What’s the difference between Windows 8 and Windows RT?
Posted: 22nd Oct 2012
This Friday Microsoft launches Windows 8, the most radical shake up of its operating system since Windows 95 introduced the Start menu and desktop look that has defined computing ever since.
But that’s not all that’s happening on Friday. Microsoft is also launching its tablet operating system, Windows RT, which it will use to compete against Apple’s popular iPad and Google’s Android slates.
Designed for the same low power mobile hardware and touchscreens as the iPad and Android tablets, Windows RT is fast, power efficient and looks to have the same sort of thriving app ecosystem for everything from 3D games to quirky utility apps like guitar tuners and so on. Windows RT will power Microsoft’s own Surface tablets.
There is, however, some degree of confusion as to the differences between Windows RT and Windows 8 – which as tech site The Verge reported last week is even throwing up problems for Microsoft employees selling hardware that runs the two operating systems.
So here’s what you need to know.
Windows RT will power Microsoft’s own Surface tablets
Windows RT is designed for tablets. It has a new tile-based interface, similar to the one on Windows phones, which presents application launchers as squares or rectangles capable of showing live details from the app they represent.
So a news app launcher might display the latest headlines, while an email one will show recent messages and so on.
Microsoft calls this its ‘Modern User Interface’ or Modern UI. Apps designed for the Modern UI run on the same battery saving ARM processors as the iPad and Android tablets, and run in full screen mode or side by side without things like maximise and minimise buttons from the familiar Windows desktop.
You install new apps by visiting the Microsoft Store, which is similar to the App Store from Apple or Google’s Play, except laid out like the dashboard from an Xbox 360. There’s some very funky features in Windows RT too – like a built in music client that is virtually identical to popular streaming app Spotify.
The most important thing you need to remember is that Windows RT cannot run existing Windows applications. Nothing from Windows 7 will work on RT, and while there may be alternatives – a Windows RT version of PhotoShop seems likely, for example – they won’t be the same and they will cost extra.
Where things get confusing is that Windows 8 contains everything that’s in Windows RT, and is based around the same Modern UI launcher screen, but it also has the traditional desktop tucked away inside.
Under Windows 8, the desktop is treated as just another app in the Modern UI launcher, which also replaces the Start menu and button as the primary way for getting around. You can switch between the traditional multitasking desktop, for example, and a Windows RT app just by calling up a special taskbar or going back to the Modern UI launcher.
Because it has a the traditional desktop in, and because it’s written for standard laptop and desktop processors from Intel and AMD, Windows 8 can run almost every existing Windows application and game. You’ll be able to install them from DVD or downloadable .exe files just as you can now.
Windows 8 won’t necessarily be more expensive or less touch friendly than Windows RT either.
There will be budget netbooks running Windows 8, and manufacturers like Lenovo, Samsung, ASUS and Acer are lining up new types of laptop that can switch between tablet or desktop behaviour depending on whether you need a full desktop environment or just want to check your mail.
This is really the most interesting part of Windows 8. If Microsoft gets it right, the laptop will suddenly look very old fashioned.
You can even upgrade existing PCs and laptops to Windows 8, for as little as £14.99 for a recent machine. You can’t upgrade a current machine to Windows RT, however, which is only available on a new device.
Everything clear now?
There is, of course, one more thing you need to take into account before you purchase a Windows 8 or Windows RT tablet. Remember those Surface branded tablets we mentioned earlier? There’s actually two of them.
One will be a good value Windows RT device, which is functionally identical to an iPad, and the other is a more expensive slate with a laptop processor allowing it to run the full version of Windows 8.
Windows 8 and Windows RT are both shaping up to be revolutionary operating systems that will herald a new era of portable computing and change the way we use laptops, tablets and ultimately other technology forever. Just don’t get confused into buying the wrong one.
You might also like to read:
- Microsoft Surface UK prices revealed
- Microsoft Surface Office 2013 and Surface 2 details
- Microsoft Surface tablet: data and peripherals revealed
- Microsoft Surface tablet: everything you need to know
- Windows 8 is here and we look at 10 of the top new things to look out for…