Microsoft Windows RT: Known and Unknown

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With the countdown now on for the first Microsoft Windows RT-based ATM tablets, here’s a list of the five main things that are known about Windows RT at this point — plus five things that remain unknown.

First, here’s what is known:

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer1. Windows RT has strict hardware rules.

Every operating system (OS) has minimum hardware requirements. For mobile OS, this means not just processor speed and memory, but also stuff like screen resolution and accelerometer specs.

With Windows RT though, Microsoft has laid out an unusually strict set of specifications. While these restrictions tend to limit the freedom of hardware manufacturers to differentiate, they should also guarantee that users will get a fairly similar experience no matter what brand of Windows RT device these users buy.

More specifically, Windows RT tablets must have five hardware buttons, one of which is a Windows key which must be at least 10.5 mm (0.4 inches) in diameter. Minimum screen resolution is 1366 x 768. Devices with mobile broadband must also have GPS. Moreover, at least 10 GB of free storage must be available out of the box. The accelerometer must have a three-axis reading, with updates occurring at least 50 times per second. There must be at least one exposed USB port. On top of that, there must be a camera aboard with a minimum of HD resolution.

2. Windows RT will come with Microsoft Office RT pre-installed.

Anyone who buys a Windows RT tablet or convertible will receive the Windows RT version of Office 2013 free of additional charge.

Microsoft has confirmed that Office for Windows RT will ship as a preview release on all Windows RT tablets, with free upgrades to the final version slated from somewhere between November and January, depending on the language. It’s true that Office for RT will be somewhat stripped down in comparison to Office 13 for Windows 8. For example, it will not support macros or add-ins.

However, if you’re an on-the-go user who wants Microsoft Office functionality, you won’t need to make investments in Windows 8 PC hardware, OS, application software, or the cloud-based Office 365 to get it.

Microsoft Surface Tablet3. Windows RT will only run apps available through the Windows Store.

Unlike previous Microsoft based tablets, which were essentially just shrunken-down Windows PCs, devices based on Windows RT will have a much more locked-down approach. Apps will only be available through the Windows app store.

Even corporate proprietary apps will need to go through Microsoft’s approval process in order to be loaded on to a company’s own RT tablets. This system also allows Microsoft to reject any app for any reason.

In contrast, Windows 8 PCs will be able to run both new apps devised for Windows 8’s tile-based user interface (UI) — also available through the Windows Store — and “classic” Windows software applications.

4. Windows RT has the same structural underpinnings as Windows 8 and Windows Phone.

Windows RT is built on basically the same underlying code as both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Windows RT should also be capable of running some apps which operate in Windows 8’s “Metro” sandbox, although RT won’t be able to use any apps designed solely for the desktop.

Microsoft is taking this approach so as to make developing cross-platform apps  — and porting apps to Windows RT — as easy as possible, This should help Microsoft to tap the talents of the legions of PC software developers out there, harnessing their skills in the interests of producing apps for Windows RT tablets.

Asus Windows RT5. Windows RT will look and function quite similarly to Windows 8.

Aside from not being able to run the same apps, Windows RT is functionally quite similar to Windows 8, at least based on the limited units that have been available for demonstration.

There are some other differences, too. Unlike Windows 8, for example, Windows RT will not include Windows Media Player. On the whole, though, Windows RT is just a version of Windows 8 that’s been recompiled for a mobile processor.

As far as we know, there’ll be no file manager among the apps designed for RT’s touchscreen interface, and users will also have to leave the touch friendly UI in order to access the Control Panel. However, the similaries between Windows RT and Windows 8 should present a gentle learning curve, particularly to the untold numbers of people who are familiar with Windows already…

And here’s what isn’t known:

1. Whether consumers will buy Windows RT tablets.

At the moment,indications are that Microsoft is gunning more for the business and enterprise market with Windows RT, as opposed to the consumer space, where tablets like the iPad and Kindle Fire are big favoriites.

Certainly, Microsoft will be more than willing to sell an RT tablet to anyone. At the time of the Surface’s unveiling, however, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s commented that Microsoft sees the “sweet spot” of the tablet market at $300 to $800. Will consumers be willing to pay that much for an RT tablet? And speaking of pricing…

Windows 8 in Action2. Exactly how much we can expect to pay?

Right now, few forthcoming Windows RT tablets and convertibles carry an official price tag. It is official that Lenovo’s RT-based IdeaPad will cost a mind-boggling $800. Meanwhie, Asus has just announced that the Vivo will be priced at $600. Yet are there any $300 units in sight?

It is known, though, that Microsoft plans to charge an a license fee of between $50 and $80 for Windows RT on every device sold.

Update: Microsoft has inadvertantly revealed the cost of the Windows 8 RT version of its tablet. More information can be found in this article: Microsoft Surface RT Pricing Leaks

3. Precisely how tightly will RT be locked down?

As mentioned earlier, Windows RT is only supposed to run “approved” apps from Microsoft’s app store. Technically, Android and iOS tablets carry similar requirements, but these can be bypassed with a little effort — and with very little effort, in fact, for Android devices.

It remains to be seen just how tightly Windows RT will actually be locked down. If there are easy ways to get past Microsoft’s requirements, the tablets will be friendlier to consumers and small businesses. In contrast, a strictly locked down device with no possible loopholes would be attractive to big business IT departments.

4. How OS updates will be handled.Windows 8

It’s currently unkown whether Microsoft will package in updates to the RT OS, or whether it will follow the same plan as with Windows 8 on PCs, where minor fixes will be distributed via Windows Update, but you’ll have to pay for major OS overhauls.

In the past, Microsoft-based tablets have tended to follow the latter model, while other tablet platforms like iOS and Android have adhered to the former one. It’s an open question whether Microsoft will stick to its long-time model or start to follow the rest of the crowd.

5. Whether Windows RT will succeed!

Microsoft has tried to hit it big in the tablet market a number of times before. Generally, these attempts have been foiled by the compromises needed for packing full-scale PC hardware into a tablet design.

Windows RT represents Microsoft’s first real attempt at a tablet OS based on truly mobile hardware. It’s also Microsoft’s first major new effort since tablets became a hot seller.

Even so, Microsoft has found it hard in the past to shake a PC-oriented mindset when designing a new mobile platform. Will this cause them trouble again? Time will tell, as they say.




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