What you need to know about Microsoft's Windows RT operating system

For those that don't know, Microsoft debuted Windows RT alongside Windows 8. Windows RT is designed around the ARM platform and cannot run x86/x64 applications. This is what the world knows about Windows RT, for the most part. Microsoft has now posted some essential details that explain exactly what works and what doesn't when it comes to Windows RT.

So what exactly is Windows RT (or WinRT for short)? Windows RT is a special version of Windows 8 thats designed to run on mobile devices powered by the ARM platform, which allows for less power to be consumed and thinner hardware designs.

As we all know, Microsoft's new Surface RT tablet runs Windows RT. It comes with Office 2013 and the operating system cannot run x86 or x64 applications. But what else is Windows RT good for? Microsoft's Ron Grattopp has put together a list of elements that make Windows RT what it is. Take a look below (i've removed some of the commentary bits):

  • You only get WinRT by buying a device that has it pre-installed (in other words it's OEM only)
  • RT includes BitLocker, the full disk encryption tool that means your data is secure even if your device is stolen, AND it's ON by default.  (I don't believe the iPad has any data protection mechanism like this.)
  • WinRT accommodates USB and other externally attached devices and is "surprisingly replete" with drivers. 
  • Has a lot of "Windows 8" functionality
  • WinRT comes with it's own version of Office 2013 (Office RT) based on the Home & Student Edition apps (as in no Outlook), and "RT Office is almost good enough to make up for the lack of apps" (in comparison to the number of apps available for Apple and Android devices).
  • WinRT includes a version of IE that works with Flash.
  • ARM stands for Advanced RISC Machine and RISC chips have been around since early 1980's and ARM was an architecture designed to be processor independent.  Yet, even though ARM itself is not new, "RT requires what is currently the newest hardware platform on the planet."  (Which is part of why you're just now seeing the devices hitting the market after the launch of Windows 8/RT).
  • "RT has two very different desktops, the "runs old Windows apps" Desktop and the "runs new tablet apps" Start Screen
  • RT devices need a minimum resolution of 1366x768 to enable the "snap" (or docking) experience, that is, to let two apps be in view simultaneously.  From what I understand, this functionality is not an option on iPad (even with retina).
  • RT has a command prompt that can run PowerShell scripts along with other commands and built-in tools
  • The Nvidia ARM CPU is a quad-core ARM chip, so it's not as powerless as you might think.
  • RT doesn't support Silverlight (at least, yet)
  • The RDP client (terminal services) is exactly the same one you get on Windows 7/8.

You can also read an entire comprehensive Windows RT review here.