Microsoft is hammering the final nails into Windows RT's coffin

Microsoft is hammering the final nails into Windows RT's coffin

Summary: Windows RT is the operating system that many people want but don't know that it exists. But it's just not Windows, and it shouldn't be marketed as Windows.


I've had a love-hate relationship with Windows RT ever since Microsoft unveiled a prototype at CES in January 2011. But with its future now on shaky ground I can't help but feel that Microsoft is itself hammering the nails into the operating system's coffin, and that this may be huge mistake.

In theory, I like the idea of an ARM-specific variant of Windows. Windows on the x86 architecture has become a horrible bloated mess, dragging behind it years of legacy, and offering a never-ending supply of footholds for malware to enter your digital fortress. I'd long held the hope that the Windows could be saved and bought into the 21st century, and saw Windows RT as a roundabout way of doing that. After all, Windows RT is more secure, better insulated from driver and third-party software headaches, and required a lot less futzing about with than "full-fat" Windows.

It is, in essence, what I'm looking for from a modern platform.

But the problem with Windows RT (ignoring the high price of the hardware, which can't have done much to generate enthusiasm for the platform) is that it didn't live up to the "Windows" part of its name. Calling the operating system Windows RT would have been like Apple calling iOS something ambigious and confusing like iOS X or something. The "Windows" brand implies certain features, specifically the ability to run Windows applications.

Windows RT was essentially DOA because Microsoft couldn't see or think outside of the Windows box. The marketing types at Redmond felt compelled to market the operating system as a Windows operating system. This, in turn, resulted in a great deal of confusion among both buyers and retailers (some of which were bundling or upselling software for devices that was incompatible with the operating system), and a high level of returns from disappointed buyers for those selling Windows RT tablets.

Julie Larson-Green, Executive Vice President of Devices and Studios, speaking at the UBS Global Technology Conference last week, admitted that the message was confused.

"I think we didn't differentiate the devices (Surface RT vs. Surface Pro) well enough. They looked similar. Using them is similar. It just didn't do everything that you expected Windows to do. So there's been a lot of talk about it should have been a rebranding. We should not have called it Windows. How should we have made it more differentiated? I think over time you'll see us continue to differentiate it more," she said.

Now the future of Windows RT is uncertain. "We have the Windows Phone OS. We have Windows RT and we have full Windows," said Larson-Green before adding, "We're not going to have three."

This means a horrible period of uncertainty for all involved. While there are no OEMs selling Windows RT devices (Microsoft is the last man standing), there are customers who might be thinking about updates, and a raft of developers who have invested time, money, and skills into brings apps to the platform. Many of the apps developed are unnecessary on full-blown Windows systems, and aren't applicable to the Windows Phone.

So where does this leave Windows RT? My guess – and this is a guess since everyone I've talked to as Microsoft is being close-lipped – is that Windows RT will be assimilated with the Windows Phone platform and the project will move forward in that direction, focus on on smartphones and phablets rather than tablets. After all, all data points from my sources within OEMs suggest that Windows RT devices failed to take off, and that sales were poor and returns astronomically high because the platform didn't do what people expected of it.

Essentially, it's over for the platform for the forseeeable future. 

The only proven mass market for a tablet continues to be the iPad.

But I still think that there's room in the market for Microsoft to bring out a tablet operating system. After all, Windows RT is the operating system that many people want but don't know that it exists. It was familiar, easy-to-use, required little in the way of hand-holding, used an app model that people are now familiar with, and didn't need users to mess about with security software. It's a good platform.

It's just not Windows. And it should never have be marketed as Windows.

See also:

Topics: Mobility, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows, Microsoft Surface

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  • You nailed it

    They needed to treat RT as "iWindows" or maybe "wOS". Same as Apple did successfully. iOS was close enough to other Apple product OSes that Mac users gravitated right to it, but never got stuck in their head that it was OSX on a phone or tablet. (Having a known limited device like the iPod Touch to try it out on too helped.) So no complaining that it didn't do what OSX did. And it was also different enough it wasn't like "learning a Mac" to non-Apple fans. Result - success. Google did it right by doing EVERYTHING possible to hide the fact that Android is NOT Linux, and not Chrome either. Same result, Android users never expected it to be any Linux and neither did Linux users. Success again.

    But "Windows" gave the expectation it was the same thing in a nice, neat handheld size. It wasn't, and they were hosed. Scary part is, you are right again. It may not be the "right" Windows, but as the world changes, it may be actually be the right Windows for now. And made more sense than to whack the entire desktop OS to make it so. (Think what Apple is doing, gradually oozing iOS into OSX - they will eventually merge, but as long as their users and their bank accounts are fat and happy, why rush.) Missed opportunity.
    • Nailed it

      I agree. The article is right on target, mostly. The one statement, "The only proven mass market for a tablet continues to be the iPad" seems blatantly wrong though. Android tablet sales possibly surpass iPad sales. Microsoft ought to start burying Windows altogether and make the switch to Linux. They spend so much of their time fiddling with their operating system(s), and they could just download a better system for free, just like all their competitors do. There's an old saying, if ya can't beat 'em, join 'em. Linus Torvald's penguins are kicking Microsoft ass all over the planet. Get a clue Microsoft, those cash cows are starting to dry up.
      • Linux? Superior?

        Linux is different, but definitely not superior.

        It's better in some aspects, but the NT kernel has its own advantages as well.

        Same with Mac OS/OS X, it's got its own advantages, but it's nowhere near superior to Windows.

        (The only thing that Linux has over Windows are supercomputers and servers. The former is an extreme niche that no sane average consumer would own, and while the latter is quite a bit more common, no sane average consumer would own one. Sure, there's Android, but that's an exception, not the norm.)
      • Got a good laugh.

        I don't like Windows 8, but I'm also not delusional. There are over one billion desktops/laptops in use in the world and Linux is used on less than 1% of them. Let's see, Red Hat is probably the biggest seller of Linux, right? Their sales were what - 0.00001% of what Microsoft's sales were last year? Did they even make a profit? The ONLY bright spot for Linux is in web hosting and a lot of those "machines" are actually virtual sessions. Any good sized corporation would fire an IT person for even mentioning the idea of switching all their servers over to Linux. When you're managing 50,000 servers, you want real tools with real support from real companies you can sue if something goes wrong, not freeware crap somebody downloaded from the Internet.

        Now, with you being a devoted fan of that embarrassing antique, I realize you might try to pass Android off as a Linux success story, but that's a massive stretch of the imagination. The only thing the two share is a small kernel. In practical use, the two OSes are nothing alike. Android is a usable and friendly OS designed for the masses. Linux is most definitely not. Google threw away 98% of Linux and only used the part no user actually cares about. In fact, Linux has such a bad reputation with users, that Google even avoided using the Linux name anywhere in their new OS. Taking all of this into consideration, the success of Android is more of a slap in the face for Linux than a boost. After decades of trying, Linux couldn't match what Android achieved in its first few months.

        If you want any further proof, just think about the fact that over 90% of the world PAYS to use Windows on their desktops rather than using Linux for FREE. Yes, that's correct. People actually pay real money to avoid using Linux. In a nutshell, they can't even give that crap away.

        To summarize: Welcome to the 21st century. The nerdy high school programming project you use as your primary OS is still an unpopular misfit after decades of trying. Perhaps it's time to move on? The rest of the world has.
        • Ubuntu 13.10 Desktop is amazingly polished

          Ubuntu 13.10 Desktop is very polished and usable; enough for anyone.
  • Oh, I think RT will survive

    but principally in the sense that it will replace Windows Phone, and probably be permitted on small tablets, too. This would make the most sense to me.

    It has a richer capability set than Windows Phone, and will provide for a more unified code base for Microsoft to manage, as well as less porting for developers (practically no porting, in fact, for Windows store apps targeting 'windows' rather than WP8, as WinRT and .NET are architecture agnostic.)
    • Agreed.

      RT is a great tablet OS.

      Rather than blowing up a smartphone OS, going down seems like a much more effective option, seeing as they're both mobile operating systems.

      Having an app work on a W8, RT, and WP8 machine without any sort of porting would be an ideal goal, as doing so would basically eliminate any form of app fragmentation.
      • Good luck getting MS to keep RT

        But after hearing what Julie Larson-Green said I think it is a foregone conclusion that Rt will be shelved. And the tragedy for RT is that MS could not let go of the Windows brand and give it a fitting name.

        Maybe MS can be convinced to open source it, but I doubt that.

        Too bad they are still trying to unload the rest of the inventory on unsuspecting consumers.

        RIP RT
        • You all keep saying RT is gone, but

          to me it seems that WP8 and RT are going to MERGE.
          There is a difference, you know?
          • Merge...

   the same way that each one of us will eventually "merge" with the earth...

            Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
        • It won't matter

          The support issue isn't really relevant for consumers. RT is fine for us, the 8.1 improved things, but the next iteration will smooth out even more.
      • Good yes, great no

        It still doesn't support high DPI screens, like Apple and many Android devices.
      • can be done but

        You have to make screens for small medium and large formats and for 1/3, 2/3, 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 screen splits. It is not the phone app world. Some programs need to change functionality because of the display area or camera resolution or GPS or voice I/O available on a particular device. We have one that runs on a Nokia 920 and a desktop but certain functions are only available on the pocket PC and vice versa. We will see if a small slate with a great camera, voice input, and a GPS can run it all.
      • Windows RT or Windows Phone?

        To ForeverCookie: I started to write a comment, but after reading your comments I think you have very closely summed up my thinking. Maybe this summer Microsoft will announce their plans for Windows mobile devices.
    • RT is dead

      Flushed down the toilet with the $900m.
      Alan Smithie
      • What a fool

        RT and WP8 have the same API, about 80 percent, both runs NT. Metro apps will run on full Windows and the unified RT/WP8.

        Consider yourself to get flushed down the toilet for posting silly comments.
        • Before you open your copious orafice

          I suggest you read Peter Bright's excellent article on RT:

          Alan Smithie
          • Peter Bright

            To Alan Smithie: Since 2012 Peter Bright hasn't quite got the future of Windows ecosystem quite right. However, to date there have been no new features added to Windows RT, but with the release of Windows Phone 8.1 there are a huge number of new features. My guess is and has been that Microsoft is in the process of merging the two, but what the end system will look like is the mystery.
      • Reported annually

        We have to wait for August for an update to that figure. It promises to be interesting.
      • A "write off"

        is not the same as flushing it down the toilet. It's information useful only for investors.