Why Microsoft isn't going to dump Windows RT

Why Microsoft isn't going to dump Windows RT

Summary: Is there any chance Microsoft is going to do a 180 and dump its Windows RT operating system? My bet is no, and here's why.


In the days following Microsoft's $900 million Surface RT write-down, many have been questioning Microsoft's stated plan to remain committed to Windows RT and Surface RT.


Is Microsoft really going to continue to sink resources into an operating system that's different from its core Windows 8 one, especially given that the new devices and services company made only $853 million (revenues, not profits) from its Surface RT and Pro sales through June 30?

We armchair pundits, Wall Street analysts, Microsoft partners, competitors and employees can keep on wondering all we want about the wisdom of Microsoft's Windows RT ways. It won't matter. I firmly believe Microsoft is not going to do a 180 on Windows RT, like the company did with the Start Button on Windows 8, or the always-on requirement for Xbox One.

Here's why:

What Microsoft has said

Back in March, Microsoft officials insisted that Windows RT, Microsoft's port of Windows to the ARM processor, was a necessary disruption. Corporate Vice President Michael Angiulo said it was Windows RT on ARM that gave Microsoft the ability to offer tablets that were "really competitive with a full-sized iPad." (Keep in mind this was said before the write-down and the eventual appearance of the much-improved anti-iPad ads from Microsoft.)

Angiulo also said that he believed the future of ARM chips was bright. And he played up the value of Metro-Style/Windows Store apps -- installed via the Windows Store and controlled by users -- as being a big selling point. "On Windows RT, the user experience stays consistent over time," he noted.

While Microsoft officials have played up user control of Windows RT devices, the reality is that Microsoft is the one that's really in control of these kinds of machines. There's likely to be less/no crapware, viruses and piracy (in theory, at least) on Windows RT machines because of how they're so locked down. Metro-Style apps are installed via the Windows Store, and Microsoft is the gatekeeper.

Just a couple weeks ago, Microsoft's Surface General Manager Brian Hall reiterated that Microsoft is absolutely committed to both the Surface RT hardware and the Windows RT OS. Microsoft is planning to develop and market both platforms going forward, he said. No ifs, ands or buts.

What Microsoft has hinted

So the verbal commitments are in place. But with Intel's new lower-power, higher-performance Intel Atom and Haswell chips finally coming to market, does Microsoft need to continue to hedge its bets (and risk confusing consumers) with another flavor of Windows?

The ability to run existing Windows apps in the desktop is arguably one of the main advantages that Windows 8 devices have over Windows RT ones. However, on the coming wave of smaller mini/tablets, even with better screen resolutions, running desktop apps is probably going to be a sub-optimal experience. At seven inches, it's going to be especially bad, I'd think.

On mini tablets, a desktop-minimal environment (and maybe one day, desktop-free one) makes the most sense. Microsoft is believed to be readying a seven- or eight-inch Surface tablet. My bet is that tablet could be running Windows RT 8.1 on ARM.

Of course, without more and more-compelling Metro-Style apps, Windows RT makes zero sense. Microsoft's Metro-Style app story is still relatively weak, but at least the current management is acknowledging this and trying to fix it.

On the business-app front, especially, Microsoft has reversed course and is actively courting its .Net developer community to try to get them to build Metro-Style apps. And there are Metro-Style versions of Microsoft's Word, Excel and PowerPoint (codenamed "Gemini") in development. Microsoft officials have said to expect Metro-Style Office apps in 2014. I wouldn't be surprised to see them in late 2013 or early 2014, worst case.

What Microsoft hasn't said ... yet

The other not-so-wild card in the Microsoft Windows ecosystem is Windows Phone.

Windows Phone runs on ARM. Windows RT runs on ARM. Both use the NT core. And Microsoft is trying to unify the programming interfaces, frameworks and dev tools across these platforms. Though there isn't a common Windows Store for Windows Phone and Windows RT, there's no reason this will always be the case.

The differences  between a Windows phone, tablet and phablet are diminishing. Will it always be the case that a five-inch phone must run an operating system called "Windows Phone OS"? Or could it run something called "Windows RT"? (Or vice versa?) What if the Windows Phone OS and Windows RT both evolve so they become, for all intents and purposes, one OS that can run on mobile devices without a desktop?

For those who thought Microsoft should have made Windows 8 more of a true desktop/laptop OS that wasn't optimized for touch tablets, and made the Windows Phone OS the operating system for touch-tablet devices, this kind of phone OS/RT convergence might be a belated dream come true....

Topics: Windows 8, Microsoft, Tablets, ARM, PCs, Business Intelligence, Microsoft Surface, Windows Phone


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Because

    They couldn't find a canal big enough nearby where they could dump 6 million surface RTs and no-one would notice.
    • Where did you get the six million number

      I read that was an agressive overexageration.
      William Farrel
      • er

        Either from here, or it's sister site cNet.
        One of the 2.
        Either way, it's a joke. Why so serious?
        • er why so serious?

          Willy is very sensitive, every time you talk negative about MS, he jumps...
          • after that it is difficult to sell:

            after that it is difficult to sell:
            epic fail
            Henrique Dourado
          • Well, since there isn't a canal big enough

            I propose a landfill instead. Or maybe recycling them into park benches. Or portable dog houses.

      • MJF came up with the number

        and I double checked it myself, just to be sure. $900,000,000 divided by $150 (the price cut's value) yields 6,000,000 units.
        • RT will replace WP OS

          RT runs across multiple ARM chips, WP8 only runs on Qualcomm. RT runs almost all Windows 8 apps, WP8 runs no Windows 8 apps. RT runs the full versions of Office, WP8 runs mobile versions. RT has advanced print drivers, WP8 can't print. RT has IE11 with Flash integrated & unlimited tabs, WP8 has IE10 with no Flash and only 6 tabs. RT has side by side multitasking, RT does not. In a few months RT will have more apps than WP8 despite a 2 year head start for Windows Phone. RT has a full suite of Bing service apps while WP8 has a pared down Bing Hub. RT is already in 8.1 preview while WP8.1 is so far behind schedule it is pushed back to 2014.

          The writing is on the wall. As soon as RT can run on low enough hardware WP is out. RT will power phones, phablets, small tablets and wearables. Hopefully all WP8 apps will be added to RT's app store. My only desires is that MS makes the back and search buttons standard on all RT devices, brings voice control/search features of WP8 to RT, and brings the animated flipping tiles of WP8 metro to both RT and Windows 8.x.
          • Totally agree that RT will replace Windows Phone OS...

            I think the reason Microsoft is spending so much time & manpower on Windows Blue & Blue RT, and so little urgency in WP Blue is because they know that Windows Phone's days are numbered. Personally, I don't think there will be a Windows Phone 9. It will just be Windows RT on phones. It may still LOOK like the Windows Phone we know now, but it will be powered by RT.
          • Maybe Phone will replace RT?

            Better name, same chips, possibly better infrastructure...Better market place value?
          • bad moon rising

            Oh, that is not good. WP8 has more engaged users and more apps. It even has better first party functionality. And better hardware (subjective, but supported by review scores). If they haven't been able to match WP8's apps with RT's built-in apps, I'm not sure how much longer it would take to 'port' the core functionality.

            Never mind how much farther behind they would fall while making that effort.
          • WP8, 8 and RT already share a common core, I just hope

            ...that they don't screw up the WP interface too much. It's much better and more consistent than the more confusing Windows 8/RT interface.

            I like Windows 8, but I must say I was disappointed with the lack of consistency with the interface. WP's touch gui is much easier to use because every app uses the same rules: scroll up/down, swipe left/right for another screen, swipe from bottom/top edge for options/settings.
          • I expect that you are correct

            in the Win RT will replace Win Phone. However, the consequence will be that WP8 phones will not be upgradable . . . and yet again that is going to upset WP users.
          • umm

            Sure that Win8 kernel (and so ported to ARM as RT?) has more features and hw support (though for ARM, drivers needs to at least recompiled and not that easy yet probably), but I still think as big fan of WinCE 4.2+ kernel that this hard-real-time (RTOS) was clean from-scratch unicode only and CPU agnostic (ARM, x86, SH3, MIPS) thing born somewhere in 1990 (my library still holds printed book about first WindowsCE 1.0 devices; my treasure from local "Invex" fair:-), and it was enough and better for phone to be responding as quickly as possible. Trust me, here is nice almost unix-like model of drivers too, it was designed with battery-life in mind from start etc... And it is really RTOS in fact, similar as Montavista or QNX etc - With WP8 on dualcore Lumia620 I still feel that its more sluggish as previous singlecore WP7.8 Omnia W ... But, as new features and better kernel features are more needed in phone and tablets, better to unify on the NT/Cutlers kernel (born in fact somewhere in 1970 at Digital) because of economics reasons primarily. New HW and further optimizations will be close to WinCE RTOS soon, so its in fact tradeoff - even MS must do set of experiments down to comparison of prototype kernel+NET+SL to see in reality if it will be acceptable to replace WinCE - and now it is. But from MY point of view, I like WinCE more as most modern Windows OS, which helped as live prototype during PocketPC and WindowsMobile era to enhance and modularize the NT kernel too, IMHO. So RIP (or better, CE will remain in industrial things forever, I hope :-). For the "platform" on top of core OS, it doesnt matter whats below too much, it was ARM NETCF+SL, now its ARM CoreCLR+SL side-by-side with WinRT APIs and soon probably also HTML5+JS as on Win8/RT, OK, no problém with that, more features and unified developers experience, great :-). Honestly I can even imagine Windows RT/Phone (!!) on x86(!!) AMD APU (
          • (

            ... we will see :-)
          • wow, here isnt escaped the "less than" html element bracket ???

            ZDNET, huh??
          • so Windows phone 8 is DOA?

            feel bad for the few ones that bought on the Lumia bandwagon.
            They will have to buy again all their apps to make the jump from WP8 to RT?
          • Yep

            WP users could not upgrade for 6.x to 7. They could not upgrade from 7.x to 8. Now, they likely be able to upgrade from 8.x to 9 or RT.

            That is a LOT of wasted money!
          • Correction

            That should have read, "Now, they likely WON'T be able to upgrade from 8.x to 9 or RT."
          • WRONG

            That's where you're wrong. That is the reason that MS forced the changeover on WP8 to use the NT kernel, same as WinRT...they ARE upgradable. Stop spreading the FUD.