Windows RT, ugly ducking destined to become a swan.

Microsoft has worked on making mobile products for a long time. I recall trying a Windows CE convertible tablet in our emergency department in the late 90’s. It used a  pen driven screen, ran Citrix, was light and portable. And it never caught on. Computers in clinical areas were still new, they were slow and the user interface, hardware and apps werent optimized for pen and touch. They accepted pen and touch but it was not of the quality we know today.

CE (Compact Edition) was Microsoft’s go to mobility solution for over ten years and saw its last hurrah when it morphed into Windows phone 7. Interestingly, it was the first platform that demonstrated Microsoft’s migration to its current Modern UI but it was never widely publicized as the underlying platform for the new design. But WP 7 was the last release of a Windows CE product. The present iteration of Windows Phone is Windows Phone 8. It was a departure from the CE based WP7. Most users of Windows Phone devices don’t know and don’t care. The user interface remains consistent and  there were clear improvements in features and functionality.  Microsoft used WP7 as a place holder while they worked on a mobile OS that was more closely related to the pending Windows 8 core. Part of this rationale has to do with enabling developers to more easily move applications between three platforms. This means nothing to most of us, including me, who have no idea what it means to develop and build an application let alone a framework in which applications are developed. But it was vital to Microsoft’s goal of a common, closely related product set. Then, into the family comes Windows RT. In this family picture, Windows RT (Run Time) has become the awkward middle child. Despite its modern mobility tuned interface, people “get” Windows, what to do with it and how it works. And as mentioned above, Windows Phone 8 has been a consistent platform to end users for almost 4 years now. Then last year, into this picture comes RT. So where does RT fit into this picture? To care about RT you have to be able to answer a bit of the “Why?” about RT. As an IT professional I care about “Why?” but the average consumer doesn’t. As the IT guy, I would LOVE a more locked down version of Windows that’s lighter, more tightly controlled and brings less exposure to my users and network. Version 1 of RT was geared more to the consumer than the enterprise. News on the recently shown Surface 2 running an updated RT shows this has improved. I’ll review this soon.

6 years. Then you see Windows Phone 7, based on a readily available technology, about 4 years ago introduce the “Metro” or Modern Interface. The two years ago, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8  released using some common components. Then last year Windows RT, designed exclusively for a mobile, tablet form factor type of hardware. So you ask again, where does RT fit into this picture?

I think Micrososft is looking at RT as the long game. They have to keep their base through Windows “Pro” for corporate and legacy support through which they must also migrate the user base to the new UI. As you become comfortable with Win 8 as you look for that second machine or that ultra-portable tablet, RT looks appealing. I’ve experienced the ability to have a common interface and sharing of settings and app contents. The seamless nature of sharing between the systems is really impressive and makes transition between devices easy.

Give me VPN capability and separate work components from personal within the RT OS and suddenly I have a work ready tablet I can provide the enterprise or that I can direct users towards providing a BYOD offering using my current infrastructure. The press and the public are easily confused by this and slightly irritated at Microsoft’s current OS product set as the big picture hasn’t come together.

What Microsoft is building is bigger than an iPad or a Kindle consumer product set. It will take time for that picture to be completed. Of course in the current frenetic tech environment time can be an enemy that costs you market share. I’ve got some Senior Leaders sporting iPads as their secondary device of choice. They have a personal investment in that Apple eco  system. RT becomes another, in their minds, redundant device. That’s a tough position to overcome. The future of RT is uncertain but only in regards to the time it will take to get traction as Microsoft transitions more functionality and apps to the platform. One day we may see Microsoft selling more RT than  Pro. It just wont be this year…or next! p.s. not long after posting this, I came across this link tweeted out by the WM Power user site. It speaks to rumors that Microsoft may look to merge Windows Phone with RT. Of course I would follow this line of thought as a natural extension of what I expressed above. RT has a expanding future in the Microsoft product set and is destined to play an increasingly visible role in the ecosystem.

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