FAQ: All about Windows RT, the OS behind a Microsoft tablet

As branded tablet rumors flourish, we answer questions about Windows RT, Windows 8 and Metro

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Those include a handful of Microsoft-made applications, most notably Office and Internet Explorer 10 (IE10), that run on a "classic" desktop -- a mode and user interface (UI) within Windows RT that Microsoft included largely so it could bundle four Office programs -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote -- with the operating system.

Microsoft's told developers that if they want to sell their wares for Windows RT, they need to redesign -- and recode them -- from the ground up to make "Metro" editions of their software.

Okay, you're starting to lose me, but I'll bite. What's Metro? Although technically the name of the design language Microsoft's applied to a tile- and typography based look-and-feel, it's used most often to label the resulting UI and the apps that run in it. With a few exceptions -- Office, IE10 and a few other Microsoft programs (see above) -- all software that runs on Windows RT are Metro apps.

The name "Metro," by the way, is a reference to its inspiration: public transportation signage like that used in airports, subway systems and other locales.

But I keep hearing about Metro on Windows 8. What gives? Traditional Windows software won't run on Windows RT, but Metro apps run on both RT and Windows 8.

Yeah, it's confusing.

Windows 8 has two "runtimes," or collections of APIs (application programming interfaces), that support both Win32 programs -- the software that's run on earlier editions -- and Metro apps.

Windows RT, on the other hand, boasts just one runtime -- the name of the OS comes from the phrase "Windows Runtime" -- and so runs only Metro apps.

What apps will be included with Windows RT? Microsoft's home-grown Metro apps -- core programs for accessing email, photos, maps and so on -- as well as the four Office apps and IE10.

Microsoft has even said that any e-reading app created by its new partner Barnes & Noble will be distributed via the Windows Store, the sole outlet for Windows RT software.

Although Microsoft hasn't confirmed one way or the other -- it has left tons of questions unanswered at this point -- it appears that OEMs will not be able to pre-install apps on Windows RT devices, as they do now on Windows 7 PCs.

While critics deride the practice as "crapware" and "bloatware," OEMs reportedly make significant revenue from software vendors, who pay the computer makers a percentage of what they receive when customers upgrade from free trial versions to fully-functional editions.

Where will I get Windows RT apps? From the Windows Store. That's the name of Microsoft's app store for Windows RT, and the sole source of Metro apps for Windows 8, too.

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