A Fighting Chance: Windows RT can be Salvaged

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Things aren’t exactly looking up for Windows RT right now. There’s a death of manufacturers making Windows RT tablets, a lack of solid Metro apps, and Microsoft just had to swallow a bitter 900 million dollar pill of unsold Surface RT merchandise. The press is calling for the end of Windows RT, but I believe that Windows RT shouldn’t be scrapped just yet. Microsoft still has the opportunity to move forward with Windows RT.

PRERESQUITES

Windows RT needs some tweaks before Microsoft can truly make the next push for RT devices. First, Microsoft needs to figure out what Windows RT should be. Based on early messaging, it seems like they wanted it to be a consumer facing product, but RT has been sidetracked with an odd mixture of legacy environments and lackluster media capability that have opened up possibilities in the business market. However, I believe Windows RT really should become the “no-hassle” consumer PC that can do basic tasks without being subject to the liabilities PCs have accrued over the years.

A move to a better ARM chipset will do wonders for performance, but that’s not the only change Microsoft has to make. Put simply, Microsoft needs to eliminate the desktop in Windows RT. The legacy code and cruft from decades of computing has no place in a brand new OS like Windows RT. RT needs a fresh break to fully embrace the “Metro” interface, and removing the desktop would give much needed space, both figurative and literal.

That’s not to say that Windows RT has to lose all the benefits of the desktop environment. No, Microsoft needs to perform an analytical and thorough reduction of the software, removing unneeded elements while retaining essential parts. Though it’s no doubt a technical challenge, maintaining the support for the many devices and accessories in the Windows ecosystem is no doubt a plus for Windows RT. But other desktop programs, like Device Manager and Command Prompt, have no place in the OS.

To ease the loss of the desktop, Microsoft needs to bolster current Metro apps. Thankfully, Windows 8.1 goes far in strengthening the feature set of the modern environment, with new Music and Video apps superseding their lackluster predecessors. Skydrive will provide a modern file explorer. The modern settings app provides common features of the Control Panel in an easier touch environment. This is what Windows RT should be: a PC that is easy to understand, safe from viruses and other liabilities yet fully functional and usable. In essence, a “no-hassle” PC.

CHEAP

Windows RT needs to be cheaper. After dropping the Surface RT to $350, Microsoft needs to clearly differentiate Windows RT from all-too similar Intel offerings. Though a “race to the bottom” may remind many of the troubling netbook era, Microsoft has a chance to reintroduce the market to cheap Windows RT devices of quality and substance. Products like the Surface RT and the Lenovo Yoga 11 are well made, and devices like these could bring consumers to trust the Windows lineup. Such trust could bring the same consumers to purchase even more expensive Windows laptops and ultrabooks.

Though selling the devices at a low cost may reduce the margin of profit for Microsoft, lowering pricing for Windows RT devices can differentiate between ARM and Intel products. And there’s precedent for There’s a lot to say about the pricing of the $249 Chromebook, which is popular despite the limited OS it runs upon. Microsoft can learn more from $249 Chromebook than just its price: it’s also disposable. Though this might sound like American excess, there is a market for cheap, replacable devices like the Chromebook. Windows RT can do the same.

PRODUCTIVE

On humid summer days, I open my laptop and hear a cacophony of fans and beeps. I often find myself wanting a fanless-computer like the Surface to do basic tasks like word processing and browsing the web. Windows RT is in prime position to fulfill this objective: an operating system that can do basic tasks, and can do them well.

As the Office suite transitions to the Metro environment in early 2014, it’s not hard to imagine Windows RT as a productive OS. Without the desktop, Windows RT 8.1 will offer seamless multitasking, an excellent touch based browser, a productivity suite, and more. With the strides Microsoft has made in 8.1, the core Metro environment just makes sense.

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And yet, a look at my desktop taskbar proves that Microsoft still has work to do with the Metro environment. Some of my applications, like Firefox, Word, OneNote, and Skydrive have or will have Metro equivalents. And common users won’t require Photoshop. Still, the Windows Store needs devoted third party develops to provide more experiences. Windows Live Writer, my blogging application of choice, doesn’t have a Metro equivalent. Neither does Spotify, which would provide much needed competition for Xbox Music. Microsoft really needs to fill the gaps in the Windows Store.

But for those who need Photoshop or comprehensive video editing, the choice is obviously a full Windows PC. But for many, Windows RT can fulfill most needs.

SIMPLE

This is the most important criteria: Windows RT has to be simple.

Though the Metro UI has a slight learning curve, Windows RT can fulfill Jensen Harris’s promise of a simplified Windows. Windows RT is not subject to the viruses of a traditional Windows PC. That means your relatives won’t be calling up to ask what’s wrong with their PC. Windows RT can lose the complicated menus and dialog boxes complaining of missing drivers. Windows RT has the chance to be simple. Microsoft has a huge opportunity to have the PC make sense to all ages. Windows RT is that opportunity.

Windows RT isn’t a lost cause. In fact, Windows RT still has a promising future if Microsoft adjusts its strategy and brings Windows RT down-market, pushing simplicity and productivity to the mass-market. Microsoft can’t afford to squander this opportunity.


  • idlelimey

    Dead? If RT is dead then what metaphorical status do we give iPads or Android tablets? Surely, Windows RT is essentially as capable (potentially more so) than these devices. I think some tech writers have spectacularly misinterpreted ‘the post-PC era’.

    I use my Surface RT nearly every day for many things (recently it has been adapted to display the latest score card in the cricket while I’m at work with a twitter client snapped to the side).

    I don’t use it for professional purposes, such as development or creative work, but I’m not entirely sure that was ever it’s raison d’etre. It’s my client for social, emails, twitter, eBay trawling, the odd game, live sports, Skype video calls etc. All of these the device performs extremely well.

    Let’s hope MS put a little more effort in to quell the misunderstanding around RT and push the OS on with better SoC performance and more updates to the core applications. The best endorsement I can give is that I’ll buy a second generation RT tablet because I’m extremely happy with the platform, it has met all of my expectations – how then did so many tech writers get it so wrong? Clearly, Daniel understands it, and it’s refreshing to hear an accurate take on this subject. Well done.

  • Charles Ferguson

    Daniel I think this is a very shrewd analysis. Do you think the ecosystem conundrum needs to be solved first, and if so do you have any ideas on how they could start?

  • Thanks for reading. The ecosystem issue is key, but if they start pushing these RT machines out with solid performance and low prices, I think the app situation could improve. Mind you, there are a lot of big name apps in the Windows Store right now, but Microsoft has to start enforcing some better restrictions to limit the junk apps in the store. Also, Windows 8.1 will mature the developer tools, which could also help.
    It’s a hard problem but market share and ecosystems have to go hand in hand, even if that means Microsoft making apps themself.

  • Good to know you enjoyed this. Thank you!

  • Zack Boring

    I am using my rt right now. It dose what I want it except 3THINGS. Movie maker, tones of memory, and some of websites consider this as a mobile device.