Microsoft Appears Ready to Jettison Windows RT

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Microsoft is sending strong signals that Windows RT, the version of the operating system designed for ARM processors, is nearing the end of its unremarkable run. Focus will likely shift in 2014 toward x86 and mobile versions.

Microsoft is on the verge of saying sayonara to Windows RT, the version of the operating system designed for machines running ARM-based processors. Julie Larson-Green, executive vice-president of Devices and Studios at Microsoft, speaking at an analyst event, says three major operating systems is too much, leading to the conclusion that RT is right out.

Windows RT was the first major release of the Windows 8 generation. Microsoft initially shipped only ARM-based versions of its Surface tablet that ran Windows RT. The intent was to create an operating system with a tightly bound architecture and experience to that of Apple’s iOS and iPad.

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A little more than a year after Windows RT hit the market, all but Microsoft has deemed the experiment a failure. Tablet buyers – consumer and commercial – rejected the Windows RT platform, mostly because it didn’t support legacy applications. PC manufacturers – one after another – have abandoned the RT platform because of poor market demand. And even Microsoft had to write off $900 million in unsold Surface RT units last summer.

Despite its lack of commercial success, Microsoft released Surface 2, a second generation version of its RT tablet. While Surface sales are increasing, most of the units are Surface Pro, which run full versions of Windows 8.1.

While many of Microsoft’s OEM partners dabbled in Windows RT products, all except Nokia have abandoned the operating system. Analysts are already anticipating that Nokia’s 8-inch Windows RT tablet, the Nokia 2520, will see an early end of life in 2014 now that the company is owned by Microsoft. Moreover, they do not expect to see a Surface 3 make it to the drawing boards.

Sometime by the middle of 2014, analysts suspect the Windows RT will quietly meet is ultimate demise.

Microsoft created Windows RT to take advantage of the mobile processes built for tablets based on the ARM architecture. ARM processes are more energy efficient that standard x86 chips, but require different coding for applications. Microsoft had to release Windows RT to compete against Apple products and tablets based on Google’s Android operating system, which also run based on ARM architectures.

Another factor working against Windows RT is the lack of applications. Windows 8, in general, has suffered from a lack of applications that make it as productive or entertaining as Apple or Google rivals. Windows RT only complicated development because of the different code structure from the rest of the Microsoft ecosystem.

Advancements in x86 processors, particularly the Intel Haswell chip, is making full versions of Windows 8 running on tablets more feasible. Focusing on one operating system will give Microsoft a better chance of developing applications and market for its mobile devices.

Microsoft’s mobile strategy has been a bit of sore spot for the channel. While Microsoft suffered through months of criticism and ridicule for its poor Windows 8 and Surface sales, solution providers complained that Microsoft was unduly hobbling itself by not releasing its tablets to the channel. Solution providers repeatedly said they could expand Microsoft sales if they were authorized to sell Surface.

 

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