Meet Windows RT

Microsoft’s first serious foray into tablets came just after the turn of the new millenium, with Bill Gates demonstrating the first tablet PC prototype onstage at Comdex in the autumn of 2000. From there, OEMs started releasing tablets based on Windows XP Tablet PC Edition in 2002, with a full range of pen-enabled slates and convertibles releasing over the next few years. In addition to oftentimes prohibitive cost, each had its own set of drawbacks. Convertibles tended to be quite bulky compared to their notebook counterparts (the ThinkPad X-series being a notable exception), while slates were rather difficult to use - a symptom of shoehorning a desktop operating system into a purely touch-centric form factor. 

Fast forward a decade, to the beginning of 2010. After a number of conceptual non-starters in the tablet PC space - building tablet PC support into all editions of Windows Vista and 7 (other than Basic/Home Starter), the entire Origami class of devices - Microsoft’s touchscreen devices were floundering. The iPad had been announced to mixed reaction but an extremely high level of anticipation. Microsoft and HP countered with the Slate 500, an Atom-based device shown off at CES 2010 with solid state storage and Windows 7 in roughly the same form factor as Apple’s iPhone OS-based ARM tablet. With speculation pointing to a pricetag of just $549, the Slate appeared to be the most viable hope Microsoft had in trying to make mainstream headway with the tablet PC concept. But shortly after the iPad shipped in April 2010, rumors of the Slate’s demise started to circulate, and after a six month delay, the Slate 500 started shipping as an enterprise-only product in December of that year for $799. HP’s acquisition of Palm (RIP) definitely played a role in the sidelining of the Slate, but more importantly, it essentially spelled the end for the tablet PC. This was news that was perhaps known already, but the Slate saga officially pulled the plug on Microsoft’s original idea of what a tablet was. 

The problem was two parts software, one part hardware. Microsoft had developed a very interesting touch-oriented user interface for its handhelds, so at least one part of the equation was relatively straightforward. The hardware issue came down to this: the iOS and Android tablets succeeding in the market ran off ARM system-on-chips, which resulted in slim, power-efficient tablets that had idle times stretching for days. At the time, there was just nothing in terms of x86 hardware that could compete with that in low-power device realm (Clover Trail and Haswell, of course, change this part of the story considerably). The other question? How to converge the touch-centric UI with the classic desktop environment that had been the corner of Windows dating all the way back to 95. 

Meet Windows RT. It’s Microsoft’s first major foray into the modern tablet market, the shipping version of Windows-on-ARM, and it’s one of Microsoft’s most important product launches ever. Windows 8 shares the same touch-friendly user interface, but the ARM silicon makes RT an almost entirely tablet-centric operating system, the first for Microsoft. Combined with the focus on premium hardware experiences, this is Redmond’s most serious push to be competitive with the iOS and Androids of the world. How does it fare? Keep reading.

User Interface, Gestures, and Multitasking
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  • munsie - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I would love to see more detail on this as well. The filesystem is completely open, which means that anyone can extract existing EXEs off the system and place new ones on there as well. This is way different than the iOS model, for example.

    I'm predicting that we'll shortly see the ability to build desktop apps for ARM and the ability to sideload apps on RT. There are tons of people who know Windows inside and out, along with a huge desire to bypass this restriction.
    Reply
  • zepi - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I'm sure that if executable is not digitally signed with MS certificate, it wont run. And they wont be releasing that certificate with Visual Studio, so in theory nobody will be able to compile binary-applications that will run on WinRT.

    There are definitely going to be people looking ways around this restriction from various kind of cert crackings to fullblown jailbreaks, so actual situation for 'tech enthusiasts' remains to be seen.
    Reply
  • mcnabney - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Yep, no digital signature from MS - no installation.

    RT is the Embrace with some Extend aspects. I'm not sure how they will try to pull off Extinguish - but I'm not going to give them my money to help them.

    I can envision a world without Microsoft now - something unimaginable in the past.
    Reply
  • ricardoduarte - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Hi,

    Can you please, post in a couple weeks, how the windows 7 folder and user folder size increase. Windows have gone fatter and fatter out of control, even my win7 gone from around 10gb to 20gb with tmp folder cleaned.
    I this happens i think it will be a mood killer to a lot people when they have 32gb or 64gb available on tablet. I think It would be interesting to see if performance decreases overtime (like most of the time happens with windows), something that doesnt really happen with android/iOS tablets and if the system folders size continue expand out of control.
    Reply
  • CaedenV - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Win Vista was the king of the bloat. Win7 was smaller than Vista, win8 is smaller than 7, and RT is even smaller than windows 8. The only real big balloons in size were from 3.1 to 95, and then from XP to Vista. I obviously have not played with RT myself, but win8 on the desktop side of things runs pretty smooth on even the most limited of hardware. The slowest thing I have tried it on so far was an old Pentium 4 (no HT), with an ancient 60GB HDD, but I did cram in 2GB of ram. It seems that so long as you have that magic 2GB or more of ram, it will run on just about anything. It even made my old netbook work great, and my slightly newer touch screen netbook really flew (though I was annoyed at the resolution requirements for multitasking and metro apps).

    Anywho, that's my 2 cents.

    Great review Ananad and Vivek!
    Reply
  • MadMan007 - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    He is talking about install size creep, not initial install size. "...even my win7 gone from around 10gb to 20gb with tmp folder cleaned."

    It's a very good question. Hopefully reviewers use these devices for weeks or months and check it out.
    Reply
  • GnillGnoll - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    If that bloat is limited to the winsxs folder, don't worry. Windows creates so-called hardlinks to other files there, such that those files will effectively exist in multiple locations in the folder structure at once. Additional hardlinks only take a small amount of extra space, but they make determining "the size of a folder" tricky, because files no longer uniquely belong to a folder.

    Instead of looking how much the windows folder grows, look at how much space is left.
    Reply
  • plopke - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    i am not really metro pro or metro con since I havent tryed it out yet. but if i look at reviews i can just use my desktop as in windows 7 but I have one particular question about the desktop mode in windows 8 namely how is the old search function from the start menu implemented. I mean 60% of the time i just start stuff from pinned programs on the taskbar but the other 40% of the time I just do the following:

    -windows key , type and launch program/document , this has been for me the fastest , is that still there?

    -and does my fatefull old windows key + E stil work xD?
    Reply
  • cappasay - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Both of what you described, are available in Windows 8. I use them all the time. Reply
  • plopke - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    thank you :) Reply

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