OMG! They're using Windows RT!

OMG! They're using Windows RT!

Summary: Apparently, some people have missed the memo.


I know, I know; everyone has declared Windows RT dead and the grave is being dug as you read this. No one wants it, needs it, or has any use for it. Personally, I have a lot of tablets, and the one that currently sees the most use is a Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 LTE (I'm a fan of the Samsung mobile devices). I never even bothered to purchase an RT device, because I couldn't see any need for it in the way I work.

So when my son told me he wanted a tablet for use at college, I went through the common decision tree with him. He had recently switched from an Apple iPhone 4S to a Samsung Galaxy S4, so he had weaned himself off the Apple ecosystem, but he still gave my 4th-generation iPad a chance. Equipped with a Zagg Bluetooth keyboard case, it seemed like it would be a good choice for note taking and general scholastic use.

He decided the iPad wasn't the best choice for him, at least in this configuration. The case didn't lend itself to laptop note taking, and configuring the Citrix client, while not difficult, meant that he had to have access to the school network to access the materials he was using for his summer classes, much of which were provided in PowerPoint format.

Realizing that an Android tablet would have the same problems, I asked him if he just wanted a notebook for school. He gave it some thought and told me that he would prefer a tablet and that some of his classmates were using Windows tablets. I pointed out that a Windows Pro tablet would be about twice the price of any of the other alternatives, but if he wanted to pay the difference, it was OK with me. He told me he would think about it.

A few days later he told me that his classmate's tablets were the same price as an iPad. It turned out that they were all using Windows RT devices. Apparently, the way the school worked really lent itself well to RT and the built-in Office apps. Word was the preferred document format, and teaching handouts and collateral materials were distributed as PowerPoint files. Students were expected to turn in presentations and such as PowerPoint documents (hence the Citrix client availability for students who didn't own the software). While these policies started when the vast majority of students were using laptops or the school's computers, there hadn't been any changes since other technologies became commonplace. And with an Enterprise Citrix deployment making access to the required applications possible from just about any device, there isn't a lot of motivation to make changes.

I gave my son a brief background on the current status of Windows RT, but he was still interested in trying it out, so off we went to a local store so he could get some face time with a Surface RT tablet. He pulled out a USB drive with his schoolwork, plugged it in, and was able to do everything he needed to do, even on the demo machine at the local store.

As this coincided with Microsoft's recent price drop, it looked like the price of the tablet and Type keyboard was in line with what I had expected to spend on an iPad (I hadn't realized how quickly my son had weaned himself off the Apple ecosystem after having been an iPhone user since the introduction of the iPhone 3. I guess it actually is possible when the choice was between a Galaxy S4 and the uninspiring iPhone 5). But as we looked at other Windows RT options, he found that he liked the keyboard-tablet combo of the Asus VivoTab RT better.


With a certain sense of kismet, it turned out that my cellular provider, AT&T, had dropped the price of the 32GB Asus device with 4G LTE and the keyboard dock to a total of $299. Adding the new tablet to my data sharing plan added only the $10 per month to my bill, and gave him the added flexibility of LTE connectivity. Additional costs for a 32GB micro SD card and a case still kept the total price to the same point as buying the Surface RT tablet alone.

So a week into his experience, he has moved all of his work from a USB key to the Vivo RT and the cloud, has had no problem using or creating PowerPoint documents, transcribed pages of written notes, and installed some of his favorite time-killing apps (Netflix, Hulu, a texting app, and a few others) from the Windows store, connected my Xbox Music account, and is just enjoying his new tablet experience.

The Windows RT tablet meets his needs perfectly. He had the option of any of the tablet choices currently available, and this one just works for him and apparently many of his classmates. While RT hasn't taken off like Microsoft had hoped, it isn't the dog that many would like to make it out to be. Once again, suitability to task has made it the right choice, at least in this situation, for the next generation who will be business users in a few years and remember this experience.

Topics: Mobility, Mobile OS, Microsoft Surface

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  • This explains Microsoft's recent education discounts...

    I own a Surface RT and it's a great device. Microsoft just didn't market it correctly (with all of the non-sense dancing) until recently with the side-by-side comparisons to the iPad. Now, with the price drop, better ads, and aggressive discounts for education and businesses, maybe it will gain some traction.
    • True

      Everytime the dancing commercials came on I thought "what's the hell with that". Why didn't they just show Office on it and usb port etc
      • I thought the same thing about the commercials.

        Those dancing commercials were the stupidest thing I've ever seen. I also feel like the rehash of the Mac vs. PC commercials using a Surface and an iPad are very annoying. That "truth distortion" approach kept me from buying a Mac for many many years. Seeing all of the completely false assertions in those commercials, did nothing but convince me they were ignorant. So, I avoided their products like the plague. When Apple finally got a brain and switched to just showing what their devices could do, I finally bought a Mac. The same advertising approach convinced me to buy multiple iOS products. Microsoft should have copied -those- ads. Show us what the apps can do, plain and simple.

        The fact that RT includes Office actually makes RT a good value, especially with the price reductions. The Metro interface is perfectly at home on a tablet, too. Frankly, their mistake was calling it "Windows" (and trying to shoehorn the same interface onto everything.) If they had simply released RT as a flashy new tablet operating system and left the desktop alone, RT would have done far better.

        Instead, they stupidly called it "Windows." Calling it "Windows" creates a host of customer expectations. People expected it to look like Windows and be able to run existing Windows applications. It doesn't do either. In fact, it doesn't even have windows anymore, so why are they calling it Windows? For people who thought it would be Windows, it's seen as a major disappointment and failure.

        RT would have done far better if it was simply released as Microsoft's new "Metro OS" tablet. A different name, combined with ads showing people what it could do, would have given people more realistic expectations. Instead, people see it as a "Windows" tablet which doesn't have windows and doesn't run Windows software. It failed at being "Windows," so nobody wants it.

        Personally, I think they should have fully developed Windows Phone 8, called it the "Metro OS," and used it on both phones and tablets. They should have left the Windows 7 desktop user interface alone, just improving the security and speed under the hood. Then, make both platforms sync data transparently. They would have had far more success than their idiotic "one UI for everything" approach. People already know they don't need Windows on their tablets and phones in order to get work done. Calling something "Windows" which only shares a recompiled kernel is simply misleading and makes people distrust them.

        If they truly wanted to create Metro for the desktop, it should have been developed and sold as a completely separate product from Windows, without the hidden pseudo-desktop mode. In my opinion, nothing with a Metro interface should be called "Windows," since there aren't any windows in it. If it's a totally different user experience, label it that way. Calling it "Windows" just seems shifty and untrustworthy.
        • What you suggest is death for MS and they know it

          A new tablet OS from MS faces massive hurdles to break into the established markets. Tying it to the desktop gives them at least the possibility of leveraging the user base they have there and moving some of those users over to their own MS/Windows tablet (since so many will be moving to someone's Tablet eventually). Without a tie to the desktop, its just another mobile tablet platform with no apps competing with Apple and Google.

          The tie to the desktop is not just superficial smoke and mirrors. It offers real value. If the public can get past the initial learning of something new, there is a lot of value to having unity between tablet and desktop. I'm seeing this value every day as an actual Surface RT user with Windows 8 desktops at home. I do things at home exactly the same way I do them on the go on my tablet. There's a lot of power in that. Learn one UI and use it everywhere. Buy an app for your tablet and use it on the desktop. Saved a file in Office to Skydrive, switch to the desktop and its right there just like it was on the tablet.
          • Re: What you suggest is death for MS and they know it

            Not only would this not be the death of Microsoft, but it would also have led them to a much better future.

            Let's face it, in today's works, what is taking Microsoft down is... Windows.
            The very legacy that makes it possible to run very, very old software also makes Windows extremely bloated, because Microsoft simply does not understand OS layering.
            When (say) Apple were faced with similar problem in the past, they resorted to emulation. Other OS platforms, such as FreeBSD offer emulation hooks for "older" or "foreign" runtimes such as SRV4, or Linux. But the OS only has hooks, not the full bloat -- if you don't need the backward compatibility, the OS remains very lean.
            Instead, Microsoft opted for what they call "API Servers", which are cumbersome and in no way separated from the OS, with time, it makes things very complicated and fragile.

            This is why Microsoft were in a very dire need of a "restart" of Windows.
            But, again, because Microsoft does not understand layering, they *again* designed it with the runtime and the UI bolted together. What we know as WinRT...
            They further bloated Windows by adding the new runtime+UI to Windows 8 as "Metro".
            And especially complicated things by creating artificial separation between Win32+friends and WinRT.
            What Microsoft should have done instead was:
            - separate the runtime from the UI. This is not trivial given the mess Windows is, but certainly Microsoft has enough resources to do it.
            - provide the several runtimes they already had, Win32, .Net, WinRT etc. Make one of these "primary" or create a new one primary, much like they hypervisor concept they designed for the Xbox One.
            - provide a choice of UIs, the classing Windows UI, Metro etc. Pre-chose UIs on specific platforms (Metro on mobile, Windows on desktop) etc.

            This they could do, if they wanted to preserve the "monolithic" Windows concept. not necessarily the best idea going forward. Or, they could have separated their code base into several distinct "OS packages", much like Apple and the Linux vendors do. In that case, calling everything "Windows" would be a mistake, and most definitely not necessary.
          • really?

            So provide users and developers a 'choice' in ui desktops? Now you want developers to design for multiple UI's when they already complain about multiple OS's....yea your smart.

            Windows might be bloated, but its clean, it's known, and when i plug in any device, literally any (have yet to find one that doesnt work), it just installs and bam im done. I dont know why people even bundle software half the time. If they are certified MS devices (not hard to obtain), and you have internet. Your done.

            Bloated, means the world plug n plays without a disc. Plus your version can lead to hacks when you start to layer. As well, layering, adds cpu usage. And no one on this planet will say a VM is as fast as non-vm.
          • Even bloat-free Linux versions can do plug-and-play

            You don't need bloat to make things work nicely and smoothly. It's just a lazy approach to making things work. And it's an approach that only makes things harder for yourself (refering to MS) in the future.

            "Plus your version can lead to hacks when you start to layer. "

            Poorly integrated bloat has a much greater "attack surface" (risks for exploits) than cleanly implemented layers.

            "As well, layering, adds cpu usage."

            So does inefficient bloat. There's a reason for why layering with Wine on Linux can sometimes can run Windows software faster than Windows itself can on the very same hardware - Windows does a lot of things incredibly inefficiently, and Linux can do it faster even with it's layers since the layers together are more efficient than the single "blob" of code Windows has.

            "And no one on this planet will say a VM is as fast as non-vm."

            That depends on the circumstances. An efficient VM on an efficient OS can be faster than an inefficient OS.
          • All I know is

            You talk about bloat, but Windows 8 is now much smaller on the HDD and has a much smaller memory footprint than Windows 7. I put it on an old Dell laptop that was built for XP and it now runs faster, boots faster and works much better than it did on XP or 7.

            You can say they added "bloat" and at some level, perhaps they did, but they ended up with something smaller, lighter and faster. I'll take it.
          • Still way too bloated...

            I can install 64bit Linux with every piece of software a normal home user needs - full office suite, Photoshop-quality image editor, RAW image editor, photo manager, music/podcast manager, media player, PIM suite (e-mail, contacts, calendar, notes, etc.), IM client, bittorrent client, VoIP client, disk burner, download manager, text editor, PDF reader, SSH, FTP, MySQL, SQLite, python, browser, firewall, map program, Java, codecs, all drivers (built into kernel), flash, plus I add in a C/C++ compiler and libraries... in about 4GB of space, not counting swap space. Windows 8 will want double that with no other software installed.

            It might be smaller, lighter and faster, but it's still a mystery to me what's taking up so much space.
          • have you even used Windows 8?

            Windows 8 is NOT bloated, it is the fastest and most efficient OS Microsoft has produced in over a decade, arguably longer. It runs on slower machines than Windows 7 (or Vista, goes without saying). I installed it on a Win7 laptop and increased the battery life by at least 25%.

            As part of my job I've used Windows 8 on a huge variety of systems. There is definitely the occasional issue, but that's always down to bloatware supplied by the manufacturer. Either removing the crap that the hardware vendor has put on it or just wiping and installing vanilla windows 8 solves those problems.

            "Microsoft doesn't understand layering"? I don't think you know what you are talking about.
        • Windows

          Hi BillDem,

          I appreciate your post. It doesn't appear that you have ever used Windows 8 or Windows RT. One click of the desktop tile and you get windows galore! In fact from the Desktop view you can barely tell it's Windows 8. I have 10 windows open right now while I write this. I also have 4 monitors and am running 5 different apps. now that RT has the full version of Outlook, my life is complete. I can go from work to killing Zombies to both and back to Zombies all day long. The Surface is a great device. I didn't appreciate the USB port at first but I realize now I am much more efficient with a mouse. It's definitely not perfect. I cant install Adobe Photoshop Elements but I have do have it on my Windows 8 laptop. I only use Photoshop for putting my friends faces on donkey bodies, so it's not mission critical. I like the Surface overall. It's a good little buddy.

          Best, Derrick Wheeler Sr Product Intelligence Manager, Microsoft :)
          Derrick Wheeler
    • Great Device

      I'm an adult Database Admin and also found RT to be just what I needed. This device is not just for kids. Having Office instantly put it over the iPad I replaced. Full windows printing, just like from a desktop, side by side multitasking (even better in 8.1), file explorer just like Windows to browse network drives all got to RT's favor. It even has power shell!

      Performance is not going to blow anyone away, but its very much comparable to the iPad. and more than acceptable.
      • Re: Great Device

        Surface won the "PC Magazine" readers choice awards for tablets. Proves to me that people into tech appreciate a good tablet when they see one. Low-tech consumers only go by perception.
        Sean Foley
      • My son is getting one

        for high school (a device is required) and the touchpad and mouse availability is no small feature either.
      • Micro$oft is paying me to tell you that my son wants one too

        I just want you all to know that.

        • Did Google pay you to insinuate that happy users are being paid?

          We can all play that game...
          • He's just angry.

            CaviarBlue got eaten by the ban-hammer.
        • Right....

          Everything is a damn conspiracy... you must be an Apple user.
          Poli Tecs
    • Windows tablets are the best choice for almost all

      education scenarios. That's why it's sure a huge scam for school districts to be completely wasting public tax payer funds on iPads. You can get surfaces for less and other OEM W8 devices for even less than surfaces.
      Johnny Vegas
      • I guess they already wasted taxpayers money... investing in Microsoft Office when there's no real need for the original.

        I would agree in business critical situations where presentation is the difference between a sale or not... but at school... you don't get wasting resources in software that would better go to facilities and/or student loans...