Meet Windows RT

Microsoft’s first serious foray into tablets came just after the turn of the new millenium, with Bill Gates demonstrating the first tablet PC prototype onstage at Comdex in the autumn of 2000. From there, OEMs started releasing tablets based on Windows XP Tablet PC Edition in 2002, with a full range of pen-enabled slates and convertibles releasing over the next few years. In addition to oftentimes prohibitive cost, each had its own set of drawbacks. Convertibles tended to be quite bulky compared to their notebook counterparts (the ThinkPad X-series being a notable exception), while slates were rather difficult to use - a symptom of shoehorning a desktop operating system into a purely touch-centric form factor. 

Fast forward a decade, to the beginning of 2010. After a number of conceptual non-starters in the tablet PC space - building tablet PC support into all editions of Windows Vista and 7 (other than Basic/Home Starter), the entire Origami class of devices - Microsoft’s touchscreen devices were floundering. The iPad had been announced to mixed reaction but an extremely high level of anticipation. Microsoft and HP countered with the Slate 500, an Atom-based device shown off at CES 2010 with solid state storage and Windows 7 in roughly the same form factor as Apple’s iPhone OS-based ARM tablet. With speculation pointing to a pricetag of just $549, the Slate appeared to be the most viable hope Microsoft had in trying to make mainstream headway with the tablet PC concept. But shortly after the iPad shipped in April 2010, rumors of the Slate’s demise started to circulate, and after a six month delay, the Slate 500 started shipping as an enterprise-only product in December of that year for $799. HP’s acquisition of Palm (RIP) definitely played a role in the sidelining of the Slate, but more importantly, it essentially spelled the end for the tablet PC. This was news that was perhaps known already, but the Slate saga officially pulled the plug on Microsoft’s original idea of what a tablet was. 

The problem was two parts software, one part hardware. Microsoft had developed a very interesting touch-oriented user interface for its handhelds, so at least one part of the equation was relatively straightforward. The hardware issue came down to this: the iOS and Android tablets succeeding in the market ran off ARM system-on-chips, which resulted in slim, power-efficient tablets that had idle times stretching for days. At the time, there was just nothing in terms of x86 hardware that could compete with that in low-power device realm (Clover Trail and Haswell, of course, change this part of the story considerably). The other question? How to converge the touch-centric UI with the classic desktop environment that had been the corner of Windows dating all the way back to 95. 

Meet Windows RT. It’s Microsoft’s first major foray into the modern tablet market, the shipping version of Windows-on-ARM, and it’s one of Microsoft’s most important product launches ever. Windows 8 shares the same touch-friendly user interface, but the ARM silicon makes RT an almost entirely tablet-centric operating system, the first for Microsoft. Combined with the focus on premium hardware experiences, this is Redmond’s most serious push to be competitive with the iOS and Androids of the world. How does it fare? Keep reading.

User Interface, Gestures, and Multitasking
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  • Taft12 - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    You seem to have missed the way the app store phenomenon has depressed software prices. You may take quantity over quality but hardly anyone else does.
  • SlyNine - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    At least in your opinion. I'm with A5cent. Your point remains to be proven, right now its just your opinion.
  • steven75 - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    Apple's own AAA apps such as iPhoto, iMovie, Garageband, iWork are almost all $5.

    And they are FAR more capable than anything you can get on Metro right now.
  • MadMan007 - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    "This stage of the Tablet market"...I'm not sure what you could possibly mean there. This is the very early stage of tablet development. The iPad was released about 2 and a half years ago, that's nothing and I don't understand why people try to declare a market won when it's that new and still growing very fast.
  • Dekker - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    What I mean is that developers will first write for iPad because it has an installed base of 100 million devices. Only much later will they write for less popular platforms. Some apps may not make it to RT at all. Overcoming the disadvantage of being the less attractive platform is very hard because of the self-reenforcing effects (ask Apple about their experience in the 90s when software support for the Mac faded).
    Not all is lost for MS, but they do not have much room for error or delay in the tablet space. As for Apple, the technology industry only grants temporary near-monopolies and they will not be on top forever.
  • MadMan007 - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I guess if Apple continues their douchery of limiting which development tools developers can use then yeah. (Maybe they stoped that? It was in relation to Adboe tools iirc, not Flash.)

    Otherwise cross-platform developing will become the norm, with some necessary differences due to UI or what have you, and other tweaks as devs see fit. MS may provide some great dev tools to make this happen, even if it's just to port over to WinRT, and there are already dev tools to create apps for both WinRT and Win x86.

    That last bit is where a lot of WinRT apps will come from. Devs making apps for what will be the huge Win x86 install base and just porting them to WinRT.
  • khanikun - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    The difference so far is the iPad is a toy tablet. Windows RT is not. The benefit of a merger of toy tablet OS combined with a desktop OS.
  • strangis - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Developers can target ALL Windows 8 computers with RT apps, which means the market will potentially be 300+ million people within a year.

    That far surpasses the iPad in exposure.
  • steven75 - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    Except Metro is being widely panned for keyboard/mouse use.
  • dysonlu - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    I think the crucial points for a platform, and this may sound a bit controversial, are "hackability" and games. That's what jumpstarts a platform. Hackability: an underground scene for free apps and games or for other "illegal" use of the platform/device will lower the barrier of entry and thus increase adoption rate. The amount of people wanting free and illegal stuff can't be underestimated. Games, of course, more than any apps are what people download and buy compulsively. Games are compelling to everyone, from 7 years old to 77 years old users. Games are what people tell their friends about, they promote visibility and popularity of the platform.

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