Please RT: Microsoft tries to save the future of Windows
Does anyone care about Windows RT? The beleaguered operating system has been shunned by manufacturers and consumers alike because of its convoluted interface that even Microsoft employees have difficulty understanding and explaining to potential customers. Now Microsoft is reportedly planning on reducing the cost of the operating system in an attempt to convince someone outside of its own headquarters that Windows RT is worth, well, anything.
Windows RT should have been an easy sell. It was the first version of Windows designed specifically for tablets and provided the base for the Surface tablet, which was meant to show that Microsoft could adapt to an industry defined by touchscreens and tablets instead of mice and computer towers. Microsoft used Windows RT as a platform off of which it could reinvent itself as a devices and services company and, while it was doing so, prepare the world for a new Windows. The only problem is that, based on the many reviews of Windows 8, Windows RT, and the devices they power, as well as the much-discussed decline of the traditional PC industry, we aren't quite ready for Microsoft's vision of the future.
There are few Windows RT devices available. Samsung and Acer have both spoken out against the operating system, saying that they aren't sure whether the market is ready for a windowless Windows. HTC recently canceled plans for a 10-inch Windows RT tablet because "it cost too much and demand for RT machines has been weak," according to Bloomberg. Purchasing a Surface tablet -- the one that doesn't run Windows 8 -- is probably the only sure-fire way to find a Windows RT device in most major retailers, and even they have proven unpopular. Windows RT is probably the only operating system bearing the Windows name that hasn't powered countless barely-differentiated devices from every computer manufacturer -- even Windows Vista, a widely-derided version of the OS, proved to be more popular.
Compare that with Windows 8, which recently matched Windows 7 as the fastest-selling operating system in history and is used to power everything from all-in-one PCs to ultrabooks and hybrid devices that can function as tablets and notebook PCs. Windows RT has been panned by critics and largely ignored by manufacturers and consumers; Windows 8 has been received slightly better and performed about as well as you'd expect from a new version of Windows. And what does Windows 8 do better than Windows RT? Well, really, it simply makes it easier to pretend that Microsoft never overhauled Windows' interface and instead released another vanilla update to the platform. That, by its very nature, means that Windows 8 can't be the future of Windows.
Windows RT comes closer to fitting the bill. If Microsoft were to make the operating system more user-friendly and prevent it from bouncing users between its new interface and the "traditional" desktop seemingly at random it would come even closer to what the company intended when it redesigned Windows. It would also make Windows look and behave more like the Xbox One, which has become an increasingly important aspect of Microsoft's business. Microsoft wants to become a devices and services company, and recognized the need to develop products and platforms that didn't simply add more complexity or small updates to the Windows created so many years ago.
Reducing the cost of licensing Windows RT probably won't make it more popular to manufacturers, especially not while Windows 8 is available. But that doesn't mean that something like Windows RT isn't the future of Microsoft. Windows 8 is very clearly a stop-gap between Windows 7 and whatever the company decides to name its next operating system, and the one after that, and so on. Microsoft has offered us a glimpse at its vision for the future of computing with Windows RT, the Xbox One, and Windows Phone -- now it simply needs to make that vision a reality. Or it could continue to develop products that look the same as their predecessors even as the devices, services, and software we use continue to change at an increasingly fast pace, because that's worked out really well so far.