Back in the early stages of Windows 8, Microsoft announced that there would be 4 different versions of Windows 8. Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, Windows 8 Enterprise and Windows RT. The first 3 are fairly obvious as to what the differences are but what’s Windows RT all about? Not everyone knew about this “RT” version of Windows 8 until Microsoft revealed their Surface Tablets.
What’s The Point of Windows RT?
Essentially, Windows RT is a special version of Windows 8 that you won’t be able to buy off the shelve. It will only come pre-installed on devices that have ARM based processors instead of the traditional x86 Intel and AMD processors that we are all used to. Since computers really began taking off, they’ve all been powered by the traditional x86 processor architecture. ARM processors have been around for a while but are more favoured for low powered devices like mobiles etc..
ARM processors consume much less power than x86 processors but also produce less power. However over the last few years, ARM processors have advanced dramatically and now many of them can match x86 processors, all the while being much more energy-efficient. As a result they are becoming more popular in larger devices such as tablets. Not only because of their high processing power and low power consumption, but also because they are generally cheaper than x86 chips.
Microsoft has been put under pressure by OEM’s who want to use the cheaper ARM processors when producing tablets to keep costs down. The only other real alternative for them is Android so obviously Microsoft wanted to give them the opportunity to use Windows 8 in order to prevent their manufacturing partners moving to different operating systems.
So Is Anything Different?
Apart from having a different name? The answer is Yes.
While it sounds great that you can get Windows 8 running on a more energy efficient ARM processor that has the same amount of power as traditional x86 processors, not to mention at a cheaper price, I’m afraid this is one of those cases where it sounds too good to be true.
You see the one big drawback to ARM powered devices is that they can’t run legacy Windows programs. This basically means that all the current software that you use on your Windows 7, Vista or even Windows XP machines won’t work with Windows RT. That “RT” stands for RunTime which means it will only support applications written for Windows RunTime. Windows RunTime is essentially the Metro Apps that you find in Windows 8.
But doesn’t it have a traditional desktop?
Those of you familiar with Windows 8 will know that you can switch from the Metro Start menu back to your traditional desktop when using non metro programs. Windows RT does have a traditional desktop, however you are unable to install any non-Microsoft applications. This is because you wouldn’t be able to install and run third-party programs, they just aren’t supported on ARM processors.
The only third-party programs that you’ll be able to install are apps that come from the Windows Store, which are all approved by Microsoft. So essentially you will only be able to run Microsoft approved apps on your Windows RT device.
One way to think about the Windows RT operating system is in terms of the iPad. You can only install apps from the Apple Store and that’s it. Windows RT will be pretty much the same. There’s also restrictions on it that don’t allow you to install an alternative operating system or remove Windows RT.
Should I Steer Clear Of Windows RT Devices?
Windows RT devices aren’t necessarily a bad thing, I mean look at the success of the iPad. Apple have sold millions of these devices which essentially have the same restrictions. Many general consumers probably aren’t concerned whether or not they can install third-party software on their tablet. They might just want it for downloading apps off the Microsoft Store and for browsing the web, checking their social media networks etc.. In this case there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t buy a Windows RT device which will be not only cheaper but also have a longer battery life.
Where Windows RT is not suitable is for more tech savvy Windows users. Those who regularly use third-party software, especially businesses for whom it’s essential that they can install their own software. This is where the restrictions of Windows RT just become too much. In this case you will more than likely have to splash out a little more to get a device with a full version of Windows 8 and an x86 processor.
Windows RT will probably only make it onto tablets, I can’t see too many Laptops or Ultrabooks being produced this year with ARM processors. However if you are going shopping for a new Windows 8 device once it’s released, be sure to know what edition of Windows 8 it’s running and the limitations of each.