Why can’t Microsoft come up with compelling names for its products? Windows RT is the latest abomination from Redmond, offering no insight to prospective customers and failing to place the product in Microsoft’s wide range of offerings. Even as Microsoft touts a “PC plus” future, Windows RT continues the company’s trend of haphazardly tossing “Windows” into every product name.
What Does Windows RT Mean?
“Windows RT” is the ARM variant of Microsoft’s new Windows 8 client operating system. RT will power the thinner, lighter, cheaper Microsoft Surface tablet, in contrast to the “Surface Pro” which uses the full version of Windows 8. Windows RT may also find its way onto tablets from other vendors, though Samsung is the only company to announce such a product so far, and ticked off OEMs like Dell and HP are unlikely to play ball.
Consumers don’t care so much about processor platforms. To them, the main differentiator of a Windows RT tablet will be the lack of a traditional Windows desktop. Instead, an RT tablet like the Surface will seem more like a Windows Phone device, limited to the new tile-based Metro interface. But Windows RT will run Microsoft Office 2013, complete with tiny, fidgety user interface components that seem out of place in a clean Metro environment.
Why did Microsoft choose to use the “Windows RT” name for this particular spin of Windows 8? There are two notable elements in this two-word name: “Windows” (no “8”) and “RT”, which apparently stands for “run time”.
By applying “Windows” to the product, Microsoft is trying to tie Metro to the PC install base. This seems to be in keeping with their “PC Plus” marketing message, but falls apart on closer inspection.
Note that there is no “8” in “Windows RT”, suggesting that Microsoft is trying subtly to insulate Windows RT from that PC operating system. But Microsoft may come to regret not including the “8” once the next version of the operating system is released. Indeed, Microsoft’s most similar products, Windows Phone 7 and 8 do include the version number.
Will synchronicity and publicity be enough to convince consumers that Windows RT is related to Windows 8? Microsoft has spent decades diluting the Windows brand, with unrelated products sharing the name from phones to desktops to servers. In terms of branding and market, the closest relative to Windows RT is poor unloved Windows CE, and this is not a great association for consumers!
Will they get the message that familiar Windows applications are common to the PC and the tablet? This will be undermined the instant they pick up a Surface tablet and see only Metro and a redesigned Internet Explorer and Office suite. Yes, data formats and online services are shared between tablet and PC, but the divergent application experience tosses familiarity into the recycle bin!
As John Gruber points out, “the name “Windows” is no longer even apt, as the Metro UI doesn’t use any actual, you know, windows.” John Dvorak seconds this, saying “(Windows RT) should not be named Windows at all.” When Dvorak and Gruber intersect, Microsoft should listen!
RT is “Run Time”?
Then there is the other half of the name. “RT” may stand for “run time”, but this is not widely known and has no meaning or value in the minds of consumers. I’m not seeing any coverage of the definition in the press or on Microsoft’s web site or marketing materials.
“RT” doesn’t connote anything today; it’s just two meaningless letters.
Even if they understood the abbreviation, “run time” is something of an ambiguous term. I believe that Microsoft intended to imply that low-power ARM tablets running Windows RT would offer advantages in battery life and portability. The term, “run time”, is sometimes used when discussing the battery life of an electronic device, after all. It is also a pun implying the act of running or being on the go, I suppose.
“Runtime” is also a generic computer science term for the software that runs applications in a computer system. Any Windows OS could be seen as “a runtime”, as could Java and BASIC. One hopes that Microsoft would not be foolish enough to think that this sense of the word had any relevance to consumers. Given the company’s history (BASIC was their first product), Microsoft may have appreciated this additional meaning, however.
But these definitions are worthless if consumers don’t know what those two letters stand for. Microsoft would have been better served by marketing the ARM/Metro version of Windows 8 with a more descriptive name. “Windows 8 Light” or “Windows 8 Tablet” or even “Windows 8 Run Time” would tell consumers more than “Windows RT” does.
Note that rival Apple often uses pedantic and clunky names for their products. The press and consumers had dubbed Apple’s phone and tablet “iPhone” and “iPad” long before Apple did. Although these names are less than elegant, they serve their purpose: Consumers know exactly what an iPhone is, and knew it even before the product was released. How many consumers will ever have any idea what Windows RT means?
After the cringe-worthy naming of Windows CE (“wince”? seriously?) one would think Microsoft might have learned something about naming. And decade of haphazardly slapping “Windows” on anything remotely related has undermined the value of their crown jewel. Perhaps “Windows RT” is meaningful and appropriate in Microsoft’s eyes, but it is an utter failure if no one else comprehends the name. Microsoft should have used a more obvious and meaningful term to differentiate “run time” products instead of another investment in Windows Alphabet Soup.