How Windows RT could still succeed in the long term

How Windows RT could still succeed in the long term

Summary: Windows RT is on the mat and bleeding, but the fight is not over. It's possible for it to recover and gain a market, but for this it will need ironic help from Windows on Intel systems.


It's no secret that Surface RT and Windows RT, along with Windows RT on other platforms, didn't do as well as Microsoft hoped. The latest collateral damage in that failure was Nvidia's Tegra processors, which run in the Surface RT.

Surface/Windows RT had no shortage of skeptics even when it launched, but it's possible things could change over time. I'm not saying that this *will* happen, but that there's a reasonable scenario for it. Here's how it works:

Microsoft's Surface RT

First, some Microsoft business plan forensics: Microsoft wants developers to write apps for the new, Modern UI (a.k.a. Metro). Releasing Windows 8 only for Intel architecture, they must have believed, would have made it too easy for developers to bypass Metro because conventional Windows programs would already run on it (and on Windows 7 and other versions). But if Surface RT were a success, developers would want to be on it, and would choose to write Metro apps in order to be on both platforms.

Well, that didn't work. In fact, color me surprised at the degree of reticence of developers to write Metro apps, as the sheer number of users who can run them will undoubtedly be very large, even if it's small enough to be considered a failure for Microsoft. Remember, any other company in the world would love to have a disaster like Windows Vista, hundreds of millions of copies of which were sold. Such is the worst you can expect from Windows 8.

This holiday season you can expect to see touch-enabled Windows systems heavily promoted and Microsoft will try other promotions to get people buying apps from the store. In fact, the failure to get developers writing apps for the store is the single biggest problem they have. With good apps users will undoubtedly come, and with users good apps will come.

And if the apps do come, then the decision to buy an RT device could become much more reasonable. There needs to be a cost advantage compared to x86 because the RT will still be less capable, or it will have to demonstrate far better battery life or something to give people a reason to buy it, as opposed to an Intel-based system.

Depending on the performance and power consumption of the latest chips from NVidia and Intel, all of this is possible. It's also possible that Intel will narrow the cost and performance consumption gaps, and RT will lose all its raison d'etre.

But if, come holiday time or later, the Windows app selection is respectable and RT systems are less expensive than Intel-based ones, it might be perfectly reasonable to buy one. If they get cheap enough, people may get casual about buying them.

My money's against it, but it could happen. There have been attempts in the past to put Windows on other architectures, but they have all failed because the Intel has always improved their chip performance enough to make the cost of incompatibility too high relative to the benefits.

You could make a case that Microsoft should have pursued it this way to begin with: x86 first, other architectures once the app market was solidly established. It looks like that will be the Plan B for Microsoft and NVidia, and perhaps it was built-in from the beginning. 

Topics: Windows 8, Processors, Tablets

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
  • Talk about lost causes

    You would have more success resurrecting a dead Pharaoh.

    It is an ex-platform, it has ceased to be.
    Alan Smithie
    • Close

      Would have given you kudos if you had written:
      "You would have more success resurrecting a dead parrot."
      • Toadbottom

        I cannot believe you wrote that, dead parrot was too easy and the Pharaoh's have been dead for thousands of years. They are dessicated old corpses that have wrapped in bandages for millennia, much like the concept of WinRT.
        Alan Smithie
        • Ha

          I'd pay money to see either raised from the dead! That would be a pretty neat trick and when your done, maybe you can bring back my first puppy! =D
        • It was a reference to...

          ... an old Monty Python skit about a pet shop who sold a dead parrot to a customer.
    • Ceased to be

      And that, friends, is why they're supporting the Surface RT until 2017, because RT has ceased to be...
      Michael Alan Goff
      • Depends on Intel.

        If Intel can finally create an extremely low power CPU that can match ARM for battery life, I think we'll see Surface Pro become the only model offered. There won't be any reason for RT to exist.

        In my own opinion, they should put WP8 on a tablet and call it Windows Tablet. Then, they should market the Surface Pro as a slimmed down ultrabook. If they did that and brought back the full Aero desktop and gadgets to Win8, it would improve my opinion of their current mess by a lot. They might even sell a few.
    • Well, if you think it is an ex-platform, why would

      Android be ported on Intel Platform, wouldn't that make ARM based Android as an ex too?

      A lot of people are talking all gibberish about Windows RT including the major media tech pundits. One thing they are missing is Microsoft is unifying kernel of almost every platform of theirs. There is a huge market that is existing for Microsoft that is other than Consumer and Enterprise. It is embedded devices. Microsoft has a good # of partners and devices using their embedded platform(s). Of course you can say Linux is there and also dominant in that market. I don't deny because I started my career with embedded devices, CAM (NC/CNC) and process control systems. I have targeted my code for many platforms in that area and Microsoft has strong position which others also have. It is a huge market and RT is perfectly suitable there. Some of them might need a lightweight UI and Modern UI suits perfectly well there.
      Ram U
      • You mean the one Linux already occupies?

        And for zero cost?

        Think MS has a chance with an overpriced offering?
        • Tell it the clients

          that chose Windows Embedded over Linux Embedded. They definitely disagree with you. If I want something that the free one is not filling, I wouldn't hesitate to buy. EOS.
          Ram U
          • Unless there is an "advertising" kickback

            that can't be refused...
        • There is no such thing as "zero cost". If you pay nothing for it ...

          ... then you have to support it yourself. If you are in business, you have to pay someone to support Linux. Just as you have to pay someone to support Windows. I would venture to guess that Microsoft has more embedded licenses out there than Linux does - but someone out there actually knows.
          M Wagner
    • The truth is Microsoft can't cease Windows RT if they want to survive

      It needs a new name, a LOT better marketing and removing of the Desktop though.

      Ironically Windows 8 tablets may help it long term, in the short term these will be the sellers but it may make developers write more Start Screen apps, which would also work on Windows RT.
      • Renaming

        Yes, new name. We'll rename our "Crapp Sandwiches" to "Poop Sandwiches". That'll solve the taste problem.
        Asok Smith
        • At the same time you also change your name,

          you are not Asok or even close to one.
          Ram U
      • Too many dumb self-appointed experts

        win8 RT is not about $900m write down. This is a huge market Microsoft can't ignored. It must be willing to makes $2bn loss. It will be stupid and tragedy failure if MS abandoned RT. You silly people just hate MS too much to reason. RT market got big potential for MS in term of advert and Apps sales. Apple has shown that & MS must followed. Recently, windows phone reached land mark of 1 billion download, if MS followed morons, that won't have happened and there will be no 50m windows phone sales
      • Micrsoft took a huge gamble with the Metro interface ...

        ... so they really have NO CHOICE but to keep moving forward with it. With proper marketing, Windows RT (renamed "Windows Tablet" perhaps - you know, like "Windows Phone") it certainly can be done.

        To succeed, Windows Tablet has to distinguish itself from Windows 8. Both need to run Metro Apps but only Windows 8 should run anything which LOOKS LIKE a legacy desktop app. In fact, Windows, Windows Tablet, and Windows Phone all need to run the very same Windows Store (Metro) apps - interchangeably.

        Only Windows 8 needs to also run a Desktop environment for legacy applications. Windows 8 can continue to be the highly flexible, and scalable environment for the enterprise that it has always been while Windows Tablet and Phone can be the consumer-friendly tools that they need to be to compete in todays mobile, consumer-oriented, world.
        M Wagner
    • expert of?

      Are you expert of what?
  • If you substitute "Windows 8" and "Windows 8.1"

    With "Vista" and "Windows 7" you can write the exact same story, and it would make sense.

    The thing is, it was all about price - MS needed to give more (RT) for the same price as iPad, not give then more for more money.
    William Farrel
    • No, not the same price as ipad

      The RT is already better than the ipad. The ipad is now the worst of all worlds. All modern tablets are better than the ipad.

      What OEMs need to do is price RT significantly lower than Windows 8 Atom tablets. THOSE are the competition. ipads aren't the competition.

      Windows 8 Atom tablets start at $350. Windows RT tablets would make sense at $200 but if no one can make money selling a $200 Windows RT tablet, no one will make them.

      Windows RT isn't struggling because of the ipad. Windows RT is struggling because of the Atom powered Windows 8 tablet.