    Ed Bott

    I am for The Future

  • Great Debate Moderator

    How important are hardware partners to the Windows RT cause?

    At first glance it appears that Microsoft needs the Surface to give Windows RT a long-term shot.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Very

    I think the hardware partners are very important, but they need to be innovating rather than just ramming Windows RT into a chassis better suited to Windows 8. Take the Yoga 11. That’s actually a great laptop, but it’s not a very good Windows RT device because it’s too big and heavy. The OEM partners need to be building things that are more like iPads, Galaxy Tabs, and Nexus 7s.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Worthless

    Hardware is the problem

    Let’s turn the question around. The biggest problem with the current Windows ecosystem is the hardware. PC OEMs have been in a race to the bottom with hardware for years, cutting corners in hardware design, loading machines up with subsidized crapware, and delivering too many models. For PC buyers, that leads to an awful lot of pain and unhappiness. Windows RT is a much more tightly regulated platform. OEMs might chafe at Microsoft’s strict rules, but buyers (that’s us) should be happy in the long run with fewer choices and more reliability overall.

    Ed Bott

    I am for The Future

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Ecosystem?

    What needs to happen for Microsoft to create a vibrant Windows RT ecosystem?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Both platforms

    Software-wise, I’m not sure there’s much of a distinction between the work that’s happening for Windows RT and Windows 8 -- i.e. the development of Windows Store apps. In this regard, Microsoft is doing a good enough job to get ISVs to develop apps for both platforms.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Worthless

    Adopting the best of Windows 8

    Apps are one key, obviously. The other is a robust set of services that work as well on ARM-based devices as they do on conventional PCs. Microsoft is well on its way to delivering the second of those goals with Office 365, SkyDrive, Outlook.com, and its Xbox entertainment services. Getting app developers fully committed, so that people can reasonably expect to find the apps they need to be productive, is the bigger challenge. The smart part of Microsoft’s strategy in this respect is that it can leverage the much bigger installed base of Windows 8, where success in turn will lift the prospects of Windows RT.

    Ed Bott

    I am for The Future

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Do you expect more sales of Surface with Windows RT or Surface Pro with Intel?

    Why or why not?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Surface Pro

    I expect Surface Pro to sell well, as I think a lot of individuals who are keen on Microsoft and the individual design of Surface generally are holding out for Surface Pro. I’m not convinced Surface Pro is a particularly good laptop though

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Worthless

    Surface Pro

    Initially, at least, I think it’s reasonable to expect the Surface Pro to do better. It’s a PC, whereas Surface RT is a PC-like device that requires a certain level of acceptance of its limitations. Surface Pro looks like it will be an excellent high-end business machine, capable of fully replacing a laptop and working in situations where a tablet is better suited. Surface RT can’t fully replace a portable PC, which removes it from consideration for many business buyers.

    Ed Bott

    I am for The Future

  • Great Debate Moderator

    OK, gentlemen: Final question...

    Now that we have the benefit of hindsight, which we all know is 20/20, what could Microsoft have done differently with the Windows RT launch?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Not enough new

    As per my point above -- Windows Phone would have been a better baseline operating system. It’s simpler, and already had straightforward developer support.

    The biggest problem with Windows RT is the amount of the Old Windows world that’s carried over. This does nothing but increase the complexity that the user has to deal with, which is the last thing you want on a tablet. Tablets are supposed to be basic, simple devices that never go wrong and never cause a fuss. Windows RT is the wrong class of operating system to address that objective.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for Worthless

    Partner issues

    There’s an awful lot we don’t know about what went on behind the scenes with the development of Windows RT. It appears that Microsoft counted on having a couple of chipmakers and a handful of name-brand OEM partners on board at launch time. They didn’t count on HP, one of those original partners, being a complete basket case and having to drop out because their entire PC business was a mess. Nor did they count on TI deciding to unexpectedly exit the ARM business in September 2012, which took Toshiba out of the running. Those events make the Surface development effort look very smart indeed.

    Ed Bott

    I am for The Future

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thank you, Matt and Ed

    And thank you readers your votes and comments. Please check back tomorrow for our debaters' closing arguments, and again Thursday when I deliver my verdict.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

Talkback

212 comments
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  • well . . .

    Well, that's a very good question.

    It's certainly not worthless to see Microsoft preparing for whatever may happen, and not putting all of their eggs in one basket. If ARM is truly the future rather than Intel, then at least they'll have something on ARM.

    One of the things that does sell Windows - and continues to sell it to this day - is backwards compatibility. As much as ZDNet likes to boast about doing everything online and such, a lot of people still don't like it, don't want it, or have apps that can't easily be replaced by an equivalent internet app.

    Personally, I think ZDNet has a heavy bias towards internet-only stuff because they're all bloggers, and blogging is easily done with online apps. I don't think they're necessarily representative of the average user (and it can be argued that the idea of an "average user" is unrealistic anyways, as everybody has their own individual desires and needs).

    In any case: I think that it's good that Microsoft isn't putting all of their eggs in one basket. Whether or not it's the future of Windows, however, is up to the market to decide.
    CobraA1
    Reply 16 Votes I'm Undecided
    • Every 1.0 MSFT product is worthless

      Wait till 2.0 to see a clear picture.
      LBiege
      Reply 5 Votes I'm Undecided
      • Version 3

        Historically, it has been version 3.x that becomes the must-have, stable version of a Microsoft product.
        BillPStudios
        Reply 6 Votes I'm Undecided
        • Not sure what they're arguing here.

          Can't understand how anyone could think bringing Windows to ARM is worthless or how making a version of Windows that is touch-friendly (Metro) is worthless. If you want Windows to be relevant in the modern computing era then it needs to be mobile-friendly and touch-friendly. You can't do that today without running on ARM.

          "Firstly, too much Old Windows baggage has been brought forward into the new Windows RT world."

          This is something which can be easily refined over time. As people mentioned above this is just version 1.0 of Windows RT.

          "Windows RT devices are too expensive. Surface RT is prices around the average selling price of a normal Windows 8 laptop."

          This same exact criticism was leveled at first generation Android tablets as well. The market and OEMs will adjust prices to be competitive. MS Office could be unbundled in the next version of Windows RT possibly knocking up to $100 off the price. Also Intel is mandating touch screens on it's next-generation ultrabooks so the price of the average laptop is likely going to go up.

          Neither of these two examples makes Windows RT "worthless."

          "Frankly, it's dead in the water."

          The idea that Microsoft can ever stop developing and promoting Windows on ARM is absolutely silly. If Microsoft is going to compete in phones and tablets then they are always going to be pushing Windows RT hard. And it's likely that any specialty/customized devices like an Xbox Surface or Lumia tablet are going to be running on ARM chips. The fact that the Windows RT app store uses the same store as Windows 8 means that WinRT will always be a viable option for hardware makers. The Windows app Store is growing fast and the more apps it accumulates over time the more attractive it will be for consumers.
          cool8man
          Reply 3 Votes I'm Undecided
          • The “worthless” argument is often quite revealing.

            The term worthless is a pretty strong term to begin with. When such a strong negative term is used in association with almost anything of a truly substantive nature its almost always incorrect to a large degree.

            Different people can find different things to be worthless from “their own” perspective, but to say something is worthless on any broad based claim is an entirely different thing. Completely. The classic examples around here, of course, are the never ending OS wars. Those who strongly dislike Windows and find no significant need for it for example, will typically find the very existence of Windows to be more of a hindrance in life than anything due to its general influence in the IT industry and marketplace, creating situations and issues that have to be dealt with by non-Windows users.

            In the minds of such users, Windows generally is worthless, perhaps even more so a negative thing than worthless. And quite likewise, those who have no need for Linux desktop, or OSX/Macs are very likely to find both of those OS’s completely worthless. And of course all these kind of thinkers are dead wrong in the most absolute sense of the term.

            The fact that any one person, or group of people, have no use at all for something that numerous others in reasonably substantive numbers do have a great use for dosnt make something truly worthless. In fact, when any substantive number of people does find value in something, it truly does negate the term “worthless” for being used in the broadest sense of something actually having no value.

            Time and time again we see that the majority of the complainers about Windows 8 products are those who never really had much use for Windows to begin with. Sure, there appears to be those few who say, “I have always loved Windows, I use Windows 7 but cannot tolerate Windows 8”, but firstly, those comments seem to come mostly from posters who’s factual experience cannot be positively identified, secondly they are in the significant minority of those who say they think Windows 8 sucks, and thirdly, those reviewers who can be clearly identified as long term happy Windows users who find they do not like Windows 8 at all, appear to be in an extraordinarily significant minority of detractors of Windows 8 products.

            And it cannot be left unsaid that the problem all these very strong critics of Windows 8 products face is at least one insurmountable problem when they are taking the very tired “Windows 8 is a mess” or “Windows 8 is worthless” route in their criticism. That insurmountable problem is that far too many people have written about the fact they have been using particular Windows 8 products and they really like it a lot, very much so in fact. What makes it worse for such critics by far is that the majority of them, mostly posters as opposed to fewer article writers, their substantive criticism is sorely lacking.

            What so called actual pointed criticism about Windows 8 often amounts to by many posters is much along the lines of “it sucks”, “it looks like crap”, “I hate it”, “its confusing”, “its pointless”, “it dosnt work right”. In other words, just words indicating an unexplained dislike for Windows. Those who do point to some actual “thing” in Windows 8 they do not like do not fare much better typically. They raise some issue about something they find as odd or troubling about the OS and just as soon as they do, there are always a number of responding posts explaining how that particular issue is taken care of.

            The complaint of “no start button” seems to be the “winner of the day” in so far as complaints go. Even there, as many have explained; all it takes to get around that issue is a slight shift in thinking and one soon finds the new start screen more valuable than the old start button. But of course, a Windows hater will hang onto the “no star button” issue like its their last piece of gold. I have seen complaints that many features and functions of Windows 8 are “hidden”. Wow. Just wow. To this day I know people, mostly young ones just getting into computers, and even with Windows 7 the major complaint is, “how do you know what to even do, or how to even look for something or how to get almost anywhere on a computer without someone standing over your shoulder telling you when to right click, left click, look in start menus, look in control panels, look somewhere anywhere, and what about all these unspoken of “shortcuts”????

            Its like the aficionado’s around here have completely forgotten all together that every major OS has never been so intuitive that a newbie can just pull up a chair and soar around like they are using a television remote. Its always taken time to learn where things are and how to bring things up on screen. Just because Windows 8 even makes experienced users have to relearn a little of that hardly comes anyplace close to rendering Windows 8 of any flavor worthless.

            Is Windows RT some kind of perfection? Doubt that in the least. Its just a strong start with room for improvements. The hater saying its worthless clearly cannot change that, no matter how long they hang on to their “last little piece of gold”.
            Cayble
            Reply 3 Votes I'm Undecided
          • Oddly, these are classic "religious wars" ...

            For instance, put side-by-side, in their own context, and from a purely technical perspective, there is not a hill o'beans worth of difference between UNIX, Linux, Windows, & Mac OS X.

            All are sully scalable, pre-emptive (and symmetric) multitasking systems with a full range of features and capabilities.
            M Wagner
            Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
          • This is simply factually incorrect.

            One example: Font rendering. OS X is pixel-grid independent, Windows snaps fonts to the pixel grid. The practical result of this is that using fonts that are not specifically optimized for Windows results in deformed letter shapes at smaller point sizes. This is a significant and meaningful technical difference for anyone who does layout.
            baggins_z
            Reply Vote I'm Undecided
          • I mostly agree

            Thank you for your post! You hit the nail on the head Cayble. However, I would disagree that very few "happy" Windows users have something negative to say about Windows 8. Actually those "happy" Windows users who have actually tried Windows 8 mostly agree that the hybrid interface is confusing and counter-productive. I don't care how used to it I get. If it takes more clicks to navigate, it's counterproductive plain and simple.
            ctleng76
            Reply Vote I'm Undecided
          • re: intel mandated ultrabooks to have touchscreens

            who cares about that anyway? ultrabook is just a name you may or may not apply to your laptop. market has shown they arent selling that good, so manufacturers might be not all that interested in making "ultrabooks". there are fine small laptops which are not ultrabooks (including using amd btw), and they sell well.
            nitekatt
            Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
          • No time

            >This is something which can be easily refined over time. As people mentioned
            >above this is just version 1.0 of Windows RT.

            Microsoft doesn't have time. iOS and Android are locking up the market. If not a monopoly, the market is heading quickly towards a duopoly. The market isn't going to wait around forever for Microsoft to play catch-up, and neither are investors. If MS doesn't get something out there NOW there likely won't be time to do so later. And it doesn't have that device out now.

            >The idea that Microsoft can ever stop developing and promoting Windows on
            >ARM is absolutely silly. If Microsoft is going to compete in phones and tablets
            >then they are always going to be pushing Windows RT hard.

            That's the whole point which you've missed. Microsoft isn't going to compete in phones and tablets, hence being "dead in the water".

            >The Windows app Store is growing fast and the more apps it accumulates over
            >time the more attractive it will be for consumers.

            MS is attempting to shove developers into making apps for their store. Supposedly there'll be an update this summer that will force anyone who wants to develop for the desktop app store to have their software run on MS tablets and phones as well. That is NOT going to go over well with developers (or courts). I also don't see users being ok with being forced to buy their future software from Microsoft, which will only cause prices to rise. Only Ed Bott (or the ghost of Steve Jobs) could extol the virtues of a locked-down system and limited hardware choices. Between the rise of Android, the coming SteamBox, the Android-based console, Raspberry Pi potentially hitting a million boards sold, etc. the future is more open, not closed. The 20-somethings that are the future have grown up with open source, open devices, the freedom of the Internet, etc. They also view Microsoft the way my generation views the station wagon: as the old, uncool choice of their parents. MS has no marketing pizazz left either. There's really no hope, at least as long as Ballmer is running the show. He's a dinosaur from the "old Microsoft" era: the way to compete was to prevent competition and leverage one monopoly to create another ("We'll never be the first with the cool thing, but we'll be the first to make money with it"). That's not going to fly in the post-PC world and the managers who operated under the assumption that they could shovel #(@#$ out the door and people would have to buy it need to be removed and a new team put in place who have experience competing on features and being innovative if MS is to have any hope in this new world of consumer-oriented electronics.
            jgm@...
            Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided