You really have to wonder how successful the Windows RT tablets -- those running on ARM-based chips -- will be on the market. Legacy x86 applications will not be able to run or be ported to the devices (says both Microsoft and Intel). Older printers and cameras may not even work as drivers are currently compatible with only x86 chips, and device makers will likely be reluctant to write drivers for a new architecture. As it stands now, not one manufacturer has announced a Windows RT tablet.
Intel CEO Paul Otellini on Thursday took at chance at driving home this outlook at the company's investor meeting in Santa Clara, California. Naturally Intel has the advantage over ARM because Windows essentially grew up using its x86 processors. Legacy software will be able to run on tablets sporting Intel's low-power Atom x86/x64 "Clover Trail" chips, a detail that will be highly important to CIOs looking to incorporate new Windows 8 tablets.
That said, ARM has a long, hard journey ahead. "We think it's a differentiator," said Otellini. "We have the advantage of the incumbency, the legacy support. There's going to be some compatibility issues for other architectures."
But Microsoft, in its effort to tackle Apple and it's highly-popular iPad, is trying to break into the tablet sector on two fronts. It's working with ARM-based chip makers Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments to bring Windows 8 compatibility to tablets and PCs. The company is even throwing in basic native Office apps as an incentive to purchase a Windows RT teblet -- Microsoft Office will not be included with the x86/x64 tablets sporting Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro.
Yet despite Windows RT's shortcomings, consumers who purchase an x86/x64-based tablet won't simply be able to install old software and load it up as if it were fresh out of the box. Otellini said that users will be required to press a button on the device that will put the new OS into legacy Windows mode "for those who need an older user interface." But he also added that the Windows 8 tablets on Intel chips provide a snappy response.
Still, it seems that Windows RT tablets may have a hard time getting consumers to bite. It may boil down to what these devices can offer -- outside the Office apps -- that will be unique to the platform. One incentive may be the ability to run Android apps in a somewhat native environment given the majority of Android phone SoC's are based on ARM's architecture. Unfortunately, straight porting won't be possible. Offering lower price points than the Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro models should also be an incentive to buy.