Microsoft has chosen its first batch of hardware partners for Windows RT, but they're not going to be making only tablets. On Monday, the technology giant said that Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and Samsung will be releasing RT ARM-based devices, including PCs, with initial launches coming later this year.
Microsoft itself is releasing the Surface RT tablet, and Asus announced in June its Tablet 600, a hybrid laptop-notebook. Conspicuously absent from the initial RT roster are such longtime Microsoft hardware partners as HP and Acer.
Not Just for Tablets
The launch of RT devices is creating some nervousness among potential partners because the Microsoft Office suite offered for the RT operating system will reportedly not be the full-featured package of apps. That fact alone could dramatically affect RT's reception in the business market.
Another factor causing concern is that, while Windows RT appears to be optimized for ARM-based and touch-optimized devices such as tablets, Microsoft is also indicating that ARM-based PCs are on their way.
On Monday, Windows head Steven Sinofsky posted on the MSDN Blogs an update on the company's efforts "to collaborate across the ecosystem in bringing new Windows RT PCs to market." He added that "Windows RT is not just for tablet form factors," as many of us had understood, but will include PCs with full keyboards and touchpads.
He noted that, in previous posts, the company has pointed out that Windows RT and Windows 8 share "significant code" and that the new Windows versions will offer opportunities to "bring to life a new generation of PCs with new capabilities, starting with ARM-based processors."
'Not Necessarily in a Good Way'
Sinofsky also said that Windows RT PCs will have been "designed and manufactured expressly for Windows RT," rather than retrofitted, and that Windows RT will not be sold or distributed independently of an RT PC.
He noted that the RT PCs will share certain attributes, including "fast and fluid touch interactions," long battery life, connected standby where a PC is always on and connected, and "beautiful, thin, and light designs."
We asked Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, how the landscape was beginning to look for the ARM- and Intel-based versions of Windows.
He said that the RT strategy is "really interesting, but not necessarily in a good way." Greengart noted that a variety of confusing or unresolved issues have already presented themselves, such as the fact that RT will not be backwards compatible with Windows apps or that "the feature completeness of the Microsoft Office that ships with RT is not clear."
What Should Mom Buy?
There are also questions, he noted, about whether all RT laptops will have touch screens -- which would appear to be needed, since RT is primarily designed for touch-based devices, such as tablets. There will be a desktop mode in RT, but, as Greengart noted, it's unlikely that "developers of RT apps will be expecting a mouse and keyboard."
He also pointed out other unknowns, like prices and specs, or how buyers will make the choice between a Windows RT, ARM-based laptop and a Windows 8, Intel-based laptop.
"About two months out from the launch of Windows 8," Greengart said, "and I still don't know what I'd recommend my mother should buy."