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

    Yes, agreed 100%. This review seems to be by far the most certain the *metro* apps are going to grow by leaps and bounds than any other review I've read. I think there's definitely a chance RT and thus metro apps aren't going to take off at all.
  • karasaj - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Forgot to say thanks, great review! I was wondering about the smoothness of Surface etc - it doesn't seem like there will be much to worry about. Thanks again!
  • nedjinski - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Thanks for yet another sane and unbiased review. I find this approach the most helpful when considering a new purchase. You guys continue to have clear vision when it comes to the big picture and you don't get distracted by small details that will probably get ironed out in future iterations of the device.
    It looks like MS has a winner here.
  • Netscorer - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    While this is an overall very good and comprehensive review, I am still confused by two separate Windows 8 OS (with Windows Mobile 8 may be third). I just don't see how they are going to coexist long term. And if there will be convergence, which OS will be left out.
    I was hoping review would touch on those issues a bit more then spending page after page describing various apps that come built in and will undergo a significant change/enhancement shortly anyway.
  • haukionkannel - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Well the Metro UI aplication will be very popular in Mobile platforms. Because both windows 8 versions can run those, there is no problem in there. If you want to run normal desktop application, video editing, AAA games, the normal 86 version of win8 is for you.
    If you have to chose between normal win8 and win8 RT pad, or tablet there is not very big difference. In most cases it is better for programmers to make Moder UI version of their program than to make only Intel CPU based version that runs only in normal win8 version. Thre will be more customers in Modern UI platform than normal. So instead of having bottle neck with old gaming consoles, the new botleneck will be the slovest win8 RT pad in most cases.
    If you are serious gamer the normal win8 is for you. If you are interested in just getting pad for playing casual games like Angry bird, and reading www-pages, listening music, looking viodeos, etc, it does not matter what you get, if the price is good and ahrdware desent.
  • AmdInside - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Waiting for MAME to be available for either Windows RT or Windows 8 before I buy a tablet.
  • ludikraut - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Oh yeah, MAME on a tablet will rock.

  • jecastejon - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I am interested, reading and taking notes but is this Windows RT a netbook-nettop OS at a higher price point?

    I think I will wait at least 2-4 years to consider an ARM-Atom based computer to produce even some light work, as for a device to have fun there are tablets, Nintendo, PSP, iDevices with thousands of apps or games. WRT is not that cool, it does nothing better as an entertaining system but it may be great to produce very light or limited work on the office and just probably on the go but even for that it will need to compete with entry-laptops and ultralight machines.

    Right now this is a very hybrid concept targeting for a broad marked but I just can see a niche market I am sure it will reach. I think in part the price is to high and it will be kind of a business ultra light high end system.
  • diamondsw2 - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    "85% (or more) of computers being sold worldwide"

    I assume you're not including iPad sales - which is very misleading for a tablet OS review. And if you're more broadly talking Windows 8 all of a sudden (RT != 8), the overwhelming majority of Windows sales are to businesses - and those businesses are going to exercise their downgrade rights and not touch Windows 8 with a ten-foot pole. There's no business case for it over Windows 7, and the training is far from insignificant. It's not going to get any headway there for years.

    Consider be very skeptical on actual uptake of Windows 8 or its supposed marketshare. I'll bet it's six months to a year before I see the first person using it (which may say more about how many of my PC-using friends have converted to iPads and Macs). I fully expect every Windows PC I see to be on 7 for a long time to come).
  • PsychoPif - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Just from a quick search, I've found that Apple sold 15.4m IPad vs 49.8m for the top 4 OEM. It does'nt include the other manufacturer and it's still 70% marketshare.

    85% might be high, but don't make it sound like Windows won't be on the vast majority of computer sold this year.

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