Does Microsoft Windows RT fit in the enterprise?

Eric Beehler

Windows RT tablets can work in the enterprise, as long IT doesn't try to treat them like PCs.

Microsoft Windows RT and Windows 8 represent a monumental shift for Microsoft and its venerable desktop operating system. After ruling the roost since the 1990s, the traditional desktop computer is seeing a decline in use. Just listen to which gadgets people are talking about: People are talking about which tablet, not which PC, they want this holiday season. In response, Microsoft now has two operating systems that are more consumer-centric.

  • Windows 8: Taking cues from (but not really copying) the iPad and Android tablets, the look of Windows 8 is modern, and it throws out some of the most familiar conventions about what Windows should be: IT doesn't  have to run on x86 hardware, users don't have to click Start and they don't need a mouse to navigate.
  • Windows RT: The Wintel x86 paradigm is turned on its head with the release of Windows RT, which runs on ARM processors -- the very same architecture that supports Apple's iOS, Android and other mobile OSes. ARM was designed for portability, compact spaces and low power consumption. The more efficient system-on-a-chip designs for ARM have become increasingly sophisticated and support the speeds and processing power that make ARM a winner.

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Windows 8 and Windows RT offer a new class of applications, formerly known as Metro apps, which run full screen and have a touch-friendly, mobile-ready interface. On an x86 Windows 8 tablet, users will also be able to run the traditional-looking Windows OS and applications, but ARM-based Windows RT tablets will not run everything that users can run on Windows 7 today.

Managing Microsoft Windows RT tablets

So how different will Windows RT be from Windows 8? Not different to your end users. Windows RT looks and feels just like Windows 8, so users will see the same start screen, the same desktop, and, for the most part, the same settings. Users will even get classic applets such as Notepad and Paint, plus Office 2013, which runs in the context of the desktop. Users will not notice the difference between a full-fledged Windows 8 PC and a Windows RT tablet.

You, the administrator, however, will notice several differences. Microsoft Windows RT will not be able to join a domain, and you won't be able to run your old applications or manage tablets with Group Policy. That may seem like too much compromise, but perhaps it is a good thing. You don't apply Group Policy Object settings to the iPhones in your company, and the Android devices you allow are not required to be domain joined. Saddling a smartphone or tablet with the same management requirements you have for desktops prevents the device from operating the way it's meant to.

Instead, think of Windows RT as the latest tablet in the BYOD stable. Approach it like any other mobile device you would allow into the office. Allow the device to flourish as mobile first, and it will still provide a distinct advantage: It will run new Windows apps and follow the standard conventions of Windows.

Managing Microsoft Windows RT apps

Managing desktop apps is an ongoing headache, and when your users take their devices outside the corporate network, you tend to lose your touch point for management. Virtualizing applications helps you take advantage of the new Windows 8 apps. Once you virtualize the apps, you can present users with a familiar application that still runs on good old Windows, so employees will be familiar with how that app will operate -- even if it's steaming to the tablet.

There is a growing realization that most line-of-business (LOB) applications have old interfaces that aren't user-friendly. But mobile apps from these app vendors have proven that they offer a much better experience. Most major enterprise software will show up ready to run on the latest Windows 8 platform, and you won't need third-party vendors to supply those apps in an ARM-compatible version. The apps will run on either platform. Now, you can push your LOB apps to use an updated interface and finally modernize the experience.

More will be revealed when the Surface tablets and their original equipment manufacturer equivalents start shipping. But Microsoft Windows RT promises to marry a user interface that is consistent across devices with tablet-specific features, getting rid of those that don't work well on a tablet. Unless you feel you really need a login script for a tablet, then this is fine. Otherwise, treat Windows tablets like every other mobile device in your environment.

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