Microsoft’s newest kid on the operating system block, Windows RT, is an oddity. Some, including myself, see it as a precursor of what future operating systems from the Redmond-based software giant will look like, an agile OS that has its roots both on tethered and mobile platforms. (Check out our article for a list of the differences between Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro and Windows RT).
Bearing in mind that the company deliberately chose to split from its historical companion, Intel, nearly two years ago (after nearly three decades of marital bliss) and embrace the ARM architecture, this was a bold, game changing decision, but one that couldn’t have been otherwise, given that its fiercest rivals, Google and Apple, have already done the same.
And for Microsoft - which also has an ARM architectural license and could eventually design its own chips like Apple - Windows RT may well be a catalyst that will transform the company into an ARM powerhouse. As such, Windows RT (RT for Runtime) may as well have been nicknamed Windows 8.5, given that it lays down the foundations for Microsoft’s growth strategy for the next decade or so.
But people in general - and businesses in particular - are reluctant to change. The brouhaha surrounding the death of the “start button,” for example, reminds us of the furore that met its introduction many years ago when it debuted with Windows 95. And many have pointed out the pitfalls of Windows RT as well, from the inability to play Flash files, the limited number of apps or the absence of critical apps (Media Player, Outlook), all of which are symptomatic of a new radically different OS (remember Vista?).
This explains why Microsoft chose to introduce two versions of Windows this time around, one to cater for legacy users who are keen to keep x86-based applications running, and the other for those tempted by an experience closer to that of a mobile environment. Microsoft is also vying to make the transition between the two as frictionless as possible since both Windows 8 and Windows RT share a similar design style and front end user interface.
And it is not surprising as well that Windows RT is aimed squarely at consumers rather than businesses. Consumers are not only more adventurous, they are also more likely to have been exposed to many of the facets of Windows RT (the concept of a store, the inability to install Windows EXE files, the inability to officially sideload applications).
Then there’s the big BYOD push, which Microsoft may secretly wish will help push Windows RT on the very long run within the enterprise ecosystem, like Apple did for the iPad and the iPhone.
Ultimately, Microsoft will make sure that Windows RT is a success, even if it means backing it like Xbox, as a money-losing venture, for a few years. The OS already comes with a massive goodie, Office 2013, a suite of applications which carries a suggested retail price of around £100 on its own. It is also almost certainly available at an advantageous price to OEM and ODMs like Asus or Acer.
The number of apps on the Microsoft store is likely to grow exponentially as the armada of Windows developers globally embrace the new platforms. And lastly partners like Samsung and Dell desperately need a new knight in a shining armour to counterbalance the growing importance/quasi monopoly of Google Android in the mobile market.
So, a merger between Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 might not happen overnight but when it happens, it will almost certainly be at a time of when x86 influence is declining - something that will take a long time. A single, fully unified Microsoft OS working across all platforms may not happen with Windows 9 in 2015 but almost certainly with Windows 10 or Windows X in 2018.