Touted Demise of Windows RT and Marketing Lessons for Microsoft

I read an article this morning on The Motley Fool about a consumer electronics trade show in ┬áTaipei. The headline “Does This Mean Microsoft Windows RT is Dead?”.

I won’t comment on whether devices running the “RT Edition” of Windows 8 are going disappear based on the presence of new devices at a trade show. But the headline did stand out for me because it is an example of the confusion caused when you “borrow” a technical term and slap it onto the end of a product name.

In this specific case Windows RT actually means two things. First, to me as a developer Windows RT means Windows Runtime, an API layer inside introduced in Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 and is the basis for modern applications.

On the other hand, if you aren’t a developer and you are more focused on “products” and “devices”, the term Windows RT might identify a lower power device running a special build of Windows 8 which introduces some limitations for these lower powered machines.

The problem is when the journalists go around saying “Windows RT” is dead, IT managers who might not know about the lower level details of the Windows 8 platform might start to disregard the proposition that they might like to build a Windows 8 application that targets the Windows Runtime (Windows RT).

Confused? Yep, so are most folks and this is why MIcrosoft needs to be very careful about tacking the RT suffix on products like the Microsoft Surface RT and Office RT. They might accidentally build the impression that the underlying runtime itself is going away if indeed the industry is moving back towards an Intel centric architecture. I think Microsoft should drop the RT moniker all together on their OS, Office and devices (including partner devices) and come up with some other suffix. Leave WinRT to the developers.

Some might say it is unlikely that ARM processors running Windows will disappear, but the X86 and X64 architectures have proven incredibly resilient in the face of other architectures (ia64, ARM etc). One exception might be in the Windows Phone space where you really do have some heavy power conservation requirements and the expectations are considerably lower than that of a PC or a tablet device.

My gut feel is that Windows RT (the runtime, or the device class) aren’t going away any time soon, and it is certainly too premature to say that based on what you are seeing at this years trade shows. What is far more relevant is what we see announced at BUILD 2013 this year in terms of Windows and Windows Phone platform convergence.

The big question I have is will the rumoured “phablet” devices run a Windows Phone-like build of Windows RT, or a Windows-like build of Windows RT. Based on some of the projects I am seeing at the moment I am hoping that a phablet is running something derived from the current Windows 8 generation of platforms. The Windows Phone UX is great for small surface areas but I don’t think it will scale well up to a phablet size.

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