The Windows RT Effect

"Windows RT is a complete non-factor," said Bill Hair, president of My Computer Guy in Rockwall, Texas. "Even when we showed Windows RT systems to customers, there was zero interest."

Joe Lore, sales director at Intel partner Sunnytech in Woburn, Mass., also said Windows RT interest has been nonexistent, even as tablet sales to business and public sector clients have grown. "I think we'll start to see Windows 8 sales pick up once the 8.1 update arrives," Lore said, "but Windows RT is a dead end."

Solution provider feedback on Windows RT, a version of Windows 8 that Microsoft designed for tablets, has mirrored recent data from market research firms. For example, IDC recently reported that tablet manufacturers shipped just 200,000 Windows RT devices in the first quarter, representing a huge decline from the 900,000 devices shipped during the fourth quarter.

To make matters worse for Microsoft, only five Windows RT devices have been launched and just four of them (Microsoft Surface, Dell XPS 10, Asus VivoTab RT and Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11) are available in North America. Other vendors such as HP, Acer and Toshiba have taken a wait-and-see approach with the new OS or scrapped plans for Windows RT devices.

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But the bigger problem for the channel, besides the lack of sales, is the confusion that Windows RT has created around Windows 8. Windows RT doesn't run legacy Windows applications because it's based on ARM's processor architecture, not the x86 platform like Windows 8. Yet solution providers say customers often confuse the two different versions of the operating system.

If companies are worried about Microsoft's new OS and what software it does or doesn't run, Hair said, that's bad for business. "There's a lot of confusion around Windows 8 and Windows RT even today, and it's been a big issue," he said. "On the corporate side, [software] compatibility is a key priority."

Brian Goddard, owner of GTechserv in Charlotte, N.C., has experienced the Windows RT effect firsthand. A Dell partner, GTechserv was competing for a large project at an education customer, which was looking to purchase more than 1,000 new systems. The solution provider pitched the Dell XPS 12 Windows 8 convertible tablet Ultrabook for teachers and Dell Latitude notebooks for students.

But GTechserv ran into a problem. The client's IT director was also evaluating the Microsoft Surface, which runs Windows RT, and was put off by the experience and decided not to go with the Dell systems -- even though they were running Windows 8 and not Windows RT.

"It was a mistake on the IT director's part," Goddard said, "but it cost us."

Despite trying to explain the differences between the two OS versions, the IT director decided he wanted no part of Windows 8 and decided to go with Apple. "They bought MacBook Airs for the teachers and iPads for the students," Goddard said." The iPad has much less functionality that a full laptop and we still came in more than $100,000 cheaper than Apple's bid."

When contacted for comment, a Microsoft spokesperson responded with this email statement:"Windows RT remains an important element to our Windows strategy, especially as we think about expanding an already rich Windows ecosystem with mobile devices."

Josh Covington, marketing director at system builder Velocity Micro in Richmond, Va., believes Microsoft needs to present a clearer message for Windows 8 to both consumers and businesses to eliminate the confusion.

"There's definitely a PR and marketing issue with Windows 8," Covington said. "It's a little unclear to people what the differences are between the two versions. I think the Windows 8.1 update with help, but I really think Windows 8 overall has hurt the PC market."

Microsoft's latest Windows brand campaign may not help matters, however. The software giant has unleashed a new ad, "iPad Vs. Windows," which compares Apple's fourth-generation iPad to the Asus VivoTab RT. The Windows 8 name doesn't appear at all during the video, which Microsoft posted on YouTube, but the commercial's title is "Comparison: iPad vs. Windows 8 Tablet."