Windows RT, the rest of the story

By Ron Grattopp ronaldg-001_thumb2_thumb_thumb1_thum….If you’re a consistent follower of this blog, you might remember that I recently did a post around “what you need to know about Windows RT”.   The intent of that was to highlight 2 key points that anyone selling Window RT (WinRT) devices should insure their customers know and that is, since it’s built on the ARM platform (architecture), you can’t 1) run x86/64 apps (like all the ones you’ve got on your Windows 7/Vista/XP machines), and 2) by the same token, you can’t install any other current Windows 8 edition (e.g. Pro) on that WinRT device (as a workaround) since they are all x86/64-based as well.  Unfortunately (for me) in the discussion of point #2 in the previous post, I used the “u” word to describe the unworkable Win8/Pro/Enterprise install scenario and when taken out of context that term can lead to confusion so the previous post is history.  But, I’ve since discovered a review of WinRT that I highly recommend as a read, hence this post.  So I’m killing 2 birds, as it were, with this one post: first, I get to refresh the 2 key points above, AND second, I have the opportunity to tell you “the rest of the story” (immortal byline of commentator Paul Harvey).   For the rest of the story piece, I’m going to point you to a recent newsletter article by Mark Minasi, a highly respected tech writer and trainer who specializes in Microsoft technology, called: 28 Days Under the Surface: Running Windows RT on Microsoft's New Tablet.

Mark’s article is primarily focused on his experience with his new Surface RT, but it’s also got a LOT of great information about the WinRT OS itself, which would be applicable to any OEM device running on WinRT.  I hope you’ll read Mark’s article, BUT, since it’s pretty comprehensive, and includes lot of Surface-specific stuff, I’m also going to give you the Cliff’s Notes version of just the WinRT stuff.

Here’s some of the interesting (IMHO) things Mark points out about Windows RT (all parenthetical elements are mine).

    • You only get WinRT by buying a device that has it pre-installed (in other words it’s OEM only, as I mentioned in my previous post)
    • RT includes BitLocker, the full disk encryption tool that means your data is secure even if your device is stolen, AND it’s ON by default.  (I don’t believe the iPad has any data protection mechanism like this.)
    • WinRT accommodates USB and other externally attached devices and is “surprisingly replete” with drivers.  Mark also later states: “RT seems to have an in-the-box driver for everything I plug into it.”
    • He mentions that it’s “fun to work with” and has more “…Windows 8 functionality with it than I expected”
    • As I mentioned in my previous post, WinRT comes with it’s own version of Office 2013 (Office RT) based on the Home & Student Edition apps (as in no Outlook), and Mark goes on to state that “RT Office is almost good enough to make up for the lack of apps” (in comparison to the number of apps available for Apple and Android devices).
    • WinRT includes a version of IE that works with Flash.
    • ARM stands for Advanced RISC Machine (which i didn’t know) and RISC chips have been around since early 1980’s and ARM was an architecture designed to be processor independent.  Yet, he makes the point that even tho ARM itself is not new, “RT requires what is currently the newest hardware platform on the planet.”  (Which is part of why you’re just now seeing the devices hitting the market after the launch of Windows 8/RT).
    • Mark says: “RT has two very different desktops, the ‘runs old Windows apps’ Desktop and the ‘runs new tablet apps’ Start Screen”. [I’ll take a bit of issue here and state that the Start Screen should probably be considered more of a replacement for the old Start Button vs a second desktop.]  There’s potential for confusion here, as we’ve said above, you can’t “run” legacy apps on WinRT, so even though Office RT and some of the tools (e.g. Task Manager) will invoke the desktop, don’t take that to mean that you’ll be able to use x86/64 legacy apps on an RT device.
    • RT devices need a minimum resolution of 1366x768 to enable the “snap” (or docking) experience, that is, to let two apps be in view simultaneously.  From what I understand, this functionality is not an option on iPad (even with retina).
    • RT has a command prompt that can “run my PowerShell scripts” along with other commands and built-in tools
    • The Nvidia ARM CPU is a quad-core ARM chip, so it’s not as powerless as you might think.
    • RT doesn’t support Silverlight (at least, yet)
    • The RDP client (terminal services) is exactly the same one you get on Windows 7/8.

OK, hopefully that’s a reasonable callout of some of the more pertinent things I think you’d want to know about Windows RT.  If you read Mark’s article, just remember that he is discussing WinRT in the context of a Microsoft Surface RT device, so be sure to distill out what things are more a function of the hardware design vs OS capability.