Ask Paul: What About Windows RT?

Posted on January 30, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 8.1 with 0

Over the past decade, Microsoft fans have been burned by a number of ill-fated initiatives including Windows Media Center, PlaysForSure, Zune, Windows Home Server, and, most recently, Windows RT. This most misunderstood and misguided Windows version never really had a chance, but for the millions of people still using these devices—many quite enthusiastically—that doesn’t matter. And they have questions about the future.

I can’t answer all of those questions, since Microsoft simply hasn’t come clean on its exact plans moving forward. But based on some public statements and some internal information, maybe I can at least provide a bit of guidance based.

Here’s a representative question.

Bill B asks:

I generally like my Surface RT. I like the idea that it is not mainstream Windows and therefore not exposed to the constant attack regular windows users have to deal with … It seems Windows RT is going the way of the Dodo Bird … If I get an x86 or x64 tablet and stay with Modern Apps, (no desktop apps), will I still have a relatively protected environment like I do with Windows RT? Does it appear there will be a way to lock the desktop out?


Bill was already aware of my article Windows RT Will Not Be Upgraded to Windows 10, but to recap Microsoft will not be providing Windows 10 as an upgrade to any Windows RT device, including Surface RT and Surface 2. Instead, it will be providing some form of update that will include “some” Windows 10 functionality. Furthermore, there will be no more Windows RT devices: Surface 2 is the last.

But as he notes, this raises some questions. Here’s what I know, and what I’ve heard.

First, there will of course be some version of Windows 10—which we can think of as Windows 10 Mobile—that will be provided on Windows devices (phones, phablets, very small tablets) with screens smaller than 8 inches. This will be an x86/x64-based OS (and will come in ARM variants for phones, of course), but it will not include the Windows desktop.

Will this system be as secure and reliable as Windows RT? That’s not clear. But assuming you are unable to even install desktop applications—which I believe to be the case—I would say sans any other evidence that it will be roughly as secure and reliable, yes.

But there are wrinkles.

Let’s say you have a 7-inch Windows 8.1 device like the HP Stream 7. According to Microsoft, when you upgrade this system to Windows 10, you will in fact get the desktop environment even though this device has a screen that is smaller than 8 inches. So here we need to speculate. Is that because Microsoft will not let you upgrade to Windows 10 Mobile? (And will instead require you to buy a desktop-based SKU instead.) I would guess yes. The alternatives is that you could upgrade to Windows 10 Mobile, but that this system would provide the desktop on some upgrades only, which makes no sense.

Further speculating—an assumption based on an assumption, if you will—it would further make sense that Windows 10 Mobile will in fact not be made available for sale at retail, just as Windows RT was not. This further supports the notion that Windows 10 Mobile will in effect be a viable replacement/upgrade for both Windows RT and Windows Phone.

Except for one thing.

Windows RT ran on devices with 10.1 inch screens. What if you wish to get a Windows 10 Mobile device with a screen bigger than 7.9 inches? Again, a guess: I think Microsoft will let PC makers sell such a device. I just don’t think they’re going to sell that version of Windows at retail. (And by the way, they don’t sell Windows 8.1 with Bing today either; you can only get it with PCs.)

Internally, I’ve heard that Windows RT was killed off because Intel pushed Microsoft to do so. The notion here is that Intel wants to ensure it at least owns the tablet space—hence the 8-inches up and up thing, which when you think about it, is kind of a weird dividing line—because it has made zero headway in phones. So with Intel dominating Windows-based PCs and tablets, it can start working downwards towards phones from a position of power and not have to worry about ARM sewing up both phones and tablets.

Or something. This stuff is all very murky to me. Regardless of the reason, Windows RT has come to an effective end, and I don’t believe that the promised coming updates will do much to help. Nor do I think that Office for Windows 10 will ever be ported to Windows RT. These two opinions—and they are opinions, not facts—lead to suggest that Windows RT is a dead-end. If you’re using it, start thinking about next steps. And if you’re not, avoid it no matter how good the deals are on remaining inventory.

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