Why Windows RT is hurtling toward disaster

Can Windows RT ever pull back from the brink after a disastrous CES for the ARM-powered operating system?

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In other words, Windows RT tablets are burdened by all the limitations of Windows on ARM, but the supposed energy and cost advantages are disappearing rapidly.

Samsung's crushing body blow to Windows RT was followed by two solid right hooks from AMD and Intel at CES. AMD spent the week showing off its "Temash" tablet system-on-a-chip, which sports full DirectX 11.1 compatibility, thanks to its Radeon graphics cores. Both Temash and "Bay Trail"--Intel's Clover Trail successor, allegedly offering twice as much performance as Intel's current tablet-focused processor--will appear in tablets in the second half of 2013.

That's still a long way off, but expect Intel and AMD's new chips to eat into ARM's alleged advantages even further when they do pop up, running the full-blown version of Windows 8 all the while.

Rope-a-dope or just a dope?

But--but--even though Windows RT is all but dead in the water right now, that doesn't mean it's necessarily gone for good. Ironically, Windows RT's closest ally in its fight for survival is Windows 8 itself.

The biggest flaw of Windows RT is its reliance on those poorly named Windows 8 apps, and the Windows Store is currently almost as devoid of value as Windows RT's vestigial desktop. But if Microsoft can woo customers to Windows 8 in earth-moving numbers, developers are sure to follow, bringing shiny new live tile-compatible apps along with them. And these apps, lest we forget, work just as well on Windows RT tablets as they do on Windows 8 devices running proper x86 processors.

In other words, the widespread adoption of Windows 8 can only help Windows RT in the long run. If the Windows Store expands to its full potential over time, Windows RT's useless desktop could be much less of a deal-breaker than it is now, making the ARM-powered OS more of the iPad contender it so desperately wants to be. Time should also bridge the gulf between x86- and ARM-based processors, as Intel and AMD continue to increase the energy efficiency of their chips while ARM introduces beefier core designs, such as the Cortex-A15 found in Nvidia's new quad-core Tegra 4.

Can Windows 8 prop up the Windows ecosystem long enough to give Windows RT a fighting chance for survival? Despite tales of woe about Windows 8 adoption and anxious hand-wringing about the health of traditional PCs in general, new numbers from Gartner put computer sales in proper perspective.

The information technology research firm estimates that nearly 353 million laptops and desktops were sold in 2012, although shipments did taper off a bit in the holiday season compared with past years. Even if the industry continues its slight decline in 2013, Windows 8 will ship in hundreds of millions of computers throughout the year, with the unfamiliar modern UI becoming oh-so-familiar to many.

The real $1.5 billion question isn't whether Windows 8 can generate market share. Instead, the question is, Does Microsoft need ARM whatsoever if AMD and Intel can continue to deliver affordable, energy-sipping processors? All other things being equal, there's no reason to opt for Windows RT over Windows 8 and its fully functional desktop. That lack of backwards compatibility may just spell the end of Windows RT in the long run--assuming, that is, that Microsoft doesn't ditch the desktop entirely in the basic version of Windows 9.

This story, "Why Windows RT is hurtling toward disaster" was originally published by PCWorld.

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