Just like millions out there, I am also a frustrated Windows user: what is the difference between Windows RT and Windows 8? Should I buy a Windows RT tablet or should I go for a Windows 8 Pro one? Why is there such a big difference in price for three versions? There are many, many questions surrounding these products and we will try to explain them all. Along with you, we will also be learning and understanding what’s the best solution for a long-time Windows user and for a new one.

The dilemma of choosing Windows RT, Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro has become even more pressing after the announcement of the Surface tablet. Recently, Windows 8 prices have also been made public and pre-orders have started. And we’re hearing that there is a lot of demand for the cheapest version of the Surface tablet. I don’t want to seem mean and speculate, but, could it be possible that many of those that buy the Surface RT are not aware of what they’re getting – a dumbed down version of Windows 8?


Which is the right one for you?

Windows 8 vs Windows RT vs Windows 8 Pro

If you need to know the difference between Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro, just to know which Surface tablet you want to buy, then you might want to read our guide for that. But some might agree that it’s not enough and more details are needed. Leaving aside the Surface, how will consumers choose a Windows 8 tablet or hybrid from the many that have been already launched on the market? An obvious question needs to be made clear from the start – those that have enough money and can afford a Windows 8 Pro tablet, go for it.

But for those that think paying almost $1,000 for a tablet is just too much, then you might need to carefully analyze the differences between these two. The timing was just bad for Microsoft, currently, the number of applications available for Windows RT tablets is very less and can’t compensate for the software disadvantage when compared to a Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro tablet. But hopefully, that will soon change, when developers will start making more Windows RT applications.

How it all started?

In April, this year, Microsoft announced that there will be, actually, a few Windows 8 editions. The biggest confusion, from that moment on, was this – what is Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro? Why make things more complicated for consumers when you should do the opposite – make everything seem very simple, for geeks, nerds, luddites and everybody else. Don’t make it complicated, make it so that users could easily adapt to that. If you haven’t tried Windows 8 yet, read our introductory piece to not be to suprised. Learn how to navigate, as well.


Oh boy, will Apple suffer…

So why did Microsoft released Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro (we will not be talking about Windows 8 Enterprise, that’s just Windows 8 Pro for organizations) different versions? Microsoft has insisted that they created Windows 8 by reimagining the Windows experience from the chipset to the user experience. So, before getting angry that you’re not getting the full Windows 8 experience on your device, you should know why that’s not happening. But Microsoft will stress again saying that:

All editions of Windows 8 offer a no-compromise experience

Windows 8 Pro vs Windows RT

From a certain point of view, that’s actually valid. Starting with the name, you should already know that Windows 8 Pro comes from Professional, which is equivalent to Windows 7 Ultimate. This means that it comes with some features (that you’ll see in a table below) that are meant for tech enthusiasts, business/technical professionals. So, if you’re not one of them, you should opt for a Windows 8 or a cheaper RT device. With a Windows 8 Pro edition, you’ll be getting such options as encryption, virtualization, PC management and domain connectivity.

Windows RT, the version that’s giving us so much headache, is the “youngest brother” in the Windows 8 family. It will only run on devices with ARM processors. For those that don’t know, ARM is the architecture of mobile processors created by ARM Holdings. But why is ARM that important? Check this out:

In 2005 about 98% of the more than one billion mobile phones sold each year used at least one ARM processor

Intel is also stepping up its mobile game, starting with smartphones, of course, but they have a lot to catch up in that field, that’s for sure. I think there will not be an easy option to install Windows RT, as it will only come pre-installed on personal computers and tablets.

What you need to know about Windows RT?

Broadly speaking, the Windows RT will include touch-optimized desktop versions of:

  • Microsoft Word
  • Excel
  • PowerPoint
  • OneNote

But it does NOT include Outlook.

Apparently, a crucial moment in Windows RT was the development on the new Windows Runtime, or WinRT, which is not why they call it RT, by the way. Speaking in plain English, Windows Runtime helped built the new generation of cloud-enabled, touch-enabled, web-connected apps of all sorts. If you are really curious about more, read this exhaustive article or watch the video below.

Let’s summarise.

  • Windows RT is a limited (dumbed down) version of Windows 8 that only runs on ARM-based devices, not on traditional PCs.
  • You should know and understand is that Windows RT will run only Metro style apps.
  • Windows RT is compatible with most, but not all, of the Metro-style apps that also run on Windows 8.
  • Windows RT will not run any desktop Windows applications except for the ones that are bundled with the OS (like Paint, Notepad, Wordpad etc.)
  • Some of the important applications not included in Windows RT are: Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Essentials, iTunes, Adobe Photoshop & Creative suite.

Alright, alright, but do I really need Windows RT?

Why has Microsoft created Windows RT, many will ask? Was it really impossible to make Windows 8 available for all, did they really have to come up with this? If you’ve been following the news, then you might have seen that Microsoft’s CEO’s recent decisions are being perceived as a way to mimic Apple. Going by that logic, Windows RT is nothing more but an attempt to do a Windows version of Apple’s iOS. And it makes sense, too. iOS is derived from OS X and Windows RT is derived from Windows 8.

But, wait a second, what will Windows Phone 8 be used for, then? Well, apparently, Microsoft wants to have an “iOS for tablets”, if we can call it like that. Windows Phone 8 will be for smartphones and Windows RT will be for tablets with “lower specs”. And they are mimicking Apple by increasing the diversity of their Windows 8 ecosystem. It might seem confusing at the beginning, but we have to realize that Microsoft’s planning things for years and they have well planned and calculated these things.

Windows RT vs Windows 8

Windows RT devices are worth the money, if you put things in a different perspective. As Microsoft said and many agreed, coding for Modern UI (Metro) is much more easier than it had been to write a program for Windows 7. So, if you can overlook some features that will not be present in your RT tablet, and you are confident that the Microsoft Store will soon be booming with new applications, then yes, go for it. But if you can’t, then you should buy a Windows 8 device. We are still not sure if Windows 8 (not Pro) be made available on tablets, but Microsoft hasn’t denied that either.


Will you get used to the new User Interface?

And the game gets more intense as some of you might realize that Windows RT devices are also trying to kill another product and that is the … Chromebook. Why would you want a Chromebook, when you could have a Windows RT device that will rely on:

  • Internet connectivity
  • Cloud synchronization
  • Responsiveness

What’s bad and what’s good?

We’re not sure if Microsoft had this in mind, but this will hurt Chromebook’s sales, if there were some, at least. And here, I can’t help myself – if the Internet is almost everything for a Windows RT enabled device, why does it come with Wi-Fi only? I mean, come on, really? In a world where 4G is the latest and greatest and where you want to compete against the iPad (even they say they aren’t), you’re releasing a dumbed-down version of Windows 8 on a device that only has Wi-Fi? For me, this is a very, very wrong move.

And Windows RT products won’t come cheap, you can be sure about that. Microsoft is cashing quite a lot from the Windows RT licensing, word has it that even up to $95. So, when you will compare the specs of a Windows RT device with an Android one, you’ll realize that the latter will be cheaper. Will you overlook the disadvantages for the “privilege” of remaining in the Windows family? For those that have hopes, here are some key features that are found in Windows 8, as well:

  • Fluid, intuitive, and easy-to-use interface design
  • Mail, Calendar, Messaging, Photos, SkyDrive and more apps in Windows Store.
  • Internet Explorer 10
  • Touch-enabled
  • Mouse and keyboard–enabled

And here are some key features that make Windows RT different than Windows 8:

  • Continuous Windows Update and Windows Defender to make PC/tablet more secure.
  • Device encryption provides advanced data protection
  • The PC can turn on instantly with connected standby.
  • Office Home & Student 2013 RT Preview is preinstalled.

You will not be getting the following, as well in Windows 8: Media Player, Windows Media Center, HomeGroup creation (you can join an existing HomeGroup but you can’t create a new one) and Domain join. Check the table below to find more about key features that will be present or not on all three versions.


But what’s really bad about this stripped-down version of Windows 8 is the fact that even Microsoft representatives are not quite sure what are the differences between these two, some of them being quoted as saying : “they’re pretty much the same thing, there is no real huge difference besides the fact that RT is more touch friendly“. And when you realize that Microsoft is said to have a $1.5 billion budget for marketing its Windows 8 editions, you really don’t understand how can this happen.

I see it like this: Microsoft made RT to compete with the iPad and with Android tablets, they just thought Windows 8 was “too cool” for that, to a certain regard. Tablets and hybrids with Windows 8, as well as ultrabooks are something beyond the niche where the iPad is. So, when the Surface Pro will be launched, it shouldn’t be viewed as a competitor to the iPad, but rather to other Ultrabooks with high performance hardware.

For now, it is only up to your needs – a tablet with Windows RT that will hopefully get more apps in the future, one with the standard Windows 8 that will not come quite cheap or the elite Windows 8 Pro. I’ll leave you with an interesting Youtube discussion if you’re still hungry for more.


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was the Managing Editor of Technology Personalized. He now writes about Windows 10 apps and reviews them on WindowsReport. Believes that technology is the main engine of civilization. Send him a tweet or make him your Facebook friend