Handheld Devices

Microsoft downplays 'RT' and hides the desktop on its Surface tablets

When tech punditry got its first look at the Surface tablets back in June 2012, most tech observers believed calling the new tablet "Surface with Windows RT" was a bad idea. Not only did it sound terrible, but it all but guaranteed to confuse consumers used to dealing with just one flavor of Windows.

Microsoft mercifully started calling the tablet Surface RT, as did everyone else. Even so, Surface RT was still stuck with a fundamental problem. It offered a version of Windows 8 that looked like Windows 8, but wasn't. Unlike its x86-based cousin, Windows RT shipped with a handicapped desktop that could only run Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office and do little else.

Microsoft is finally making moves to rectify what it should have done in the first place: Remove or at least downplay the existence of the desktop on Windows RT.

We saw the first step of that approach when Microsoft recently introduced the RT-based Surface 2 without the RT moniker. But it appears Microsoft is going even further than that. The original Surface RT, which is still being sold, is now simply called Surface.

What's more, if you look closely at Microsoft's Website for Surface and Surface 2 you'll see the desktop tile is missing from the Start Screen, as recently noted by The Verge. Instead, you get tiles for apps from the Microsoft Office suite.

You'll still land on the desktop by tapping an Office tile, but Microsoft appears to be making it a little bit harder to land on the desktop in RT. This is a very smart move for Microsoft. The company may have finally come to its senses and realized that a hobbled traditional desktop that can't run legacy apps doesn't belong on an ARM machine.

For now, Windows 8 and 8.1 RT users are stuck with the desktop since Microsoft uses Office as one of the Surface's major selling points. That will change over time, however, as Microsoft says modern UI versions of Office are coming--we just don't know when.

But the success of Windows RT devices won't just depend on banishing the desktop to avoid consumer confusion. The OS also needs a healthy app store that can compete with Android and iOS tablets. That, as always, is the biggest hurdle any competitor to Apple and Google has to overcome.

Nevertheless, downplaying and perhaps one day removing the desktop from RT tablets is the right decision. Now, if only we could get Microsoft to dump the Windows 8.1 Start screen from non-touchscreen PCs ...


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