Improving Windows 8 vs. Windows RT Differentiation

Posted Tuesday March 19, 2013 at 8:11:39 pm in Technology

Windows 8 can be a little confusing, not just from a perspective of creating an entirely new UI as the landing screen for users, but also from the beginning when picking an OS version.

It's an interesting proposition: get Windows itself on as many platforms as possible. That includes: x86, x64, and now ARM. ARM has always been known for a variety of key benefits versus its x86/x64 counterparts:

  • Battery life
  • Instant wake
  • Cheap
  • Fanless

....and with Windows RT essentially being Windows On ARM (WOA), it means that applications written and compiled for x86/x64 will not run on Windows RT devices (unless an emulator is installed). To complicate matters further, Microsoft has locked down Windows RT so that desktop applications can't be installed unless they're digitally signed by Microsoft. There are hacks out there to get desktop applications installed, but they're relatively immature and settings get lost on a reboot. In case you're curious, here's a shout out to my XDA pals: RT Jailbreak Tool Lets Users Install Non-Microsoft Executables on Windows RT.

With that being said, Microsoft is in an interesting predicament when it comes to Windows RT. It doesn't operate exactly like Windows for 64 bit or even 32 bit installations. Microsoft has purposefully prevented users from installing desktop applicaitons even if they were compiled for ARM. That reason is most likely to keep users inside the Modern UI (Metro) rather than living in the desktop. It's also to keep the operating system from having malware installed as well as desktop applications that can hog up resources and cause slower boot times and less efficient running of the Modern UI.

But here's the kicker: Microsoft included the desktop in Windows RT. And with the expressed reason apparently being that it includes Office at no cost to the user. An interesting proposition being that Office 2013 is now ~$140 (currenty on Amazon) for the same edition (Home and Student Edition). There are, of course, other benefits to having the desktop:

  • Remote desktop
  • File Explorer
  • Task Manager
  • Command Line
  • ...and various other applications

Of course most users are only going to use Office on the desktop with the occasional romp on the File Explorer. And Microsoft understands this. For the most part, Microsoft goes out of its way to only tout Office from the desktop end of things. Everything else is about the Start Screen and the Modern UI. It's understandable, Windows RT is on ARM based devices and this usually means touch first devices like tablets. Battery life, fast boot times, instant on, no malware, and touch first is the way to go.

But it certainly begs the question: is this confusing to consumers? After all, Microsoft doesn't go too much out of the way to tell consumers that Windows RT can't have desktop applications installed on it. Yes, there's mention of it on their support pages and even on the Surface RT page....and I'm sure they tell customers (how often?) when they come in to a Microsoft Store to buy a Surface RT. But do they go to enough of an extent to do so?

In a way, Windows RT is still in beta. Microsoft collecting user feedback and what not: should the desktop exist and if so, should users be able to install desktop applications? 

My take is that Microsoft released Windows RT (and Surface RT) sooner than they wanted to. They needed to compete with Apple and Google before the holidays for a cheaper device than something like the Pro. The only problem is that Microsoft didn't have mind share for touch at the time. So they need something to entice buyers: Microsoft Office included for free, anyone? This in turn would help popularize the Modern UI, more apps would be developed for it, and life would be grand.

Or so Microsoft hoped. Now, Windows 8 isn't lighting the world on fire, but the Windows Store is growing, the existing apps in the Store are maturing, and talk of Windows Blue improving the existing core applications as well as the Modern UI experience is all the rage. But I will be the first to admit that for basic users Windows RT and Windows 8 look nearly identical. Microsoft doesn't have iOS on tablet versus OS/X on laptop to train users. Users will draw comparisons to Windows 8 and Windows RT. That said, when the iPad first came out, people asked all the same questions as Windows RT (and even more so, actually):

  • How do I print?
  • How do I use multiple applications at once?
  • How do I install OS/X applications?
  • Can this run Photoshop? Etc.

Do a Google search, you'll see those questions and more around the time of the iPad's first release (as well as even still to this day).

My take on what Microsoft was/is attempting to do:

  • Get Surface RT out there, gauge market reaction to RT
  • Put out Windows 8 and Windows RT with the same Modern UI and desktop to entice non-touch and tocuh users which then should entice developers to fill up the Windows Store
  • Throttle back sales of Surface RT to match market demand.
  • Sell Surface Pro at a higher premium to set a clear differentiation between price for RT ($499) vs. Pro ($899).
  • Get feedback for 8/RT until Blue comes out, implement changes
  • Release new set of Surface devices

Now, I more than understand why Microsoft put the Modern UI across all devices. They had nearly *zero* mindshare when it came to tablets, even though they were arguably the first to pioneer it back in the XP days. Much like the Newton, it was way ahead of its time. So, Microsoft had to appeal to developers, and what better way to do it than enticing them with the prospect of 91% of the market. Like it or not, Microsoft loves to tout that marketshare percentage and the billion+ PC's running its Windows operating system.

It's not really a stumble by Microsoft, it's a necesasry evil. I'm not so sure that Microsoft would have sold over a million Surface RT devices without it including the desktop and Office. Even though the Windows Store launched with more apps than the iPad's App Store on launch, it wouldn't be enough of a selling point to users. The $499 price was also a premium, so it's not like they could tout a budget price a la the Nexus 7. No, they needed something to entice users, and Microsoft Office and the familiar desktop is mighty enticing. Just look at the reviews on or on Amazon for the Surface RT.

That said, I think with Windows Blue we should (IMHO)/are going to see the following happen:

  • Support for smaller devices, a la Surface Mini (7"-8" devices, anyone?)
  • Office RT announced and released for the Modern UI
  • Windows RT shipping with desktop disabled and Office RT bundled. This means all of the functionality to run a Windows RT device can be done through the Modern UI.*
  • The option to enable the desktop in Settings for Surface RT.
  • Improvements to Windows 8 and Windows RT (performance improvements, etc.)
  • Improvements to core apps in 8/RT, i.e. Mail, People, Calendar, Music, Video, etc.
  • Possible power user options to quickly associate apps/etc. to their desktop counterparts, ability to boot to desktop.
  • Helpful hints for users of the Modern UI to do such things as: view app options (i.e. right click or swipe up or down), multitask, etc.

*We currently see this right now. We can add wireless networks, VPN, etc. But the moment you need to do something advanced, it kicks you to the desktop. This and all other loose ends will (should be) tied up with Windows Blue. Or at least I hope so.

By then Microsoft should have an interesting proposition for users. More retail stores, more international availability of its Surface line, more apps, a better experience.

This also means we will most likely see a more complete Surface line: Surface Mini, Surface RT, Surface RT 2, and Surface Pro by Q3 2013. Maybe even a Surface  Book? This should give a solid expectation for users based on price and name:

  • Windows RT - Modern UI with Office RT included. Ability to enable desktop. Disabled by default.
  • Windows 8 - Modern UI with desktop. 

Surface line up:

  • Surface RT Mini - 7"-8" tablet running Windows RT, Office RT included for  $299
  • Surface RT - 10.6" tablet running Windows RT, 1st generation, desktop Office included for $399
  • Surface RT 2 - 10.6" tablet running Windows RT, 2nd generation, Office RT included for $499
  • Surface Pro - 10.6" tablet running Windows 8 Pro, 1st generation, $899

We may or may not see a Surface Book as well as 2nd generation Surface Pro this year. We may see a Pro price cut, maybe something like $50-$100 off the 64GB model.

What would also be nice is for Microsoft to push Office 365 when selling Windows 8 devices. Give every user something like a free year of Office 365. Google is attempting the same with its Chromebook offerings on some of their line.

Just note, above is a lot of speculation and wants. Some of it may happen, all of it, or maybe none of it. It's based off some things I've heard, and things that I want. 

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view