Microsoft is facing growing criticism over its Windows RT operating system. Performance issues with the OS were apparent from the very first Microsoft shipment of the ARM-based Surface RT hardware. The software maker has been shipping updates each month that have improved the situation gradually, but there are still questions over the benefits of Windows RT and how Microsoft intends to fix and improve it going forward.
In a timely response to recent criticism, Microsoft's ecosystem and planning chief, Mike Angiulo, reached out to CNET to defend Windows RT. Angiulo notes that Microsoft put a "ton of work" into Windows RT as part of a strategy that he claims will get "stronger over time." We've witnessed that with the monthly Windows Updates, but Angiulo believes ARM helped Microsoft launch Windows 8 tablets that were "competitive with a full-sized iPad." With Surface and other Windows 8 hardware off to a slow start, it's difficult to gauge how competitive Microsoft's offerings have been so far, but it's safe to say that Apple's currently not feeling any sales pressure.
The benefits of Windows 8-style apps have yet to be fully demonstrated
A core part of Angiulo's defense is the claim that Windows RT brings emphasis to Microsoft's new Windows 8 apps — people can't ignore them in favor of their desktop equivalents. Unfortunately, the Windows Store, like the Windows Phone store, is still lacking apps that can be found on rival platforms. Microsoft recently launched a program to tempt developers into building Windows 8-style apps by handing out $100 cash for each app that's uniquely created — up to 10 in total per dev. Microsoft's new Windows 8-style apps are good for touch, but the benefit is questionable on traditional big-screen desktop PCs.
"People are talking about legacy desktop software not running, but they don't think about the customer benefit of only running modern [Windows 8-style] apps," says Angiulo. However, the lack of high quality Windows 8-style apps, and the limited features in the popular ones, refute Angiulo's point. Until Microsoft's developer community has fleshed out the Windows Store, the benefits of legacy applications far outweigh the Windows 8-style apps. That's central to the continued Windows RT criticism. Windows RT still features a legacy file system, registry, and a crippled desktop mode kept around for the sole purpose of offering owners a semi-touch optimized version of Office.
"I think it has a very bright future."
On the subject of ARM vs. Intel, Angiulo believes that in a year or two there will be some "really capable chips" and that Windows RT "has a very bright future." Angiulo doesn't expand on the details of that bright future, or whether Intel will catch ARM in the areas that count while retaining the all-important legacy app support. Microsoft's latest guidance is 60 million license sales of Windows 8 to OEMs, while reports suggest the company has only sold 1.1 million Surface RT devices. This large gap, and a small number of Windows RT devices, suggests there's a lack of confidence in the new OS. Conversely, Apple sold more than 5 iPads for every OS X device in its latest quarter.
Windows RT might be important to Microsoft, but, at the moment at least, it's not important for its partners and OEMs. Nvidia recently described Windows RT as "disappointing," and Samsung cancelled its plans in the US and parts of Europe. Until Microsoft can convince people of its benefits — especially over Intel's Atom devices and other ultrabooks — then Windows RT will be left in limbo.