Windows RT and Surface RT tablets

Windows RT is the special version of Windows 8 that runs Microsoft Surface RT tablets and a few tablets from other manufacturers. When eight inch Windows 8 mini-tablets appear soon, they will be running Windows RT.

There are some good reasons to consider a Windows RT tablet instead of an iPad or Android tablet – and there was an announcement about Outlook this week that makes them particularly tempting if you want a tablet for business or law. More about that below.


Windows RT looks and works exactly like Windows 8 on a computer, with a couple of advantages and one big disadvantage.

The advantages are: Windows RT tablets cost less than a tablet or laptop with the full version of Windows; they’re built on the ARM processors designed for low power consumption, so the battery lasts far longer than Intel-based tablets or notebooks; and they’re thinner and lighter and run cooler than conventional Windows-based devices.

The disadvantage is that you can’t install Windows desktop programs on a Windows RT tablet. It’s so tempting! The Windows RT desktop looks just like the desktop in any version of Windows. It’s not. You can install new full-screen apps from the Windows Store (and there are more of those all the time), but downloaded .EXE and setup files won’t run. No Chrome, no iTunes, no Acrobat, no (fill in the blank).

It’s all about managing expectations. You’re in the store comparing an iPad, an Android tablet, and a Surface RT tablet. You know what? You can’t install Windows desktop apps on any of them. It’s not actually a very good reason to reject the Surface RT tablet. You might decide that you want to stay in the Apple ecosystem for the incredibly rich variety of apps, or you might decide to sink more deeply into Google’s clutches.

Or you might decide to get the one that comes with Microsoft Office. At the moment, that’s one of the competitive advantages for the Surface RT.


Windows RT - Outlook coming soon

Windows RT tablets come with Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote – full versions that are virtually identical to the regular Windows versions.

This week Microsoft announced that Outlook will be included with the upcoming new version of Windows RT. Later this month Microsoft will release a preview version of Windows 8.1, and the final version will arrive around August or September. At that time, all Windows 8 and Windows RT users will receive the Windows 8.1 upgrade for free. (I’ll have much, much more to tell you about Windows 8.1 in the next few months.) Outlook RT will automatically be installed on all Windows RT tablets as part of the update.

If your files are stored in Skydrive, you can open, edit and save them on a Surface RT tablet in exactly the same way you would on a more expensive Windows 8 tablet or notebook. I can work with my client files on my Surface RT just as effectively as I can on my Thinkpad notebook. (Right now that requires an online connection but Windows 8.1 will also bring deeper Skydrive integration so Skydrive files can be synced and stored on Windows RT tablets and accessed offline.)

At one time there was a question about whether the version of Office included with Surface RT tablets was technically licensed for business use. According to Microsoft, business use is allowed if you also have one of a wide variety of Office licenses for a computer: “Office Home & Student 2013 RT is licensed for non-commercial use. Commercial use rights are provided automatically when the Windows RT device is used as a companion device by the primary user of a device licensed for Office 2013 volume license or qualifying Office 365 offerings which includes Office 365 ProPlus, Office 365 Small Business Premium, Office 365 Midsize Business, and Office 365 Enterprise E3/E4.”


Microsoft is starting to promote the business advantages of the Windows platform in general, and Windows 8 in particular, as it tries to overcome the natural reluctance of enterprises to adopt something that requires a bit of adjustment for users.

As part of that effort, Microsoft released a new white paper that takes a close look at the position that Windows RT can take in enterprises. Some of it doesn’t apply directly to very small businesses but there are still some surprisingly strong arguments to make in favor of Windows RT over iPads and Android tablets. It starts with some cautionary notes:

“Devices that run Windows RT excel at mobility, and are instantly on and always connected. They can also run newly-developed Windows Store apps. But they are not designed for heavy workloads; they cannot run existing desktop applications; they cannot join Active Directory domains or be managed using Group Policy; and they have more limited corporate network access capabilities. As a result, Windows RT devices typically will not be used in enterprises in the same broad scenarios as Windows 8 devices which have robust enterprise capabilities.”

All of the highlighted items apply just as equally to iPads and Android tablets, which are also not able to be joined to domains or centrally managed with Group Policy. The rest of the paper focuses on what Windows RT can do for businesses, which turns out to be quite a bit.

  –  They offer a consistent experience for Windows 8 users, along with synced settings and files to make setup easier.

  –  “Connected Standby” mode allows them to wake up from sleep instantly with up-to-date mail folders and other synced items, while using virtually no power during sleep.

  –  Windows RT tablets support multiple user accounts, potentially a big point of differentiation from other tablets.

  –  Windows RT is built with a new kind of driver support that ensures broad support for most mouse, keyboard, printer, camera, scanner, smartcard, Bluetooth, and storage devices.

  –  Security is baked deeply into the system.

Although the Windows Store does not have the variety of apps that is available for iPads, there is enough for Surface tablets to be very nice consumption devices, too – Netflix and Hulu and Kindle and Plex and magazines and an increasingly tempting selection of games and more.

There is one more thing for offices running Small Business Server 2008 or 2011 Essentials, or Server 2012 Essentials: Surface RT tablets can log into the server portal and start a remote session with an office computer. That means the office desktop appears on the Surface, just as if you’re sitting at the office, with full access to all programs and all office resources. The only requirement is that the session is started from the desktop version of Internet Explorer; the remote desktop session fails if you start from the full-screen Internet Explorer app. Personally, I turn off that full-screen IE app on my Windows 8 devices anyway.


Interested? Microsoft is having a sale! Buy a Surface RT tablet before June 30 and you can get a free keyboard, the equivalent of knocking $129 off the price. Get the 64Gb version for $599 (the 32Gb version doesn’t have enough free space), and choose the Type cover. The Touch cover is thinner and pretty good, but the Type cover is a knockout, as comfortable and fast as a laptop keyboard.

Give it some thought before you reach reflexively for an iPad. Settling into the Windows 8 ecosystem is getting easier and more tempting all the time.

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