At the Dell World conference in Austin, Texas, Dell’s vice chairman and president of its PC business, Jeffrey Clarke, told analysts that he warned Steve Ballmer against using the Windows brand on ARM-based hardware.
According to Clarke, he told Ballmer that the "Windows" brand was meant to signify that a Microsoft x86-based operating system was compatible with current and previous Windows applications. Because Windows RT isn't based on x86 and can't run Windows applications, then the OS should be renamed. Even more, the Windows RT label will only lead to confusion.
Ballmer's response? The Windows brand was too important a franchise to not be used with the ARM-based version of Microsoft's new OS.
Now two months out, customer confusion has already begun. Critics point out that Windows RT looks so much like its x86-based counterpart that it's hard to distinguish the difference. Because of this confusion, Microsoft has reportedly relaxed its return policies for its Surface RT tablet because customers purchased the device thinking they could run their Windows-based software.
For those just tuning in, Windows RT runs on System-on-Chips (SoC) based on ARM's architecture. These mobile chips are manufactured by Qualcomm, Nvidia and Texas Instruments and typically used in tablets and smartphones. The Windows we've come to know and love over the years runs on x86-based processors supplied by AMD and Intel. Almost all Windows apps are written for the latter x86-based processors.
However both Windows 8 Pro (x86) and Windows RT (ARM) can run Windows 8 "Modern UI" apps. The catch is that these apps must ported to the Windows RT platform if they're not already designed for the platform separately. Unfortunately, not all Windows 8 apps are crossing over into the Windows RT realm, reportedly causing even more compatibility issues.
Still, according to Neil Hand, the vice president in charge of Dell’s tablet business, whether Microsoft has called its ARM-based OS Windows RT or something else, Dell would still have been required to educate customers on the difference between the two versions.
"Making sure we educate the market place on the differences was going to be a necessary action no matter what. Just calling it something different is not going to solve the problem," Hand told The Australian Financial Review.
He said that looking ahead, consumers will see lighter, thinner, smaller Windows RT devices than what they'll see in a full Intel architecture. Maybe eventually this is where consumers will notice a difference: in the hardware itself. They'll know that a small, lightweight device isn't made to run their heavy Windows applications.
"Don’t get me wrong. I believe that Windows 8 is very important. In the business world (Intel compatibility) makes a big difference," Hand said. "But as you cross into consumer land, the trade-off of size, weight, performance and price [allow you to] get a little bit more aggressive with ARM-based solutions. I think there’s a future for RT."