What is Windows RT?

I have made a small effort to explain the above through an article on my website, the text of which is reproduced below:

Let’s start with a simple statement:

“Windows RT is the version of Windows which runs on devices based on ARM processor”. Now you may ask what is this thing called an ARM processor?

I think it’s a fair question, so let’s tackle that first.

What is ARM?

In the past five years, predominantly after the launch of the first iPhone and then the iPad in 2009, the focus of the market has shifted more towards devices which are “mobile”, “always connected”, “cloud based” and have amazing battery life. In that respect a plethora of tablet devices and smartphones have inundated the market in the last 3-4 years. Currently two major software players in this market are Google (with its Android OS) and Apple (with its iOS).

Both iOS and Android are designed to use processors based on ARM architecture. An architecture simply is a set of instructions or a “design" that determines how things are executed by a processor. For comparison, Intel and AMD follow an x86 architecture developed by Intel in 1978. ARM architecture was developed by a company called ARM Holdings who produces reference processor designs. Originally meant for use in PC devices, its now predominantly used in mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets due to its low cost, less power usage, small design and less heat dissipation as compared to traditional (read x86) processor designs.

Companies can have a license of this architecture and can produce and manufacture their processors based on the reference designs. There are several licensees of this, the biggest being Qualcomm, NVIDIA, Samsung and Apple.

Devices based on ARM architecture fulfill all the requirements of a “mobile” device. They are incredibly power efficient while being fast and have the capability to be always connected to the internet without sacrificing battery life. The ARM processor designs have gone through several iterations and are commonly used in mobile devices so much so that more than 90% of the mobile devices produced today use an ARM Processor (source: Wikipedia).

What is Windows RT?

Now that you know what is ARM, let’s get to our main point as to what is Windows RT?

Well, Microsoft shipped Windows 7 in 2009. And by the the time it shipped, as already mentioned, more than 90% of the portable devices such as tablets and smartphones were shipping with an ARM based processor inside them. The world was moving towards mobile devices and ARM devices and away from desktops and even laptops. And the elephant in the room was that Microsoft didn’t have an OS for this rapidly developing and widely used ARM architecture.

To achieve that objective Microsoft developed Windows RT concurrently with Windows 8. Both these versions of Windows are meant to usher Windows into the era of mobile devices with a UI which is easy to use and is fast. Windows 8 is the version of Windows which is for Intel/AMD based processors (x86) while Windows RT is the version of Windows which has been separately developed by Microsoft for use on ARM devices.

To achieve the objective of being fast and easy, both Windows 8 and RT use this new UI dubbed “Metro”. In this new UI, the old start menu has been replaced with a full screen “Start Screen” which can run full screen apps called “Windows Store apps” completely separate from the rest of the system in its own environment while the Desktop is just like a separate app in this environment (for the purpose of this article we will refer to these as “apps” and the regular desktop applications as “programs” just to ease things a bit).

Windows RT is almost a complete replica (It even has notepad!) of Windows 8 except for one major difference:

Windows RT does not let you install programs in its desktop mode and new apps can be obtained from the new “Windows Store” only.

I’ll let that sink in for a second. Yes, on Windows RT you cannot install the regular programs such as Photoshop, Dreamweaver, VLC Media player, all browsers and a million other programs which you currently use on your Windows 7/Vista/XP computer. However, Windows RT does come with a few programs which have been separately developed for Windows RT by Microsoft and come pre-installed with a copy of Windows RT installed on every device (more on that later).

You can essentially say Windows RT is a subset or cut down version of Windows 8 with some missing features but is intended to be better optimized for ARM architecture to be fast, easy to use and at the same time have exceptional battery life. This also makes sure that Microsoft has an OS developed for the ARM architecture which has now become the “default” choice for mobile devices.

In addition to the limitation that you cannot install desktop apps in Windows RT, :

- You cannot join a network with a Domain

- You don’t have the ability to connect to your Windows RT PC from another PC using Remote Desktop

- Windows Media Center and Windows Media Player are not included

Who is it for or what is the target market?

We can sum up the target audience for Windows RT with this:

“You are a Windows 7 user who uses a browser along with 6-7 desktop apps like Windows Live Mail, Skype, Media Player and Ms. Office and who doesn’t use powerful apps like Photoshop, programming IDEs like Visual Studio, Virtualization software, Adobe Premiere etc.”

Did you notice something in the above description? The target audience for Windows RT is the “average joe consumer”. Someone who uses his PC to access the internet, consume content and does some home productivity tasks. The problem is that a lot of people are exclusively buying iPads or Android tablets as a replacement for their PCs. This trend is worrisome and Windows RT has been developed by Microsoft as another option for this kind of customer (at least that’s the intention).

To explain target customer for this device, let’s take the case of an average joe consumer here like my cousin who is a college student. This is what he does with his laptop:

- Browsing the internet using Google Chrome such as Facebook/YouTube/Google etc..

- Listening to music or Watching movies/Home videos

-Viewing and sharing pictures taken with digital camera

-Using USB devices such as portable flash drive, hard disk, memory by using the built in File Explorer.

-Using Office for completing college assignments or editing home documents such as his CV, pictures, or using Excel documents to keep track of his expenses / budget.

He also uses the following desktop apps:

- Skype

- Adobe Reader

- VLC Media Player

- Windows Live programs such as Mail, Photo Gallery etc..

Now you could say that my cousin can of course get an iPad or an Android tablet and do all of this stuff. Why would he get a Windows RT device instead?

If you notice he is using two very important features associated with PCs which are not available or well implemented on either Android or iOS devices. And those are using Microsoft Office and the ability to transfer content using USB devices.

These are the two differentiating factors which Microsoft is using to position their Windows RT based devices. Microsoft is also promoting Windows RT as Work and Play device i.e you can use it for media consumption but can also do some productivity tasks which are not possible with an iOS or an Android device.

To meet these requirements, every Windows RT device comes pre-loaded with a copy of Ms. Office 2013 and at least one USB 2.0 port. This version of Office has been specially developed by Microsoft for the ARM architecture and includes four apps i.e. Excel, Word, OneNote and PowerPoint.

Now you might be thinking : Yeah, right. Who uses Office these days? And USB devices are so old school.

Well, believe it or not a lot of people including college students, teachers, Dads, Moms use Office for a lot of tasks such as completing college assignments, making resume’s, keeping track of expenses, note taking etc. Also the ability to just connect and use any flash drive, mouse, keyboard, camera, scanner through a USB is one of the hallmark features of Windows which has now been carried forward to Windows RT. Microsoft claims that more 420 million USB devices will work with Windows RT out of the box without needing any special drivers. So you can connect any old printer which used to work with Windows 7 and you’ll be able to print documents with it out of the box! This is not something you can do with an iPad or an Android tablet.

Also, the fact that a Windows RT device comes along with a full copy of Microsoft Office which is normally available for $100+ makes it an attractive option for people who need an alternative to iPad or Android tablets and use Office at home for doing productivity tasks.

You might say, Hey what about those apps like Skype, VLC Media player and all those other apps? Well the good thing is that the Windows Store has been increasing at a steady pace since the launch of Windows 8 / RT and there are more than 20,000 apps in the Windows Store now including big ones like Skype, The New York Times, Hulu, Kindle, eBay, Amazon, Netflix etc. I am pretty sure that with the passage of time, almost of the big programs will have equivalent Windows Store apps. On the other hand, the Windows Live programs from Windows 7 have been replaced with equivalent apps like Mail, People, Photos, Music, Videos etc. which come bundled along with Windows RT.


I think Microsoft has the right idea and identified the right audience with Windows RT. However it remains to be seen if it has acceptable performance when compared to other mobile OSes like Android and iOS and if the Windows RT based devices are priced just right to be competitive or not.

So this is the first post in a series of posts about Windows RT. In future posts, I’ll be talking about the future of Windows RT, devices based on Windows RT and lots of other cool stuff. So stay tuned!

P.S. If you want to know more about why you might want to chose Windows RT over iOS or Android you can read this great series of posts by Paul Thurrott starting with the first one here:




Source: http://www.techomaniac.com/2012/12/what-is-windows-rt.html

Its my first attempt at a pretty long article so looking forward to your comments and suggestions.