The progression from one Windows version to the next is always confusing: Windows XP gave way to Windows Vista, which in turn produced Windows 7, and each one had various Professional and Home versions to choose from. But this time things are even more unsettled, because Microsoft isn’t just introducing Windows 8, it’s also rolling out something called Windows RT - which is similar to Windows, but not exactly the same. Here’s what you need to know about Windows 8’s little brother.
Microsoft is being surprisingly tight-lipped about Windows RT, referring ReadWriteWeb back to the lengthy tome Windows chief Steven Sinofsky authored in February, describing development for the ARM architecture.
So for anyone trying to make sense of the differences between Windows 8 and Windows RT - these 15 questions will tell you everything there is to know - except maybe which new version of Windows is right for you. For that, you’ll have to wait until Wednesday for ReadWriteWeb’s examination of how to choose between Windows 8 and Windows RT. ]
1. What Does Windows RT Stand For?
2. When Can I Get Windows RT?
Windows RT hardware should be available around the time Windows 8 launches, somewhere on or about October 26.
3. Why Are There Two New Versions of Windows?
Microsoft’s hardware partners have inevitably moved to where the money is. The success of the Apple iPad convinced manufacturers that tablets were a viable product. However, the only option they had was to choose the Android operating system. Windows on ARM (now renamed Windows RT) gives tablet makers the option to make better and cheaper Windows tablets that run on less-expensive, less-power-hungry ARM (a type of reduced instruction set computing - RISC) chips instead of the standard Intel X86-style processors that other versions of Windows require. Unfortunately, the main Windows code base is designed around X86, so total compatibilty between the versions isn’t yet possible.
4. What’s the Hardware Difference Between Windows RT and Windows 8?
The real question is what the difference is from a software perspective. But it’s actually easier to answer the hardware question first. Windows 8 is a true PC operating system, if you define the PC as running on an X86 chip from either AMD or Intel.
By definition, Windows RT runs on ARM chips, the embedded microprocessors that power today’s smartphones. Windows RT won’t run on an X86 chip. Instead, Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments have signed on to manufacture chips to power Windows RT systems.
5. Is Windows RT a PC operating system?
Yes. And no. Again, you won’t see Windows RT running on a PC microprocessor, but Microsoft has said that PC-like devices will be made by Windows RT partners, including tablets, traditional clamshell laptops and convertible devices.
6. Will Windows 8 and Windows RT Work the Same Way?
On the surface, they should be very similar. Windows RT apps are basically the widgets that Windows 8 embeds in what it formerly called the “Metro” interface (now the “Modern UI”). But there are other differences: Windows RT won’t include Windows Media Player. Basically, Windows RT sounds like Metro, plus Internet Explorer, plus an RT version of the Microsoft Office productivity suite. That’s it. Windows 8 will go much farther into dedicated apps and software.
It’s probably fair to say that Windows RT tablets are designed for cost-conscious consumers, while Windows 8 and its associated hardware will be bought by more professional and creative types. But it’s also possible that Windows RT tablets will be seen as bargains by mainstream users who don’t plan to do more than engage with a few apps, surf the Web and work in Office.
7. Can I Buy or Upgrade to Windows RT?
No. Windows RT will come only bundled on dedicated hardware, like a tablet. Over time, Microsoft will release downloadble patches and updates.
8. Who Will Make Windows RT hardware?
That’s a bit up in the air right now. Asus, Dell, Lenovo and Samsung have all said that they plan to manufacture Windows RT devices.
But Hewlett-Packard appears to be waffling, and Toshiba has decided to pull out of Windows RT development because of a shortage of components. Toshiba’s chip partner is Texas Instruments, but if TI’s manufacturing is the culprit, it’s not talking. Patrick Moorhead, a former vice president of strategy for AMD and now an independent analyst, told ReadWriteWeb he believes the problem is in fact software drivers, and that the component issue is a bit of a smokescreen.
Microsoft, of course, will manufacture its own Windows RT tablet, which apparently will be called the Surface RT.
9. What Will Windows RT Tablets Be Like?
Specifically, Microsoft has said that the Surface RT tablets it was aware of ranged in weight from 500 grams (1.1 pounds) to 1,200 grams (2.6 pounds). The tablets ranged from between 8.35 mm to 15.6 mm thick, with lengths that spanned 263 mm (10.3 inches) to 298 mm (11.73 in.) and widths ranging from 168.5 mm (6.63 in.) to 204 mm (8.03 in.)
In terms of hardware capability, Microsoft said that the tablets would be able to generate the Windows 8 animations at a fluid 60 Hz, and sample finger input at a smooth 100 Hz per finger. Users wil be able to “bump” or tap two Windows RT devices together and share photos, URLs, map directions and other information. The Surface RT tablets will be able to play HD video continuously for about 8 to 13 hours at screen brightnesses of 200 nits.
Microsoft has also said that they will be able to sit within a “connected standby” state for more 17 days, able to update email, tweets, Facebook, et cetera. It’s not yet clear how those capabilities will compare to Windows 8 machines.
10. How Much Will Windows RT Devices Cost?
Microsoft has said that Widnows RT tablets will be “competitve” with the prices of existing ARM-based tablets. Some think this means about $399 or above, about the price of an Apple iPad; others think that a $200 tablet priced at about the level of an Amazon Kindle Fire or Google Nexus 7 fits the definition.
11. Are Windows 8 and Windows RT compatible?
Yes and no. Think of Windows 8 as a superset of Windows RT. Windows RT apps will work on Windows 8, but Windows 8 apps will work on Windows RT only if they’re specifically designed for both operating systems.
12. Can I Run My old Windows Software on Windows RT?
No. Software designed for Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP or earlier versions can’t run on Windows RT, at least natively. Windows RT is an entirely new beast.
13. How Do I Run Software on Windows RT?
Microsoft will release a version of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote for Windows RT that is “significantly architected for both touch and minimized power/resource consumption, while also being fully featured for consumers and providing complete document compatibility.” That probably means it will lack a few features. Internet Explorer 10 and File Explorer will also be included. Otherwise, users will be able to buy Windows RT apps from the Windows Store. And that’s it. That’s part of the reason apps will such a critical component of Windows RT’s success.
14. What Do Developers Think of Windows RT?
Right now, Windows RT is still a trial balloon for most developers. Mark Schroeder, a producer with marketing agency Signature Creative, said that the process to port one of its Android apps begins this Monday. The one port will “test the water,” he said, and others will follow if the company believes the process will be justified.
However, Microsoft claims that some 90% of the apps already submitted to the Windows 8 store will run on Windows RT, too.
15. What About Windows Phone 8?
Microsoft has also said that the ”common core” between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 will allow apps developed for Windows 8 to be easily ported to Windows Phone. But it’s far less clear whether Windows Phone 8 apps will be easily ported to Windows RT, as Microsoft has confirmed that they will require modification.
“Both Windows 8 and Windows Phone leverage common tools and technologies that have been under development at Microsoft for many years,” a Microsoft spokeswoman said in an email. “Developers who build applications for Windows Phone will be very well prepared for building applications for Windows 8, and in many cases, may be able to reuse assets and business logic in building new Windows 8 applications.
“While Windows Phone applications cannot run on Windows 8 without being modified, developers have found it’s fairly easy to port a well-written Windows Phone app to Windows 8,” the spokeswoman added. “For example, Rick Walrond, developer of the Windows Phone word game AlphaDrops, reported he was able to use 90% of his original code when porting the game over to Windows 8.”
The problem, of course, is that this answer avoids the question of Windows RT, instead substituting Windows 8. Given that Windows Phone 8 apps seem to share a lot in common with the Metro apps, one would think that the apps would drift naturally from one platform to another. But we’ll have to see.
Bonus Question: So Which Version of Windows Should I Buy?
That is a very good question. So good, that we’re working on a whole story dedicated to choosing between Windows 8 and Windows RT. Look for it on Wednesday. Here’s a hint: it all boils down to software.