Software // Operating Systems
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12/4/2013
02:46 PM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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Microsoft Is Not Killing Windows RT

Despite rumors to the contrary, Microsoft will unify its operating systems, not eliminate product lines.

8 Reasons To Hate Windows 8.1
8 Reasons To Hate Windows 8.1
(click image for larger view)

There's been a lot of buzz in recent weeks over the future of Windows, particularly the notion that Microsoft will kill off Windows RT. These claims are overhyped and built largely on semantics. Though Windows RT might not survive in name, you can expect it to remain a part of Microsoft's catalogue for the foreseeable future.

Microsoft devices and studios group leader Julie Larson-Green triggered the speculation when she said at last month's UBS Global Technology Summit that her company won't continue to support all three of its operating systems: Windows, Windows RT, and Windows Phone. Many interpreted this to mean that Microsoft's ARM-based devices (Windows Phone 8 smartphones and Windows RT 8.1 tablets) will soon share a single UI and app marketplace.

Such a progression makes sense; iOS and Google use the same platform for smartphones and tablets. With Windows Phone phablets becoming more popular, it's impractical for Microsoft to have one OS for six-inch screens and another for eight-inch ones. But a Windows Phone-Windows RT merger still isn't the same as terminating the Windows RT vision outright.

[Tablet shopping this holiday season? Here's how to navigate the crowded market: Tablet Shopping Guide: 8 Tips.]

Even after the platforms have converged, Microsoft will support ARM-based tablets. They will still feature a Live Tile interface and run Modern-style apps, but they won't run legacy desktop software. For most intents and purposes, in other words, a Windows Phone-Windows RT merger won't force Microsoft to abandon much except the Windows RT brand -- which it has already done. The company refers to all 8.1 releases simply as "the new Windows," Windows RT 8.1 included, and it dropped the RT moniker from the Surface 2.

Yes, there will be substantial changes beyond product names. Windows RT doesn't support legacy desktop software, but it forces users into a desktop mode if they want to launch Microsoft Office. Future ARM-based Windows tablets will probably drop the desktop after touch-first versions of Office are ready. Excising the desktop certainly helps Windows RT become more like Windows Phone 8, but it's also a natural progression that's been anticipated since long before Larson-Green's recent remarks. Microsoft isn't killing products so much as refining them.

Microsoft is dropping the Windows RT branding, but don't expect it to drop the Windows RT vision.
Microsoft is dropping the Windows RT branding, but don't expect it to drop the Windows RT vision.

Even after Microsoft merges Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT into a single platform, Windows smartphones and tablets won't necessarily behave the same way. Apple's iOS behaves differently on iPads than on iPhones, for example, and Microsoft surely recognizes that users won't use Excel on a smartphone the same way they'd use it on a Surface-sized device.

These variations in user experience across similar form factors cut to the heart of the matter. That Microsoft will clean up its disjointed mobility plan goes without saying. How and when this effort will accelerate remains less clear -- and, with Microsoft playing from behind in the mobile arena, much more important.

Outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer has already described a future in which Microsoft applications and services such as Office and Bing move seamlessly with the user, translating via the cloud from one screen to the next. Future ARM-based Windows devices are part of this plan in that a Windows Phone-Windows RT merger would demand further unification of the code that runs various Windows platforms.

All current Windows operating systems, both ARM and x86-based, are built around the Windows NT core and share substantial portions of code. Microsoft has been candid about its desire to further unite its various platforms, both to facilitate the cross-platform experiences and to enable developers to deploy their apps throughout the Windows ecosystem without having to rewrite them for each individual OS.

Rumors suggest Microsoft will advance this agenda with a Windows Phone 8 update early next year. That said, ZDNet reported this week that major movement might wait until the spring of 2015, when the company is expected to release a wave of updates codenamed Threshold. This timeline could shift after Microsoft announces its next CEO. Regardless, it's not clear how quickly the company will launch a combined app store for smartphones and tablets, let alone a single OS for all ARM-based mobile devices.

Microsoft is making progress. IDC projects that Windows tablets will account for a respectable 10% of the market by 2017. But a 10% share will only partially compensate for the downturn in PC shipments expected over the same period, and it won't be enough to stave off consumerization trends, which will demand that IT become more and more adept at accommodating iOS and Android in the workplace.

Microsoft isn't going to kill its Windows RT vision, at least not in spirit. But to be more than a distant third option in the mobile race, it needs support from enterprises and consumers. A unified mobile OS is a good start, but it's only that -- a start. When and how Microsoft gets there are what counts.

Consumerization 1.0 was "we don't need IT." Today we need IT to bridge the gap between consumer and business tech. Also in the Consumerization 2.0 issue of InformationWeek: Stop worrying about the role of the CIO (free registration required).

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SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
3/11/2014 | 8:17:45 AM
Re: Dear Microsoft
I think the key with Win 8 is committing to the one OS across every platform.  Since MS has a desktop mode in the x86 version that makes it hard to keep the same OS and UI when moving to ARM based devices.  The concept is a good one but the execution is lacking.
LouisH305
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LouisH305,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/10/2014 | 10:37:57 PM
Re: Dear Microsoft
SaneIT, I really laughed out loud about the comment it's like Windows but not Windows!!  I work EXTENSIVELY with Microsoft SCOM and SCCM and I swear MS is so stubborn in so many ways.  They took a product like NetIQ and made it extremely complex; and then they tell you they are doing everything they can to make it "easier to manage."   It's a similar issue with their tablet market; they just can't seem to get it right.   Please, for the love of god MS, do what you can to merge with the functionality of Windows 8 Pro.  I am generally happy with my Surface; I paid 200 bucks for it; it's a great device, but they are really not going to compet with Apple at this rate. 
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
12/27/2013 | 4:44:43 PM
MS is still between CEOs
So all bets are off.  All we really know is that Steve Ballmer isn't going to pull the trigger, but we knew that already.

 
CallumH770
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CallumH770,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/9/2013 | 2:54:17 PM
Re: Focus on enterprises
Removing the desktop is the WORST idea. The Desktop is what makes Windows RT a potantially great OS! I think they should be allowing developers to make desktop apps for RT. But Microsoft forcing Metro (sorry, Modern) style apps on all devs is killing RT as a platform.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
12/9/2013 | 2:43:34 AM
Re: Focus on enterprises
Will the touch-first Office apps be any good-- that's a big question.

Microsoft is taking a while to finish these touch-first Office apps finished. The company will surely make touch-first apps exclusive to Windows tablets for a few months-- but if the apps aren't great, will they prove a major differentiator? The traditional version of Office hasn't helped Windows tablets much so far. I think Windows tablets will grow in popularity in coming months, now that Windows 8.1 has smoothed over some wrinkles, and now that some of the devices are coming way down in price. But they're still going to be a distant third option, and though they'll be more popular in the enterprise, they won't force the iPads out. It's clear that Office hasn't been the major differentiator that Microsoft hoped, and if the touch-first versions aren't compelling, iOS/ Android users will only be that much more invested in alternatives.

Analysts talk about all the billions that Microsoft could earn by releasing Office for the iPad-- and that would probably be true, today. But if the touch-first apps aren't excellent, will iPad users care when Microsoft finally gets around to releasing them? Is Microsoft missing its window for leveraging Office to monetize iOS's success? Office commands a huge degree of respect, in whatever form, because Office compatibility is so important to so many businesses. But if touch-first Office doesn't roll around until late 2014/ early 2015, and iOS users don't gain access until late 2015/ early 2016, what then?

For what it's worth, I find OneNote quite useful on Surface-sized touch devices, though I'm not sure if it sets a high enough bar to overcome all the questions I mentioned.
Greenleaf
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Greenleaf,
User Rank: Strategist
12/6/2013 | 3:44:15 AM
Re: Focus on enterprises
Touch is good but only on hand held devices. It's fine for Microsoft to enable touch on PCs but the desktop is necessary for developers which I am one of. Having an app take over the entire screen is a show stopper for me. Also it seems like Microsoft cares more about video games than they do about Visual Studio. I get the distinct feeling that Microsoft is tired of us developers. Look at Novell for example. They developed this got to have network for PCs running Windows but instead of giving tham an award, Microsoft practically ran them out of business. I totally don't think that Microsoft likes anybody but themselves developing on their platform. I know they hate it when you report a bug. They are out right hostile then.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
12/6/2013 | 3:27:26 AM
Re: it was coming
For me Windows RT just appeared in the market once and then it went rather silently. Surface is the first MS tablet product and did not prevail in the market. Surface 2 is much better and for a tablet product designed as something between pad and super-book, it's reasonable to have Windows 8/Windows 8.1 installed on it. From strategic point of view, it will be benefitical to have a unified platform for mobile devices but it can behave differently, depending on where it's deployed.
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
12/5/2013 | 7:07:04 PM
it was coming
I believe is a great idea to combine the windows phone OS with RT. But now that the Surface 2 and future tablets are dropping the RT moniker, isn't a little confusing? Now both tablets run Windows 8.1, The difference is just on the "pro" of the Surface name. Is this enough for the consumers to understand the difference between the Windows tablets?

 
twilliamson423
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twilliamson423,
User Rank: Strategist
12/5/2013 | 3:54:48 PM
Re: Focus on enterprises
Without having seen any examples of Excel, Word, or Powerpoint, I have used the touch version of OneNote on a Surface RT device. I can say it is not as fully capable as the desktop version but it is capable enough to get the job done and they have been adding substantial improvements with enough frequency to keep me interested. I'm waiting to see where it ends up.

I would say it is at least as functional as the WebApps, but I haven't used them in a while so I don't know where they stand now.
GbengaA529
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GbengaA529,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/5/2013 | 3:23:53 PM
Re: Focus on enterprises
Microsoft can always go corporate raiding for its touch screen technology. Every company does it.
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