So nobody loves Windows RT? Or do they?


Well, Surface RT has been out for almost three months now. The lack of any tom-tomming of Surface sales by Microsoft, compounded with @Stevesi’s abrupt departure from MS and the withdrawal of some OEM vendors from the RT market (notably Samsung) has everyone speculating that Surface RT and Windows RT is going to die an early death. There is apparently no market for a tablet that costs more than what Apple charges for its iPad. Yet here I am typing this out on a Surface RT with not a dime spent of additional software or hardware! Fact being that I would have never owned an iPad had my previous company not gifted it to me.

There are apparently not enough Apps and Games for the RT and yet my 6yo son fights for the @Surface to play his latest favorite ‘Agent P Strikes Back’ because it’s not available on the iPad. Our iPad is a little battered and sometimes choses to go to ‘locked’ mode automatically! But the point I make is there are good games already and it’s been 3 months only with the platform.

There is this crazy endeavor to run x86 programs on the RT and looks like people are getting somewhere with it. Not quite sure why! Apart from drivers I barely miss much, for nitty gritties read on.

The feeling I get is, essentially people don’t like Microsoft Windows to be like iOS!!! They like the fact that it is ‘tinkerable’ with its warts and all. The only people grumbling are the tech bloggers and self-proclaimed experts.

A Nascent Platform with flaws NOT a flawed Platform

It’s not that Window RT does not have its flaws, there are more than I can possible blog about. Even as a gaming platform, with under-utilized hardware Windows RT has some way to go. The game ‘Where is my Water’ flickers horribly when you use more than one touch point. Even though some people have mentioned that the ‘Candy Monster’ game is unplayable, I just downloaded it and it works pretty okay. Overall, I think those cores could be better utilized.

The battery life could be much better.

Some genius thought the ‘Windows Button’+’Lower volume’ should take screen shots but ‘Increase volume’ should turn on Narrator! Grr… Had to switch off Narrator completely.

Then there is the whole footprint issue. At ~13Gb to start off with it’s just too big for a mobile platform. It can and should be much much lighter and smaller! Updates are still 100+Mb. While I don’t complain of frequency of updates, a new platform getting 100+ MB updates simply points to ‘old baggage’ it’s still carrying.

Driver Support: I’ve heard some strange stories about drivers being pulled out because of MS pressure and devices like my HP Printer that was less than 6 months old when Windows RT came out not having driver support. Ditto with broadband wifi dongle support, shockingly NO dongles are officially supported!!! This is probably one area Microsoft’s engineering team should be working the hardest. Get basic drivers out for every conceivable device. I have not done Driver development and I am not sure if this is even possible but all I know is my iPad can print to the printer without ANY software apart from the OS support, but my Surface can’t.

What’s wrong with the damn Desktop

People have this weird love-hate relationship with the desktop. On Windows 8 they can’t live with the Tiled Launcher, on Windows RT they can’t look at the Desktop! This is probably the only reason why both are present in both the flavors. To make everyone happy. Hal Berenson had the best extrapolation of Microsoft’s plan with Windows RT where everything will be Tiled in the ‘near future’. The comments thread on that post is incredibly interesting.

My take is that change from Desktop to FullScreen apps will take time. It’s like going from MS DOS to Windows. It took a very long time for enterprise software to move that way. However, windows Store apps may never see the heydays for desktop apps because everyone has moved to the Web and Desktop remains a niche for Developers/Designers and professionals doing Audio/Video and of course mobile (tablet) games. This niche’s requirements haven’t been completely thought through by Microsoft themselves. Metro Design philosophy has managed to stripdown the kludge of desktop design but has not provided alternatives to some of the things it has taken away. For example the ‘Modern UI Folder Picker’ doesn’t have the ‘New Folder’ option and cramps me up every time I want to save an attachment. There are examples like this everywhere you look trying to build a complex app.

The Modern UI is a fresh start for more contemporary style of interaction that involves touch/keyboard/mouse and pen. Microsoft is still to flesh out the complete UI story for it and I suspect it will be the Office team who will take a first stab at it. Right now I am working on Office RT and it looks like this

If I didn’t have the old Taskbar no one would know it’s a desktop app and not a modern full screen app. So basically a lot of Touch centric work has already gone into Office, they need to now compile to the WinRT runtime (which I know personally is a non-trivial task). Once the Office team comes out with Modern UI Office, we will have a complete blueprint of how to do full featured Modern UI apps that will sound the death knell for the traditional desktop as we know it today. Till then UI innovation will be driven by individual brilliance based on the current tepid ‘best practices’ and templates that have come with the development tools.

Now What?

Well, like Hal I am not writing off Windows RT. I am definitely in love with the Surface RT. It provides the correct amount of functionality at the outer limits of my spend capacity for such a device. I am sure knocking $150 off in the price I paid ($599 for 32Gb+TouchKeyboard) will make it very very attractive to a broader segment. Especially now that the OEMs have withdrawn it’s time for Microsoft to go full throttle on the device.

I really hope Windows RT continues to be developed as a platform, if not for as radical a reason as Hal suggests, atleast for the original premise of being a lighter yet functional version of Windows on ARM platform.

To be honest I am not as excited about the Surface Pro. Whatever the reason for its price point, I am still not sure I want to spend that many $$$ for something that may or may-not be able to replace a current generation laptop. Well, end of January ’13 my Mac Book Pro would have done 3 years and I am due for hardware upgrade either later this year or early next year, we’ll see where the Surface family is at that point and take it from there. Till then I am going to wring the last byte out of my Surface RT J and look forward to Windows RT becoming a leaner meaner and more capable mobile/tablet computing platform!!!

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