Microsoft Needs to Pull the Plug on RT

A couple of years ago, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) announced that it would be bringing its next-generation Windows 8 platform to the ARM (NASDAQ: ARMH  ) architecture. This was most likely due to the fact that Microsoft didn't believe that either of the traditional x86 processor vendors – Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) or Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD  ) – would be ready in time with products competitive enough on a performance and power standpoint to vault Microsoft into the tablet game proper. While AMD has largely failed to deliver with its "Hondo" and "Temash" APUs, Intel delivered a good solution in 2012 with its Atom Z2760 and this year delivered a great solution with its Z3000 parts. So, why is Microsoft continuing with its Windows RT debacle?

There is no compelling reason to do so
The only potentially "compelling" argument for Windows RT is that the ARM-based chips offer form factor and power efficiency advantages over comparable Intel chips. This may have been true for a couple of years before the Windows 8 launch, but Intel's low power system-on-chip products have come a very long way since then. The new Z3000 Atoms offer best-in-class performance and power consumption against even the very best of the ARM crowd. However, having a very competitive chip is not a reason for Microsoft to not support the competition – but compatibility is.

See, Microsoft's whole push with Windows 8/8.1 is that it offers the "best of both worlds" – that is, you get a great tablet experience while at the same time you get a full PC experience. While the chips from ARM vendors such as NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA  ) and Qualcomm certainly offer solid performance in the touch-optimized "Modern UI," there's one thing these devices can't do: run traditional Windows applications.

What's the point of a Windows device that can't run real Windows?
While the need for 7" and 8" devices to run traditional Windows desktop applications isn't all that pressing (although it could be useful in a pinch), the need is very clear on 10" and above devices (particularly those that bill themselves as convertible.) The biggest culprit here is the Surface 2. This is a device that Microsoft tries to push $120-$200 "blades" (i.e. keyboard covers) for, suggesting that it can be used like a traditional Windows notebook. Of course, these devices cannot run any traditional Windows desktop applications, which means that users are stuck with the fairly limited (but growing) library of "Modern UI" applications and no ability to run the software that makes Windows... Windows.

Another major problem for any Windows RT device, and in particular the Surface 2, is that Microsoft's OEM partners are offering products with similar form factors and features that feature full x86 compatibility at similar price points. Of course, now that Microsoft didn't include "RT" in the name of the Surface 2, there is a real risk that consumers will be lured into thinking that it's full Windows 8.1 (like the devices from Dell, HP, Lenovo, and others) and not Windows RT 8.1 – something that could be devastating to the Windows-on-tablets venture.

Foolish bottom line
Microsoft needs to put an end to Windows RT and embrace fully featured Windows 8.1 devices across the board in order to truly capitalize on the "Windows" legacy. Microsoft's partners have pulled the plug on RT and gone all-in on Windows 8.1, and it's just about time that Microsoft does the same. 

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  • Report this Comment On October 21, 2013, at 2:42 PM, bob0917 wrote:

    This was written by a person that appears to have personal investments in Intel.

    With respect to power requirements that all portable devices have ARM is still superior to Intel which has unsuccessfully been in catch-up mode for several years. Second of all: 'Windows device that can't run real Windows' It is incorrect to call it a Windows device, it is a Microsoft device. The author makes the mistake of thinking of this as simply one processor vs another processor, it is much more than that. Cell phones and slates are not PCs and they are not designed for that purpose, Anyone that made the mistake as I did in purchasing an Atom powered 'netbook' can tell you that running Excel on these crippled processors can be a lesson in pain. If you want a PC they do make tablet/laptop hybrids that run on an intel i3 and Windows 8.1 so buy one of them. Windows RT devices are designed for a different cloud based market and purpose than the PC and should not be lumped together with the PC. If MS desires to continue to be a major player Windows RT is the future otherwise Apple and Google will be happy to continue to eat Microsoft's lunch. If Microsoft does not continue with this line it stands a great chance of following CP/M into obscurity.

    The author may know more about investing than I do, but his knowledge in this area appears to be lacking.

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