Windows 8 Doesn't Suck, Windows 8 RT Does
3/15/2013 by: Anshel Sag
There has been a lot of hatred for Windows 8 online lately from some poorly informed websites. This hatred is seated in the fact that Microsoft has made some major mistakes in their release of Windows 8 on both the hardware and software front. First, Microsoft focused far too many resources on the development of Windows 8 RT and from our conversations with hardware vendors, neglected the traditional PC market who would make Windows 8 ultimately successful.
Microsoft spent far too much time and effort on trying to make Windows 8 RT work and to launch at the same time as regular Windows 8. The problem with this is that Microsoft only really had two major partners in Windows 8 RT in Qualcomm and Nvidia. These two companies are realistically the only two ARM SoC vendors that are capable of shipping a windows-based tablet running an ARM SoC. Why was Windows 8 RT so important to Microsoft? While we can’t 100% confirm this fact, it was quite clear that Windows 8 RT was Microsoft’s reaction to the Android and iOS growth on ARM devices. Once Microsoft’s most cherished hardware partner, Intel, started to get involved in Android, it became clear that Microsoft needed to expand their operating system’s hardware base. By expanding beyond Intel x86 and AMD x86, Microsoft believed that they could increase their install base to tablets that were running on Qualcomm and Nvidia.
The problem with this strategy is that Microsoft neglected their most experienced partners and eventually ended up causing them not to really be ready until well after the official launch of Windows 8. When Windows 8 launched on October 26th, the real truth was that nobody was really ready. Yes, many of them had products out the door and ready for sale, but many of them ended up releasing rolling updates on the devices with new drivers and firmwares. Additionally, Microsoft quietly did lots of patching on the OS and generally tried to play down the fact that the hardware and drivers simply were not ready yet.
Back in December, we reviewed two Windows 8 tablets, comparing Windows 8 x86 and Windows 8 RT.
Now that Windows 8 has had some time to mature, most of the growing pains for standard versions of Windows 8 have been ironed out. However, Windows 8 RT had greater growing pains than regular Windows 8, and to this point is still suffering from them. Qualcomm was originally chosen by many vendors to be the SoC of choice, but eventually failed to deliver a product that actually worked. There were numerous designs that involved Qualcomm SoCs that simply never materialized as a result of not having mature drivers for Windows. Microsoft even sent a team of engineers down to Qualcomm to help resolve the driver issue just so that they could have a somewhat timely launch.
As a result of this screw up, many companies either ended up going with Nvidia designs and Nvidia’s tablets were touted initially as the best Windows 8 RT tablets. This is partially the reason why we see Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet running an Nvidia Tegra 3 instead of a Qualcomm SoC. If you look at the overall state of Windows 8 RT tablets, you can see that there are basically four Windows 8 RT tablets. Those tablets are: Microsoft Surface RT, Dell XPS 10 Tablet, Samsung ATIV and ASUS VivoTab RT.
Other than those four tablets, everyone else has gone for Intel-based x86 designs. This means that those tablets will have nearly fully app compatibility with apps from Windows 7 and Vista. Furthermore, there is no need to worry about an app store on the part of the manufacturers as they can rely on more apps in the app store for x86 as well as the ability to essentially download any executable from any website and run it and install it. This difference was recently shown in our review of the ASUS VivoTab RT versus the Acer Iconia W510. The Acer runs an Intel chipset, while the ASUS runs an Nvidia chipset. As a result, I could not run apps like Spotify or Chrome on it like I could on the Acer tablet, this ruined the experience. Not to mention, my Windows 8 x86 tablet worked with my network printers while my RT tablet didn't. In my opinion, if Windows wants to compete against Android, iOS and others in the tablet market they have to operate like a desktop would in terms of compatibility but still have an intuitive touch interface.
As we’ve seen from OEMs’ reactions, some of them are simply dropping entire products that involve Windows 8 RT from the US (like Samsung).
Now, looking forward to Windows 8 as a whole, we see that Windows 8 had some fundamental issues in terms of forcing people into a new user interface and making people figure out the new way around Windows. Because of this, Microsoft is effectively throwing away almost 20 years of user experience with essentially the same UI and nobody is happy. Windows 8 is now the de facto new operating system for the majority of PCs but the majority of those PCs are not yet touch enabled. When you take into account that not all computers are touch, while Windows 8 was designed for touch, we already begin to encounter problems. Microsoft, instead, should have enabled an option for OEMs and users to retain their old Windows UI with some features being locked into the new UI. By allowing people to use their desktops as their default UI, they would solve some of people’s biggest gripes about Windows 8.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people complain about the Windows 8 UI when their desktop or laptop was not touch enabled. A simple hardware check on Windows should decide whether or not to enable the new Windows UI. Microsoft’s approach to Windows 8 was too uniform and alienated broad segments of the market that want nothing to do with the new UI. The only thing that we can say here is that we don't necessarily recommend you buy a Windows 8 device unless you have a touch screen or a special touch pad.
Microsoft’s own decision to launch hardware to compete with their customers in the Surface and Surface Pro also didn’t help the Windows 8 situation. Microsoft spent precious resources on building and optimizing their own hardware and drivers instead of helping their customers make sure that they were able to deliver a bug-free, solid experience. As such, many initial Windows 8 devices had lots of driver updates and bug fixes from the get go. Microsoft’s obsession with building their own hardware ultimately may have been what bit them in the ass with Windows 8.
By building their own hardware, Microsoft also made many of their software partners further explore Windows alternatives rather than double down on Windows. Microsoft’s Windows 8 strategy seems like a schizophrenic situation, where by one end they are trying to pull in more hardware partners with Windows 8 RT and on the other, pushing them away by building their own hardware.
Windows 8 is not Microsoft’s best operating system, nor is it their worst. Windows 8 represents a half step of trying to unify mobile with the desktop all while trying to deal with human interfaces like touch and gesture. Microsoft did an admittedly poor job with Windows 8, but they still have a chance to save face with updates and giving users what they want (like a start button). Will the fix Windows 8 or just release a new version quicker than usual? Time will tell.
Windows 8, Win 8, Windows, Win 8 RT, Windows 8 RT, Android, Enterprise, Apps, Compatibility, Productivity, SoC, ASUS, VivoTab, VivoTab RT, Acer, Iconia W510, W510, Converible, Keyboard, Battery, USB
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