There have been a lot of articles/posts lately questioning the future of Microsoft’s Windows RT. My biggest problem with the anti-Windows RT thinkers is that they take such a short-term focus. Windows RT, just as the Windows RunTime (WinRT) it is named for, are long-term initiatives. We are currently looking at V1 of those and people are trying to project that Windows RT (aka Windows on ARM for its most obvious origin) will die, apparently before even reaching its first birthday. While Microsoft could have a change of direction, I’d bet that the path they started on is very much intact.
Later this year we’ll have V2 of both WinRT and Windows RT. Next year we’ll likely see V3. And as we all know, it typically takes Microsoft (and most others actually) three releases to get something right (or more precisely, to cover the landscape sufficiently for most people to feel comfortable it covers their needs). I think Microsoft will give WinRT and Windows RT the full three releases before considering if they’ve gone in the wrong direction.
I’ve written about this topic a number of times over almost a year and a half. Back in December of 2011 I wrote about why Microsoft was doing ARM support and in January of this year I pointed out that Windows RT was not specifically about ARM. Windows RT is about producing a legacy-free version of Windows for the future. And in between these two I gave some history of the Windows 8 effort that further explains the origins of the WinRT and Windows RT. Numerous other posts offer additional insights.
Let me summarize all this. The Win32 application model is broken and unfixable. Microsoft has been looking to replace it for over a decade. The first version of that replacement, the Windows RunTime or WinRT, was released as part of Windows 8. To scope the effort the version in the first release focuses on what was necessary to address the tablet market, though it is not tablet specific. The name Windows 8 is used to mean versions of Windows capable of running both legacy Win32 apps and new WinRT apps. The name Windows RT is used to mean a version of Windows only capable of running WinRT apps.
In the long run WinRT expands to cover far more of the application space currently addressed by Win32, and Windows RT becomes the mainstream version of Windows. Windows RT and Windows “8” eventually switch roles, with the non-RT version of Windows becoming the niche offering for those who need legacy Win32 capabilities. Does this happen in Windows “9”, Windows “10”, Windows “11”, or Windows “18”? Who knows But it will happen.
Critics of Windows RT, particularly those who claim it has no role in life, are too busy looking in the rear-view mirror. They are commenting on V1, not thinking about where it will be by V3. But it is the latter that really matters.
Could Microsoft change direction and run to some other alternative to WinRT and Windows RT? Sure. Will they? I doubt it, not at least without seeing the path they are on through another 2-4 years. If at that point the “re-imagination” of Windows has failed we’ll have to see a re-imagination of Microsoft as a whole, probably away from the broad client-computing realm. They don’t want to go there, and the key to avoiding that fate is in making Windows RT succeed.