Microsoft has created lots of confusion with the introduction of Windows RT, but I think everyone who does understand the difference between Windows RT and Windows 8 is making things worse by the way they are explaining it. Basically the difference is “Windows 8 runs both existing and new applications while Windows RT only runs new applications”.
I usually add “So if you want to run Quicken, QuickBooks, Photoshop, or other applications you already have on your PC then you want Windows 8 and not Windows RT”. For many people that’s all it takes for them to realize that what they want is Windows 8 and not Windows RT. Note that I didn’t need to discuss Intel vs. ARM, or Desktop vs. “Metro” apps, or the inclusion of Office 2013 in Windows RT or a dozen other thorny details.
Of course with that out-of-the-way some people will then ask additional questions, but at least they are guided questions. If they ask about installing Windows 8 instead of Windows RT on the new Surface then you’ll have to explain that it isn’t possible. For non-technical users I think a simple “the Surface wasn’t designed to run older applications so it isn’t supported by Windows 8″ may be the best approach.
At some point you’ll be asked “then why would anyone want Windows RT”, and that’s where things get interesting. Because in truth it is a little hard to justify! Again, my approach is to simplify things. “Existing applications are not designed for Touch or the smaller screens usually found on Tablets, lead to reduced battery life, and use too much memory and disk to allow for the best Tablet experience. So if you don’t need to run existing apps then Windows RT allows for thinner, lighter, less expensive, better battery life Tablets then is possible with Windows 8. ” If they are still interested in Windows RT I’d go on to mention that it comes with Office 2013 included, but otherwise I’d stop there.
Less than 1% of the potential customer base is going to care why Windows RT even has a Desktop, why Office 2013 is really a Desktop app, why Microsoft made certain decisions (e.g., you can join an existing Homegroup with Windows RT but you need Windows 7 or 8 to create a new one), why you can’t purchase Windows RT except pre-installed on a new Tablet, etc. But why burden the other 99% with these details up front?
In my opinion Microsoft really screwed up by calling Windows RT “Windows”. They failed miserably at delivering on the promise they made when Windows on ARM was first revealed to have a name that would clearly differentiate the two offerings for consumers. That’s water under the bridge. Now what they need is VERY SIMPLE messaging for guiding purchasers to the right product. So far we haven’t seen that messaging from them, and in its absence pundits and posters are just making the situation worse.
Windows 8 runs existing and new applications while Windows RT only runs new applications.