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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 (NASDAQ: 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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