Stop compounding Microsoft’s Windows RT mistakes

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.

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39 Responses to Stop compounding Microsoft’s Windows RT mistakes

  1. Bob - former DECie says:

    Unfortunately I won’t have to worry about that. No one I know, other than my coworkers and tech-oriented friends, knows or cares that Microsoft is producing the Surface. My tech-oriented friends that are interested in a tablet already have one and have no interest in changing ecosystems when it comes time to replace them.

    • SteveJ says:

      Quite to the contrary, plenty of my non-techie friends have been asking me about the Surface and Windows 8. It’s been all over the news recently — mainstream news media like the BBC and Daily Mail. People are extremely curious about the Surface, and I have been advising them to buy it instead of iPad, simply because it can replace their laptops while fulfilling their tablet needs. On the other hand, the iPad is nothing more than an overpriced shiny toy.

      • halberenson says:

        As long as they don’t need to run existing apps i agree with you.

      • BartW says:

        Same goes for the iPad though. Why change to the Apple ecosystem when you can now get everything on the Surface? Afterall, the iPad doesnt run legacy Windows applications either

      • I have friends for whom the only thing they really need or use is a web browser. They live in the cloud, they use web-based e-mail, watch YouTube and that’s it. On the rare occasion they need documents, there are online services from Google and Microsoft. For them, the RT tablet is a perfect bargain.

      • No mobile capability (3G or 4G LTE) makes it a non-starter for most who can with Android or iPad. Developers having to sell through Microsoft App store is a non-starter as well. I will wait for Windows 9 to fix the error in its way with Windows 8/RT, until then it is Windows 7 for desktop and now the debate between which Android tablet, likely the Asus.

        • halberenson says:

          There will certainly be many Windows RT and Windows 8 devices with built in 3G/4G/LTE including likely a future Surface. But WiFi-only tablets currently dominate sales for both iPad and Android devices, so it is doubtful that the Surface’s lack of mobile broadband support will significantly impact adoption.

      • Lucien says:

        Surface has some nice points, but saying that the iPad is a toy tells me, that you do not using the iPad.

  2. SteveJ says:

    “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!”

    Not really. Just ask them if they are interested in the tablet form-factor like the iPad, but with a better UI and UX, far more powerful features (like USB drives, file management) and the full Office suite built-in. Not to mention the amazing touch-cover not found anywhere else. I think you’d be surprised how few people NEVER use any x86 desktop apps other than the browser and Office. Surface RT is the perfect device for these millions of people.

    • halberenson says:

      Most of that is true of Windows 8 tablets too. And it isn’t the full office suite. No Outlook, for example. But mostly What you say should be part of a Surface vs iPad discussion. Not a Windows discussion really.

  3. Mike says:

    I still don’t understand Microsoft’s love affair with “Windows.” It’s OK to use other names, guys. Not every product requires “Windows” in the title.

    • Neil says:

      .. or XBox

      • Mike says:

        Yeah. I haven’t seen any “noise” over the rebranding of the entertainment services to all include the name “Xbox” yet, but I can see how it will be confusing.

        “Hey, do you download off of Xbox Music?”
        “No, I don’t have an Xbox.”
        …and so on.

    • Lucien says:

      Good marketing! Even if there are no more “Windows”, you still can call the product “Windows”, because everybody knows “Windows”! 🙂

    • CodJonZ says:

      what would you then any product that comes out of Apple if you
      don’t put an “ï” on it …dude… iphone, ipad,
      how about android….think about it

  4. Paul says:

    Yes, I’m surprised at how they’re handling the messaging. There hasn’t been much up front, and what there is isn’t as simple and clear as yours. And now they’re launching Surface and W8 nearly simultaneously. Given that they look identical, I can’t imagine how at least some consumers aren’t going to buy a Surface and then have a wtf? moment when it doesn’t run their legacy software. I also agree MS should have opted for a name with no “Windows” in it. There’s too much baggage there now anyway and it would have helped keep the distinction clear.

    • Tom says:

      Agreed. The naming scheme is a major screw-up.

      When Sinofsky said, a year or so ago, that they were going to name the ARM and x86 products so that nobody could get confused, I thought he actually meant it. I thought he’d do something unoriginal and obvious, like “Windows Tablet 8” and “Windows Tablet + Desktop 8.” Pretty clear what you’re getting in those cases, right?

      But Windows RT? What’s RT? Hey, Microsoft, you just spent a decade getting rid of these two-letter names. You dropped CE for “Windows Embedded.” You dropped NT for XP, and then XP for Vista, and then went full-circle and opted for version numbers for Windows 7 and 8. But RT? The two-letter names are back?

  5. SNICKEN says:

    It isn’t like this “confusion” is isolated to Microsoft. Apple has two operating systems too… You don’t see them always asking what the difference between iOS and mountain lion are. I think they do a better job of branding them… But millions of Mac users also have iPads… So there is obviously a market for slimmed down versions of operating systems optimized for touch. In addition, as long as there is a $500-$600 difference between the surface RT and the Surface Pro, I don’t think it will be THAT confusing. People will pick based on cost.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      They don’t ask, because it’s clear that an iPad is not a desktop/notebook – it’s a physically different device.

      Just the other day, I came across someone in a Photography forum asking if the Surface RT would be powerful enough to run Adobe Lightroom… He’s not the only one out there who is totally confused.

      • Snicken says:

        They originally asked the same things about the iPad. That will take one sentence to explain. “No the RT is more like an iPad than a full PC.”. The real confusion will be when both the RT and Pro versions are available… And even then, the price difference will explain it. Most people are used to the idea of a tablet. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but I don’t think it will take long for this to make sense. Of course Microsoft could have done us a favor and branded differently.

      • Lucien says:

        Jobs did stress that the iPhone was running OS/X, when they introduced the product. But with Apple, you buy your hardware and the operating system from Apple. No need to get confused.

    • A says:

      Except Apple’s honest about it so there’s less confusion. There’s the mobile OS, which has extra features on the pad, and then there’s the fully powered desktop/laptop OS. iOS and OSX are honestly marketed, compared to Win RT and Windows 8. Windows confusion seems intentional.
      If it’s better for some, then it will be, but right now there’s a lot of deceptive marketing from Microsoft pundits to sell RT as more than the mobile OS. Even making Windows 8 run “Metro” on boot seems part of that strategy of confusion until they can move everyone over.

  6. Aaron says:

    If MSFT was introducing the Surface PRO at the same time, I would agree. However, I think most folks buying the Surface RT right now understand the difference. They are buying the Surface to be a tablet, not a replacement for their laptop or desktop.

    Will I want to run Quicken, etc. on my Surface RT? Yes. Can I wait 6-12 months until it comes out as an app? No problem.

    That said, the media will jump all over this and confuse things even more. The one thing I wish MSFT would understand is that the mainstream tech media is not their friend.

    • Tim says:

      Yes, I agree. Most of the articles I read in the mainstream tech media is not friendly toward MS. The frustrating things it that many of their arguments against Surface don’t make sense…it is almost as if they’re trying to confuse people.

  7. Me says:

    Even easier – Windows 8 runs existing and new-style applications, and Windows RT runs new-style applications only except that there aren’t very many of them.

    • sporty2k says:

      How many do you need? A few casual games, a few social, a photo edit and a browser. I never understood the fascination with having hundreds of thousands of apps. Most of them are copycat apps anyway (like 1000s of fart apps) – isnt like 3000 across many categories enough to cover all of YOUR needs?

      • halberenson says:

        Having the right set of apps is more important than the absolute number, but how do you know what the right number is then? Windows Phone has 100K apps but is still lacking many of the key apps I had on my iPhone and iPad. I still can’t control my Sonos directly. I still can’t listen to Pandora. I still can’t manage my United Airlines reservations. I still can’t read the Wall Street Journal. I still can’t make a haircut appointment at Great Clips. I still can’t manage a request for an Uber car, or manage my alarm system remotely. I still CAN’T do many things except by hacks or using web sites not designed for small screens or touch. The web is not a substitute for lack of the right set of apps running on the device.

  8. B. Woo says:

    If the confusion, and incorrect information, in this article are any indication: then the Surface will really have problems for you, and you certainly should not get one.

    You omit the fact that a Surface with an Intel CPU will be available, and that will run all existing MS apps; attach the optional, better, keyboard, and you do have a “Desktop” machine, compatible in software and hardware, with today’s “Desktop” machines. Issues of performance, quality of user experience: cost/benefit compared to other Windows hardware: far too early to say anything yet.

    Second: it is a truly stupid generalization to say the Surface with ARM chip will not run Windows 8 applications, as if that’s an irrevocable historical fact: that ignores the fact that some existing applications, that cannot be run on ARM hardware now, will be ported, or re-written, to run on ARM on the “Surface.” How they will perform, how they will be feature equivalent, or “pared down” versions; how they’ll work using “touch:” remains to be seen.

    Your article paragraph beginning: “Less than 1% of the potential customer base …” is based on what research, other than your own imagination ?

    With your skill at cranking out this type of fiction, you should definitely be writing for PC-Magazine.

  9. Tim says:

    I mostly agree…but saying Windows RT will only run “new applications” could lead someone to believe that the next version of Quicken (for example) will work. But that is not the case unless Intuit decides to create a RT version. Their next version may instead be a new desktop version, which of course would not run on RT.

    Perhaps it is best just to say what you mentioned in the second paragraph: if you want to run traditional desktop applications, you’ll need Windows 8.

  10. A says:

    I won’t spin it for Microsoft. The marketing that Win mobile devices are all in ones that you can run all your old programs on is deceptive. Only pro devices do that. RT is just the tablet OS version that regular desktops and Pro will also run.
    With all the “all in one” and “your not losing anything” hype being PRd from so many places it should be emphasized tht RT devices are merely mobile OS devices that will be incompatable with all your old programs. If your fine with just the tablet OS they’ll be fine for you.
    Pushing Win 8 to the desktop is a transition marketing strategy to push developers into writing Windows mobile compatible apps because so many developers were rejecting and resisting Metro.

  11. It is all likely to become a non issue in very short order. As a developer with an app in the new Windows 8 store (called – Time It!), I can tell you that the development environment is very comprehensive and I think you will very quickly find apps being released that will initially be ‘lite’ versions of Photoshop, etc., but will quickly evolve to full featured products.

    The environment is every bit as capable as the traditional Windows system and given that it uses familiar tools (Visual Studio), most dev shops will quickly adapt. As Windows 8 develops into Windows 9 or whatever, its features will grow and the desktop will quickly become irrelevant, as will the disparity between windows RT and Windows 8.

  12. Neil says:

    The inherent problem with ‘Windows’ RT, and indeed Windows Phone 7/8 and Metro UI, is that (that all) is have no Windows. They are devoid of Windows.

    It’s a pretty fundamental point.

  13. Thanks for the post; one thing to clean up is: “then is possible with Windows 8” (should be “than” not “then”).

  14. Chris says:

    I told my Dad I ordered one, he said, “does it run real Microsoft Office?”. I said “yes, but you’ll need to upgrade the Preview it comes with”, he said, “that’s fine, order me one too and buy a copy of Office when you do”.

    When my Dad wants it, I’d say Microsoft hit a real sweet spot.

  15. solutions123 says:

    Thanks for the heads up on Outlook Neil. as far as Windows, even most regular ‘barely tech’ folks who earn a paycheck 9-5 associate the word ‘windows’ with the GUI that Microsoft fell in love with (circa 1993(?); cough cough “borrowed” from Apple) to wean America off of MS-DOS. .. yup, I’m that old LOL For the record, I’m big time into Android. Love Android. Love Google too

    • Neil says:

      “GUI that Microsoft fell in love with (circa 1993(?); cough cough “borrowed” from Apple)”

      cough, cough, “borrowed” off Xerox L-)

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