Dell ditches Windows RT to leave only Microsoft with doomed OS

Microsoft's Windows RT mobile operating system yesterday lost its final supporter. Dell, whose XPS 10 tablet featured the Windows variant when it was released in December 2012, announced at its launch event on Tuesday that it would not be manufacturing a follow-up device.

Neil Hand, head of tablets at Dell, told reporters that future devices would feature the full version of Windows 8.1, as RT had failed to "resonate" with consumers. This leaves Microsoft as the only company still designing devices for its ill-starred OS.

The journey of Windows RT has been short but rocky. It arrived to mixed reception in late 2012, with its incompatibility with x86 applications and lack of native music player as consistent problems irking reviewers. Since it's only possible to install apps on RT through Microsoft's online store, the OS was essentially closed to popular non-Microsoft apps like iTunes, Chrome and Photoshop, and this lack of flexibility seems to have damaged the OS' profile among buyers.

It wasn't always so grim. Companies queued up to design devices for Windows RT in the run-up to its release last year, but Microsoft kept a tight handle on all partners' development and design processes, and even required manufacturers to comply to a list of "approved" hardware components. Multiple partners, like Toshiba and HP dropped out before designs had even got off the ground.

Since then, things have gone from bad to worse. Acer planned to release a Windows RT device close to its release, but later changed its mind. "To be honest, there's no value doing the current version of RT," said Acer President Jim Wong in May. The company has instead focused on Windows 8, Android and hybrid devices, with mixed success.

In August, Asus announced that it wouldn't be producing any further RT devices, calling the OS "not very promising".

In August, industry analysts IDC found that Windows RT devices made up only 0.2 per cent of tablet shipments in the second quarter of 2013, compared to 1.8 per cent for Windows 8, 14.6 per cent for iOS and 28.2 per cent for Android.

On the plus side, the Microsoft's latest Windows RT devices, Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, released 23 September, are apparently "close to selling out". Whether or not that's simply because many fewer devices were manufactured this time round, the new tablets certainly seem to be selling better than their predecessors.

Still, as the lights go out for Windows RT across the manufacturing world, it remains to be seen whether Microsoft will stand by its sinking OS.