The Microsoft rumor mill went into overdrive last week after Windows Blue, the theretofore mythical update to Windows 8, leaked to online file sharing sites.
Given the ensuing commotion, which has included talk of the desktop interface's allegedly impending demise, you'd think Redmond gossips might have taken a few days off. New rumors and discoveries have continued unabated, however, including conflicting claims that Microsoft might use Windows Blue to effectively shutter its struggling Windows RT line.
On March 27, Taiwanese tech site DigiTimes suggested Microsoft will kill off Windows RT by merging it into Windows Blue. The site attributed the news to supply chain sources, just as it did when it recently claimed that Microsoft is using license discounts to encourage OEMs to produce small form-factor Windows 8 tablets and Ultrabooks. The report said the sources expect PC demand to remain soft until models with Intel's next-gen Haswell processers appear later this year, a prediction that's consistent with IDC forecasts published earlier this month.
CNET, to which Microsoft VP Michael Angiulo defended Windows RT only last week, refuted the DigiTimes claim a day later, citing unnamed sources. The rebuttal stated that Windows RT and Windows Blue already run on the same codebase, meaning there is nothing to "merge," and that RT remains a fixture in Redmond's plans.
[ What's the real scoop on Windows Blue? Read Windows Blue Confirmed But Microsoft Mum On Details. ]
Windows RT's fate has been a subject of debate in recent weeks. The platform has failed to take off, with the meager sales of Microsoft's much-ballyhooed Surface RT headlining its struggles. OEMs haven't been optimistic about the OS, and analysts asserted earlier this month that Microsoft needs to dramatically reduce RT products' prices, and perhaps even terminate the line so it can focus on Windows 8.
When Angiulo defended Windows RT's merits, he stressed that ARM-based systems enjoy superior battery life. Windows RT was built for tablets that run on ARM chips, which draw less power than the Intel chips fueling full Windows 8 devices. They also power competing models, such as Apple's iPad.
Angiulo's response is not necessarily persuasive, however, because Intel's upcoming Haswell chips are expected to equip the next wave of Windows 8 devices with ARM-like battery life. Windows RT tablets might continue to last a bit longer between charges, but if the advantage is slim, it's hard to see why users wouldn't just choose Windows 8. Preferences might shift if Windows RT devices are massively discounted, of course, but if Haswell-based ultrabooks hit the targeted sub-$600 price, consumers will possibly view RT offerings as too much money for too little functionality.
That said, Microsoft could have a card up its sleeve. The company has recently made efforts to attract developers, and a recent rumor suggests Redmond is focusing internally on "fun, secret, risky, and showcasable apps."
This week's updates to Windows 8's core apps brought definite improvement, but nothing -- aside from controversially weaning users off of the desktop UI -- that qualified as "risky." But if Microsoft can deliver compelling apps and experiences that aren't available on other platforms, all of its Modern UI operating systems, including Windows RT, could surge in popularity.
In any case, Redmond is clearly committed to the tile-based Modern UI. What that means for the desktop interface and Windows RT remains to be seen, but Microsoft observers should have a better idea after the company's upcoming BUILD 2013 and TechEd conferences.
In other Windows Blue news, intrepid Microsoft watchers have continued to explore the leaked Windows Blue build and uncover new features. Recently discovered additions include the ability to sync the Start screen, which will be more customizable in Windows Blue, across devices. There is also evidence that swipe navigation gestures, which are already implemented in Windows 8's Modern UI Internet Explorer app, will be extended to Windows Blue's desktop-oriented Internet Explorer 11. Other changes and improvements include expanded support for high-resolution, Retina-type displays, a Modern-style Windows Defender app, and various memory and power management refinements.
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