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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  • steven75 - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    It's not just the number where Windows Phones is lacking, but the quality and functionality. Where are the Garageband clones for WP? Where is the full touch-based office suite you get with iWork?
  • HardwareDufus - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Huge Failure. Sorry.

    I go to the Windows Store.. I see the Surface RT Advertisement.
    In 2 seconds I should be able to determine from that page what Applications are available for the Surface RT, before I agree to Pre-Order one for $699 (64GB version). I should be just that should be more consumer oriented. But it's not.

    Huge Failure. Sorry.

    So, I click software... I click finance... Is there anyway to quickly determine which one of these is available for Windows8RT? Quicken, Quickbooks, Sage? No... there isn't. So, I have to waste allot of time....

    Who's going to pay $699 for a device when they can't easily check which applications are available. This is a huge failure and AnandTech has really glossed over it.... Disappointed in you guys!
  • faizoff - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Well all you have to do is click on any app and then select the details section. Each app has 3 sections, the details app tells you where it runs on.

    Ta da.
  • HardwareDufus - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    let me click on this details... whoops not for RT..
    ta da..

    let me click on this one.. select details.... whoops snot for RT...

    let me click on this other one... select details... whoops not for RT...

    Your right.. this is so easy... I love this hunt and peck method of finding apps for Windows RT... this is the most amazing applications store I've ever seen... and I'm so glad that I don't have anyother means of purchasing apps for RT..
  • HardwareDufus - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I don't want 10's of apps.. I want basic browsing, messaging (that means FB, Twtr, etc..), accounting, productivity (had by office...awesome!), maps (google, street, ). I want like 8 apps. BUt I can't easily and quickly determine if they are available.

    Now, I wouldn't care if the apps could be purchased other places... but it's a closed eco system and I have to buy them from the Microsoft Store... SO it should be easier to see what's available.... for Surface with Win8RT... And it's not easy!
  • andrewaggb - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Yeah, the windows 8 store needs work. As Anand said, it's hard to find the good stuff unless you specifically search for it. Also the updates section doesn't tell you anything about the update before installing it (not that I could tell anyways). And I didn't see any way to keep you're apps up to date automatically, or roll back to previous versions if you had a problem etc.

    The store is usable, but probably the weakest of the built in apps.

    Another thing about the store that bugs me is that when you look through a list of apps it doesn't indicate which ones you have installed already or provide a way to filter out ones you've already got. Why would I want to see the ones I've already got?
  • ratte - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Maybe I missed this in the review but isn't Office on RT "not for commercial, nonprofit, or revenue-generating activities".

    I of course assume that Anand has paid for a commercial licence before he wrote the Surface piece ;-).
  • glynor - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    In the review, you basically dismiss the serious problem they have with app selection by saying "it'll come soon", and point to all the millions of Windows 8 PCs their going to sell over the next year or so as the reason.

    I understand that, but I'm still VERY skeptical.

    The problem isn't that they're going to sell Windows 8 PCs. The problem is this:

    If you are an existing Windows developer, what is going to motivate you to completely throw away your existing products and start over again to develop against the WinRT APIs in order to release a Modern UI style application that will run on Windows 8/RT and be sold through the app store?

    * You're still going to have to continue to sell and develop your existing applications, for everyone who DOESN'T upgrade to Windows 8. It isn't like those shiny new Modern UI apps are going to run on my Windows 7 PC at home, no anyone else's.

    * All of the Windows 8 systems sold will still run your desktop application fine, so then you get the benefit of the massive pre-existing installed base of Windows users.

    * The ONLY people "left out" if you don't develop a WinRT-based Modern UI application will be owners of Windows RT devices.

    So... If you're Adobe, or any other big development house, what do you do?

    You wait and see. Re-writing Photoshop or AutoCAD, if it is even possible in the Modern UI, is no small challenge. Expecting these companies to drop everything and start over from scratch, and do it quickly, seems... Naive.

    I expect we'll see a lot of developers of existing cross-platform apps (iOS and Android developers) adopt Modern UI. Everything else? I wouldn't expect an RT-friendly version of Photoshop, Lightroom, or Quicken anytime soon, if ever. It'll all depend on sales of Windows RT devices.
  • haukionkannel - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Well the trend has been that mobile devices like smart phones and pad has become much, much more important. It is not hard to see that they will be more important and that there will be much more mobile devices than normal desktops in the future...

    What Joe average do with their computers? They read mail, they read some web pages and show and watch pictures from their children chindrens... What is the best device for that... Mobile computer. It is pity, but hard working picture editors, writers and gamers are tiny minority.
    Summasummarum, there will be a lot of Modern UI aplications, much more that there will be normal desktop applications.
  • glynor - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Generally, I agree.

    However, the argument seems to be:

    There will be plenty of Windows RT capable apps soon because Microsoft is going to sell a bunch of Windows 8 desktop PCs, so there will be a huge built-in ecosystem. And look at all these existing Windows developers we already have.

    My answer is:


    But all those Windows 8 desktop PCs will not run the Modern UI style apps optimally, and they will also run "normal" Windows applications. You can't port desktop apps to WinRT (the API), and they won't work on Windows RT devices. And, a huge portion of those new Windows 8 boxes are going to go to businesses (like mine) where they're immediately going to be re-imaged to Windows 7.

    If you are a current Windows developer, what is your motivation to do all the work to "start over" with a brand new product, if most of your CURRENT customers can't use it at all (they're on XP or Windows 7), or won't use them much because they're on traditional desktops and laptops?

    The path of least resistance is to just keep developing your traditional Windows desktop application and wait and see what happens.

    Is Microsoft in a better position than RIM or Palm was to expand their new ecosystem? Sure. But it is a few years later too. And they're competing with an established, massive ecosystem on two fronts (iOS and Android).

    I'm not saying "it will never happen." But I don't think it is a sure thing. And I don't think the "they'll run on Windows 8 too" is as big of an ace-in-the-hole as Anand and Vivek seem to think. It'll help, but I think they'll need a LOT of help and some luck.

    If Windows 8 gets a bad rep (deserved or not) like Vista from consumers on desktop and laptop machines, and OEMs keep selling lots of Windows 7 machines, they could be in for a world of hurt.

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