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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  • tbutler - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Except that, at least as I read it, Metro vs desktop divides more along 'touch vs keyboard/mouse', not consumer vs power user.

    Or to put it another way - while the simplicity of Metro apps might appeal to consumers, that is trumped by the issues trying to use them with a keyboard/mouse. In fact, I'd argue that the Metro environment is *worse* for a keyboard/mouse using consumer, given how so many operations are hidden/not obvious/best used with shortcuts. Windows-C to get the Charms bar is a learned power user trick, not an average user thing.
  • steven75 - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    Nailed it. The "x86 userbase will ensure a massive market for Metro apps" angle is *anything* but a sure thing.
  • Dorek - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    "Except that, at least as I read it, Metro vs desktop divides more along 'touch vs keyboard/mouse', not consumer vs power user."

    Having used Metro apps with a mouse and keyboard, I don't see any problems. They work well on a laptop and on a desktop. I never had any problems.
  • designerfx - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    exactly. People aren't willing to buy a windows tablet and not a windows OS. It's not like buying android or ios here.

    It's simply not the same environment, the reason for android/ios is because of the app market - that is literally the singular reason to not need a windows device.
  • khanikun - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Have you even looked in the Apple's app store or Google's Play store? It's just tens of thousands of apps that do the same like 10 things and a lot of flash games converted for their respective OS. Majority of them being for non-productive uses.

    On my two Android tablets and my Android smartphone, I have like one productive app. Some free office like app, that allows me to open Office docs, but I can't edit them in any way. The rest? Games and photobooks.

    Windows RT will definitely be a big step towards making tablets more productive than a big toy. I won't bother. I'm waiting for Windows 8 Pro.
  • steven75 - Friday, November 2, 2012 - link

    iPad has had the iWork suite since 2010. While that may not matter to businesses entrenched in Microsoft Office, it sure is enough for students that can easily convert anything to PDF and avoid all compatibility issues.
  • strangis - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    "Really? A month from now? Can I hold you to that? It will be at least a year before Metro store gets even tens of thousands of apps"

    Just as a barometer, WP7 hit the 10,000 apps mark in under 6 months. Do you really think that it's going to take Windows 8 longer?

    And you accuse someone else of lacking objectivitiy...
  • GuardianAngel470 - Sunday, October 28, 2012 - link

    You've completely missed the reason for the statement.

    iOS, Android, Windows Phone, WebOS, and every other OS had to build a consumer base from scratch. By extension they had to build a developer base from scratch.

    Windows RT doesn't need to do the former and by extension doesn't need to to do the latter. There are guaranteed to be millions of people running Windows 8 in a few month's time. Because Windows 8 didn't divorce Metro from its desktop and because Visual Studio 2012 Express intentionally hobbles the development of desktop applications, the developers that are guaranteed to develop for Windows 8 will be there to fill the App Store.

    It can be argued that they'll focus on the development of desktop apps sure but you're basing your opinion on OS's that were never in the same situation as Windows RT.
  • trip1ex - Monday, October 29, 2012 - link

    Gotta agree. I just don't see a huge ramp in 3rd party apps in 1 month. And I fail to what the power of Windows desktop is when RT will be running on ARM.

    For the problems MS will have look no further than the Zune except now you are also at an apps/developer support disadvantage.

    And it doesn't just matter if RT gets apps but how those apps compare to apps on the other systems. I remember using the Mac 5 years ago when many programs were also on the Mac, but were behind the Windows versions in features and worked worse in general.

    That being said I doubt most people use that many apps. We mostly surf and check email on our IPad.
  • guidryp - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Both of these reviews feel like a whitewash to me.

    No mention of how buggy software is, or slowdowns and crashes that many others are reporting.

    It says others are making snap judgements, but this is sweeping the defects under the rug.

    Not what I expect from Anandtech.

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