Meet Windows RT

Microsoft’s first serious foray into tablets came just after the turn of the new millenium, with Bill Gates demonstrating the first tablet PC prototype onstage at Comdex in the autumn of 2000. From there, OEMs started releasing tablets based on Windows XP Tablet PC Edition in 2002, with a full range of pen-enabled slates and convertibles releasing over the next few years. In addition to oftentimes prohibitive cost, each had its own set of drawbacks. Convertibles tended to be quite bulky compared to their notebook counterparts (the ThinkPad X-series being a notable exception), while slates were rather difficult to use - a symptom of shoehorning a desktop operating system into a purely touch-centric form factor. 

Fast forward a decade, to the beginning of 2010. After a number of conceptual non-starters in the tablet PC space - building tablet PC support into all editions of Windows Vista and 7 (other than Basic/Home Starter), the entire Origami class of devices - Microsoft’s touchscreen devices were floundering. The iPad had been announced to mixed reaction but an extremely high level of anticipation. Microsoft and HP countered with the Slate 500, an Atom-based device shown off at CES 2010 with solid state storage and Windows 7 in roughly the same form factor as Apple’s iPhone OS-based ARM tablet. With speculation pointing to a pricetag of just $549, the Slate appeared to be the most viable hope Microsoft had in trying to make mainstream headway with the tablet PC concept. But shortly after the iPad shipped in April 2010, rumors of the Slate’s demise started to circulate, and after a six month delay, the Slate 500 started shipping as an enterprise-only product in December of that year for $799. HP’s acquisition of Palm (RIP) definitely played a role in the sidelining of the Slate, but more importantly, it essentially spelled the end for the tablet PC. This was news that was perhaps known already, but the Slate saga officially pulled the plug on Microsoft’s original idea of what a tablet was. 

The problem was two parts software, one part hardware. Microsoft had developed a very interesting touch-oriented user interface for its handhelds, so at least one part of the equation was relatively straightforward. The hardware issue came down to this: the iOS and Android tablets succeeding in the market ran off ARM system-on-chips, which resulted in slim, power-efficient tablets that had idle times stretching for days. At the time, there was just nothing in terms of x86 hardware that could compete with that in low-power device realm (Clover Trail and Haswell, of course, change this part of the story considerably). The other question? How to converge the touch-centric UI with the classic desktop environment that had been the corner of Windows dating all the way back to 95. 

Meet Windows RT. It’s Microsoft’s first major foray into the modern tablet market, the shipping version of Windows-on-ARM, and it’s one of Microsoft’s most important product launches ever. Windows 8 shares the same touch-friendly user interface, but the ARM silicon makes RT an almost entirely tablet-centric operating system, the first for Microsoft. Combined with the focus on premium hardware experiences, this is Redmond’s most serious push to be competitive with the iOS and Androids of the world. How does it fare? Keep reading.

User Interface, Gestures, and Multitasking
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  • aepxc - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    ..."Tablets (despite being low power) are cannibalizing the PC market. Why is this?"...

    IMHO, because number of activities that can be done with a computer >> number of activities that can be done on a computer. I really think the consumption vs. creation framing is a misunderstanding – the thing actually being measured is how much of the creation is done on the computer (e.g. read an interesting article, form a new insight into a problem you have been trying to solve), and that is not, I believe, of significant importance.

    But thanks for your response – it's an interesting perspective, well-argued.
  • ludikraut - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    ..."Tablets (despite being low power) are cannibalizing the PC market. Why is this?"...

    I'm not sure that tablets are cannibalizing PC sales. I think instead PC sales have remained stale as for several years now the hardware has been powerful enough for the average user to do just about anything they need on their computer. This means that instead of buying a new PC every two to three years, you've now got that money available to purchase something in addition to your existing and perfectly capable PC. More times than not that extra purchase will take the form of a tablet or e-reader these days, IMO. So in essence I think overpowered PCs are helping to drive tablet sales. :)

  • twtech - Saturday, October 27, 2012 - link

    I would tend to agree with that. I think they will have some impact on PC sales in the cases where the PC would have been bought solely for somebody to browse Facebook with.

    I have no interest in giving up my PC though, even as I type this post out on a Nexus 7. I use this thing mostly for web browsing and watching Netflix when I don't want to have to sit at a desk. My desktop PC does everything else.
  • steven75 - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    The iPad has had a first party office suite since the first iPad was announced in 2010, along with third party word processors too numerous to count.

    What exactly is stopping you from taking notes in class on an iPad? Can't find a BT hardware keyboard out of the hundreds available?

    I don't get this argument. At. All.
  • daboochmeister - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    You didn't point out that there are real limitations with the Office included in the Surface RT ... no macros/plug-ins, and you can't use it for any work-related tasks unless there's a separate license for Office 13 in place.

    Notice that last comment - many reviewers are glossing over this - you need a license for Office 13, not a previous version, to use it for work tasks. If your company hasn't upgraded, you can't (legally) use it for anything for-profit.
  • Spivonious - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Just like every version of Office Home and Student from 2007 on. This is not specific to Office 2013 on Windows RT.
  • daboochmeister - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    But it has particular relevance here, because of the way the Surface RT has been viewed (and reviewed) as a business tablet ... but there's been little discussion of these limitations.

    For example, I haven't seen a single review point out that if your company has only licensed Office 2010, you don't have the necessary license to permit (legal) use. Do you, Spivonious? Has your company upgraded? Mine hasn't ... and our customer sites still use 2003, many of them.

    And ... a key difference is that most business licenses permitted installation of the full suite on people's PCs at home -- eliminating the concern about macros/plug-ins/forms/3rd party apps. That's simply not possible here.
  • ssiu - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Yeah the bundled Office RT gives no extra value for companies. That is because it is a "Home and Student" version. But that is no different than the "traditional x86 Office Home and Student" license -- you cannot use that for work either (even non-profit organizations), even if you buy it.

    (Whether people follow or ignore the license restriction is a separate issue ...)
  • daboochmeister - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    See my reply above for why there is a big difference in this case ... most business licenses permitted an employee to install a copy on a home PC, for business use. That simply won't be possible here.
  • karasaj - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Most businesses will probably go for Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro (See Surface Pro). RT really honestly has simply been marketed for exactly that - home and student use.

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