Microsoft defends Windows RT. Did it do more harm than good?

Windows RT has taken a lot of hits lately, ranging from multiple hardware partners to analysts, with some calling for Microsoft to abandon the troubled operating system. Now Microsoft has come out in a full-throated defense. But some of what Microsoft said may make things worse, not better, for RT.

In an interview with CNet, Michael Angiulo, corporate vice president, Windows Planning, Hardware & PC Ecosystem says that Microsoft won't be abandoing RT:

"It was a ton of work for us and we didn't do the work and endure the disruption for any reason other than the fact that there's a strategy there that just gets stronger over time.

"Looking at things now like power performance and standby time and passive [fanless] form factors. When we launched Windows 8, it was really competitive with a full-sized iPad. A lot of that was made possible by the ARM [chip] architecture."

Later on, he takes on the main criticism of RT, that because it's not full-blown Windows 8, it can't run Desktop applications:

"People are talking about legacy desktop software not running, but they don't think about the customer benefit of only running modern apps. The only apps that you install from the Windows store are the kind, that as a customer, you can manage your rights to.

"Let's say you drop that PC in a pool. Well, you get a new one and then you just redownload [the apps]. That's the kind of model people are used to with a phone or tablet today. I can maintain all the apps in the [Microsoft] store and reset with a single switch.

"So, on Windows RT, the user experience stays consistent over time. That's a big benefit. And as the number of apps grow in the store, that value promise only gets stronger."

There are plenty of holes in his argument, aside from the ludicrous example of someone dropping his PC in a pool. The biggest is that with Windows 8, all of your "modern" apps (apps that used to be called Metro apps) will also redownload if there's a problem with your PC. That capability is not unique to Windows RT.

The second hole is the idea that you're better off without the choice of running Desktop applications if you want. If you're better off not being allowed to run Desktop applications, why does Microsoft allow Windows 8 to do it?

Angiulo has also done RT some harm. One of RT's biggest problems is that people are confused about what it is, and how it's different from Windows 8. Many don't realize that when they buy a Windows RT tablet, it's not actually Windows 8, and won't run Desktop applications. Mike Abary, Samsung senior vice president in charge of the PC and tablet businesses in the United States, has complained about that, and says Microsoft has done a very poor job of educating consumers. Back in January he said that's why Samsung has cancelled plans to sell an RT tablet in the U.S.:

"There wasn't really a very clear positioning of what Windows RT meant in the marketplace, what it stood for relative to Windows 8, that was being done in an effective manner to the consumer. When we did some tests and studies on how we could go to market with a Windows RT device, we determined there was a lot of heavy lifting we still needed to do to educate the customer on what Windows RT was. And that heavy lifting was going to require pretty heavy investment. When we added those two things up, the investments necessary to educate the consumer on the difference between RT and Windows 8, plus the modest feedback that we got regarding how successful could this be at retail from our retail partners, we decided maybe we ought to wait."

In his interview, Angiulo confused Windows 8 with Windows RT. He said, "When we launched Windows 8, it was really competitive with a full-sized iPad." But he was referring at that point to Windows RT, not Windows 8, because he was talking about an operating system running on ARM chips.

If a corporate vice president can't clearly differentiate between Windows 8 and Windows RT, how will consumers?

This is one more example of why Windows RT is likely headed for failure. Acer won't likely release an RT tablet, and an IDC report estimates that Windows RT will have only 1.9% of tablet market share in 2013, and by 2017 will only grow to 2.7% of the market. And recently, Alex Gauna, an analyst at JMP Securities LLC said this to Bloomberg about the RT-based Surface sales:

"It's pretty clear that things were bad entering the year, and at least for the moment they're getting worse. The path to a successful Surface, in the same way that they were successful with Xbox, is not very clear to me right now."

It's not clear to me, either, or to most people outside of Microsoft. And if what Anguilo told CNet is the best that Microsoft has to offer in RT's defense, that's not likely to change.

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