Upgrade or Doorstop ? Windows RT and Windows 10

Yesterday’s Windows 10 event left a lot of information on the table to parse through. Amongst the news provided was around upgrade paths for users on Windows 7, 8, and Windows Phone 8.1 devices. For the first year anyone wanting to move up to Windows 10 can do so for free. And that upgrade will include upgrades and support for the lifetime of that device.

Cool right? But what about devices running Windows RT? This is where it gets complicated.

Now as I write this at least two articles, one by Kevin C. Tofel GigaOM and one by Tom Warren The Verge, are writing the obituaries for the Windows version built for ARM devices. The reason is it wasn’t listed on the board when Windows chief Terry Myerson talked about pricing. When asked specifically about Windows RT a Microsoft spokesperson said, quoting the Verge,

We are working on an update for Surface, which will have some of the functionality of Windows 10. More information to come.

Now on the face of it this does mean ARM based Surfaces and other Windows RT devices (from Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and Samsung) won’t get the Windows 10 we saw on Wednesday. But they are getting an update, so what does it all mean?

I am going to take the  contrarian view on RT’s death; partly because it got combined essentially into Windows Phone. However another reason is that the device running Windows RT are outliers in the dividing line of Windows 10. Let me explain, Windows 10 splits the version a user gets depending on screen size; the version that ran on RT devices has now been reassigned to small tablets under 8 inches and phones. Most RT devices in the market are mid size (10-11.6) making the new ARM SKU a no go.

My best guess based on what has been said is Microsoft is preparing a SKU that will fit RT devices. It won’t be Windows 10 but close enough to get said features. However if I am right this version will probably feel like Windows Phone 7.8; the stop gap provided when Windows Phone made the cut from Windows CE.

Now Microsoft could well kill it off but I’m not sure they want to leave these users hanging.

I just don’t want to hear the bitching.

UPDATE 1/23/2015: So Paul Thurrott has posted his own opinion on the matter (he asked the question about the update during the Q&A afterwards). Also Microsoft added this to the Windows 10 page:

It is our intent that most of these devices will qualify, but some hardware/software requirements apply and feature availability may vary by device. Devices must be connected to the internet and have Windows Update enabled. ISP fees may apply. Windows 7 SP1 and Windows 8.1 Update required. Some editions are excluded: Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise, and Windows RT/RT 8.1. Active Software Assurance customers in volume licensing have the benefit to upgrade to Windows 10 Enterprise outside of this offer. We will be sharing more information and additional offer terms in coming months.

I also wanted to add something to my earlier post. With Windows 10 Microsoft is ending Windows RT as it is now which is as the locked down version, tablet version of Windows. In my opinion the update planned to bring Windows 10 functionality to RT devices will be one where RT users can run Universal apps and access Cortana and Project Spartan. But it’ll be a one off.


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