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May 23, 2012 • Editorials

Microsoft Windows 8 RT: Really, Microsoft? Have You Learned Nothing?

I’m an iPad user (I write many of my posts on an iPad these days), and I have a big interest in tablets and tablet technology.  Lately, I’ve been reading a bit about Windows 8 and the new “RT” version for is specifically for tablets.  By the way, for those that don’t know “RT” stands for runtime.  There’s a bit of a buzz around the fact that MS is going to enter an arena dominated by Apple (iOS) and Android-based apps like the Kindle Fire.

There seems to be a belief that MS can (and might) make a huge mark in this space because of what they, and the Windows platform can bring to the plate.  But I have to say, I think Microsoft may be about to make a HUGE misstep with this release.  It sounds great on the surface – Windows for your tablet, and it even comes with the key MS Office apps!  Wow!  But there’s a fly in the ointment:  This Windows isn’t really Windows as we know it.

As I was reading about this upcoming release I first thought that I misunderstood when I read that standard Windows apps won’t run on the new Windows RT?  But really, why should they?  These tablets have a totally different processor with a totally different architecture.  Apple understood this when they release the iPad – iOS apps are NOT the same as OSX apps, and no one is likely to mix those things up.

So what’s the problem here?

Well so far it seems like there is almost an effort to NOT talk about the fact that this is really a not a variant of Windows as we know it, and it’s also not a strip-down of Windows – but rather a completely different OS.  And yes, there will be some flavor of MS Office apps included, which are likely to be part of any marketing strategy because it will be the only tablet OS to “support MS Office”. But again, it’s a different OS.  It requires totally new apps – your regular apps won’t run.  Can you start to see the potential for confusion and misunderstanding?

On a bit of a side trip, you also will have to ask, since it needs new and different apps, why would anyone choose this over an iPad or Android tab? What’s the benefit?  I think the key differentiator is going to be the inclusion of the MS Office apps.  And I think those MS Office apps are part of what’s going to make people think, incorrectly, that it’s just “Windows”.  And I’m not entirely certain that MS or it’s partners want you to think otherwise.

By calling it “Windows”, with a kind of meaningless “RT” tacked on it just encourages people in thinking that it is the same (or similar) to other versions of Windows.  So doesn’t Microsoft realize that calling it Windows when it won’t run traditional Windows apps, has the potential to confuse and frustrate users? Did they learn nothing from past mistakes?  Yes people are smart, but to most people – Windows is Windows, but in this case it’s not!

Yup – I know what you’re thinking:  Windows Phone is out there and people aren’t thinking that Windows Phone is going to run traditional Windows apps, so why should they be confused by Windows RT?  Because “Windows Phone” is a name that clearly says this is a phone in itself brings to mind different expectations, just like it’s predecessor Windows Mobile, but “Windows RT” doesn’t really clearly make that differentiation.  The name is likely to be kind of meaningless to most people.  For that reason I don’t think that people are going to make the distinction as easily that this “Windows” is NOT “Windows Standard” or “Windows Professional”.

I get that MS, and it’s partners will want to capitalize on the Windows brand, but I am really convinced that this has the potential to be a bigger marketing mess that Windows Vista or even Windows Me.  This one has the potential to piss people off and that is never good for business.

So again – Apple, while making their user interface front ends on their different platforms more and more similar, has kept a “logical” division between OSX and OSX apps on the desktop/laptop side of the house, and iOS and iOS apps on the mobile side of the house.  No one is confused that an iOS app will run on a Mac.  MS has Windows Phone whose differentiation is clear from the word “Phone” in the name.  But Microsoft is not (at this point) making that division clear with Windows RT.  I think they would do themselves a much greater service by giving this OS (and the related apps) a different name – one that feels different or calls out the difference.  Maybe a fun name like “Windows Panes” or even something more mundane like “Windows Portable” so that people know there is a connection, but also a clear difference.

I suspect that a fair number of people will think that Windows RT will simply seem like a different version like Windows Ultimate or Windows Standard and be disappointed when they realize it’s not.  I don’t think there’s enough differentiation to make the situation clear to potential customers and that could be the setup for a big FAIL.

What do you think?  Do you think people are aware enough to notice the difference, or is this likely to annoy users and be another potential marketing black mark for Microsoft?



12 Responses to " Microsoft Windows 8 RT: Really, Microsoft? Have You Learned Nothing? "

  1. Bryan Eley says:

    Along a similar tangent it will be interesting to see how the Mozilla Firefox/Internet Explorer brouhaha plays out. Rumors of anti-competitiveness and anti-trust litigation are swirling and Mozilla has responded: The primary objection is the following: “…Windows (RT) on ARM prohibits any browser except for Internet Explorer from running in the privileged “Windows Classic” environment. In practice, this means that only Internet Explorer will be able to perform many of the advanced computing functions vital to modern browsers in terms of speed, stability, and security to which users have grown accustomed.” I’d rather not have a repeat of the ’90s browser wars start up again.

    EDIT: With regard to the Windows RT nomenclature, perhaps “Windows Non-Phone Metro”? 😉

  2. cgavula says:

    I agree the browser thing is likely to be yet another “issue”. Some of us even remember when the U.S. government (and others) went after Microsoft because of their “monopoly” on the desktop and the deep hooks that Internet Explorer had into the OS and the unfair advantage that gave MS in that space. And the settlements that fell out of that issue were anything but pretty and were a huge black eye for MS. I can’t believe that they would want to encourage a possible return to that issue, but here we are and the behavior doesn’t appeared to have changed very much. Sigh.

    • Bryan Eley says:

      I remember that group of lawsuits, especially the DOJ going after Microsoft for forcing PC manufacturers to include IE in Windows installations, and the Netscape issues, among other things. Back in those days a few MBs to download a 3rd party browser on a 56k modem were quite tedious for consumers (but dang, how many AOL cds did you get in the mail?). Had it not been for the agreed-upon settlement, MS might have been split into an OS only entity and a software app entity.

  3. gorkon says:

    Personally? They COULD port the Office, but what will end up happening is a whole different set of apps….some which will work in the Metro interface on x86 and a lot that won’t. Windows RT just sounds like a REALLY bad idea.

    • cgavula says:

      The things I read usually mention that there will be a flavor of MS Office bundled with the OS, but the news now is that MS will release flavors of MS Office for iOS and Android this fall as well. That could help still some criticisms, but my big concern remains, of course, that the Windows RT name is relatively meaningless and consumer confusion will ensue.

    • Francis Scardino says:

      No need to port. The official Office 15 works on RT. (as per MS)

  4. Perry says:

    All due respect,but I think you have utterly and completely missed the point of Windows RT (both the runtime library and the mobile OS by the same name),
    The Windows RT OS (formerly known as “Windows on ARM” or “WOA”) WILL run all of the Windows 8 Metro apps, exactly the same as Windows on x86/64 will. Exactly the same. No recompiles, no need to buy them again. If you install it on Windows, it will also install on Windows RT and run as-is. Period.
    Windows RT will also include the legacy Windows desktop, but other than the usual built-in Windows tools (calc, notepad, control panel, etc.) it will run only a select list of applications: Internet Explorer 10, and Microsoft Office. No other legacy Windows apps will run.
    But Windows RT is meant primary for thin, light, long battery life tablets, so do you really want to be trying to use the deskop? Or would you prefer to use your touchable, mobile friendly Windows Metro apps? As you pointed out, Apple doesn’t support running OSX apps on iOS. Same deal here.
    Now where it gets a bit confusing is that you will also be able to buy tablets running the full version of Windows 8, capable running the new Metro apps as well as all of the legacy Windows applications. Microsoft claims that their marketing will make the distinction between the two different flavors of tablets clear for consumers, but we’ll see.
    But on the surface, to a consumer, Windows 8 and Windows RT will appear identical, other than the ability to run legacy apps. And despite the differences underneath, any Metro app written for Windows 8 will run exactly the same on Windows RT. And let’s be clear: Metro apps are the future. I see a future where the Windows desktop and the legacy apps go away completely. And it’s likely coming sooner rather than later. I would not all surprised to find that one day Windows RT *IS* Windows. Much like Windows NT became Windows after the DOS versions were retired with Windows XP. This is but the first step in that direction.

    • cgavula says:

      I didn’t miss the point at all, but I’m afraid that you might have missed my point. I expect them to be different. They should be different. I think it is good that they are different. My point is that the NAMING is likely to only lead to confusion and the marketing that is likely to follow will add to that confusion. They need to more clearly differentiate. The NAME Windows RT is going to be meaningless to most people and they will think it is just a “regular” Windows variant that will run their apps – but, of course, it won’t, and that will frustrate people because MS didn’t do enough to make it clear that this is NOT the same as other WIndows variants.

      You seem to be under the belief that I am not in favor of the OS itself or the Metro UI and you would be wrong. I am, however, disappointed that MS (and its partners) don’t seem to be making this as clear as they should and any resulting confusion could lead to an unecessary market failure. The Windows Phone branding makes the differentiation clearly, the Windows RT name/designation does not clearly indicate the purpose and that is problematic.

      • Perry says:

        But to most people, it won’t be different. It WILL run the new Metro apps, just as Windows on x86/64 will. The only thing missing will be support for legacy Windows desktop apps, which I think will become less and less of an issue. And I’m not sure we can say what people will think or how confused they’ll be since we have yet to see any marketing from Microsoft at all on any version of Windows 8. I think it is a possibility that people may be confused, but Microsoft has readily admited this and claims to have a plan to address it. Let’s see what they come up with before making assumptions.

        • cgavula says:

          LOL – I think there is plenty of precedent to make a good guess as to what is likely to happen here. If MS really wanted to make things clear they would start with the name – I stand by that statement. I also think we will find that only a subset of Metro apps will run due to the limited nature of the hardware (either that or ALL Metro apps will suffer limitations). No matter how you want to present it legacy apps won’t work and I think you are simply wrong about how much demand/expectation there will be to use those and for how long. I also think that all Metro apps will NOT be created equally and that will add to the confusion. I’m glad you are optimisttic, but, again, MS doesn’t really have a great track record to fall back on and I really believe that they could do a lot more – now – to avoid at least some of the headaches in the future and some vague statement about a “”plan”” isn’t really much comfort..

  5. dbmurray says:

    I’d be happy if Microsoft would pick a naming scheme for their various operating systems they sell and stick with it, but it ain’t gonna happen as long as they have a marketing department trying to justify their purpose in remaining with the company.

    That being said, most people (even self-described technophobes) realize the phone/tablet platform is a different animal from the desktop/laptop platform.

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