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The Surface and Windows RT: A Philosophical Difference

Part I: Philosophical Differences
The new Microsoft Surface runs Windows RT, a curious product.  It is basically a stripped down version of Windows 8, re-engineered to work on the mobile, low power ARM architecture.  Apple’s iOS and Mac OSX are the closest comparisons to the new Windows Operating Systems. Microsoft has played to their strength by scaling down their desktop operating system, instead of taking the Apple approach in scaling up their mobile phone operating system. This is a philosophical difference that can be seen in their application compatibility.
Microsoft now has three major operating systems: Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone 8.  In today’s marketplace you are presented with a mobile operating system and their tablet counterpart.  The tablet operating systems survive because they can run almost any application written for their mobile phone counterparts. Other products, such as HP’s WebOS and RIM’s Blackberry have failed to penetrate the tablet space the same way Apple and Google have succeeded.  Microsoft recognizes this and attacks the market from a different angle: through the desktop.
Microsoft has purposely made Windows RT identical to Windows 8 and not Windows Phone 8.  In addition, any Windows 8 application written with the new WinRT programming model can be cross compiled to run on Windows RT with the check of a box.  This means the ecosystem will start small but can grow exponentially once developers begin writing applications tailored to Windows 8.  The major drawback of this is that Windows RT will not run any existing desktop applications (typically written using the Win32 driver model). 
The philosophical shift Microsoft has demonstrated is a new, exciting way to look at the tablet space. Despite the architectural similarities between Windows RT and Windows Phone 8, Microsoft has made it clear they want Windows RT applications to be similar to Windows 8.  For years there has been an attempt to push tablet computing from ‘content consumption’ to ‘content creation’ but it has not gained traction.  One of the main reasons is that the most popular productivity suite in the world, Microsoft Office, has not been available in tablet form until now.  If Microsoft can succeed in the tablet space where Android has failed is yet to be seen, but they have positioned Windows RT well in standing on top of the successes of Windows 8 and its new touch friendly environment.

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Brian ODonnell

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