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.
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.
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.
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?