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back to article How to relieve Microsoft's Surface RT piles problem

Somewhere in Redmond (at least metaphorically speaking) are several very large piles of unsold Surface RT tablet components. Why did the long-awaited and much-hyped ARM tablet running "Windows for ARM" Windows RT flop so badly, when ARM tablets running iOS for ARM from Apple are doing so well? It's not just the Modern Windows …

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Nah, we're not going to like or have to like Metro.

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WinRT - to be pronounced like "inert"

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Anonymous Coward

To Paraphrase Peter Cook

WinRT - You fill me with inertia.

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Thumb Up

Re: To Paraphrase Peter Cook

Windows ineRTia… I like it.

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Well summed up.

Making an entirely new, incompatible, 3rd ecosystem within MS was frankly retarded. You have none of the compatibility that would make it attractive to people with desktops. You have a decent interface for the format, but it isn't compatible with your actual mobile ecosystem.

Will they ever grow out of believing they are the only choice and that they can dictate what we want. Apple and Google both have competent offerings. Why they he'll would we buy winnets? The biggest thing the could have done is app compatibility with desktop, the second was with mobile, they opted for the short bus approach.

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Not entirely retarded.

I think MS identified the near immunity of iOS from malware infestations as a key marketing feature.

The only way they could see to achieve that. as well as the access to Office that they considered a USP was to produce the compromise that you see with RT.

With this perspective, and if you then treat WinRT as an iOS competitor with the added bonus of 'proper' office (albeit with no macros, again to prevent malware), then it all makes a decent degree of sense, although it'd help if there was rather more in the app store.

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Re: Not entirely retarded.

Fair call, but couldn't they achieve that by evolving win phone? They forced Metro onto the desktop, they recreated a mobile phone os, then created a 3rd system for tablets. Neither Apple or Google (in the long term) found that necessary. I could understand them dropping the win32 option if they had kept compatibility with the phone apps. Whilst surface rt isn't terrible, it's up against very good competition, it's overpriced and it could leverage more of Microsoft 's core strengths.

The most appealing tablets right now(for me) are the full win 8 ones with atom processors. Nokia have some great large screen phones on the way. There won't be much room left for winnets, even Microsofts own products will be eating its tiny market share.

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Re: Not entirely retarded.

I think a lot of it comes down to internal politics, the original idea was that you would be able to "write once, run anywhere" but it didn't come off in the end.

I can't remember where I read it but I remember an article that suggested Steven Sinofsky and/or the Windows team refused to work with the Windows Phone team, so they both went their separate ways and we end up with the massive missed opportunity that we now have.

Imagine if Windows 8 had been released and suddenly you could write apps that worked on Windows Phone, Windows 8 and Windows RT with little to no change. It may not have changed the perception of the interface itself, but I suspect a lot more developers would've given it a go and the story for the Windows Store would be vastly different to how it is now.

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Not retarded. Strategic.

MS has a problem: The market isn't growing much any more (at least in the developed world), and it's growing increasingly hard to get people to upgrade software. Just look at the problem they had getting people off of XP - and 7 is set to show the same endurance. It's 'good enough.' No expansion and no upgrades means no money for Microsoft, unless they can fundamentally alter their business model to be less of a 'boxed software' supplier and more of a service supplier. Apple pioneered the model, and MS wants in.

Surface, Metro, the new API, the Windows app store, Windows Phone - these are all parts of the MS plan to do just that. Expand control over the devices their software runs on, and use this control as a means to extract money as a service provider. Just like Apple.

People will hate it, of course. And it'll lose a huge amount of money, at first. But Microsoft can afford to throw money at it for years - it's not waste, it's investment, supporting the unprofitable new ecosystem until it matures into something self-sustaining - and from there, matures further into their next cash-cow.

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Re: Not entirely retarded. @xenny

" (albeit with no macros, again to prevent malware)"

Thanks - made my day

nearly ruined my keyboard collection too...

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Anonymous Coward

@Suricou Raven. The tablet market is still evolving rapidly. Lower cost devices help but also the higher performance premium end - Apple now have 64 bit with 4 core, enhanced GPU in the pipeline for 20nm and the option of raising their game by promoting larger entry level storage.

This gives tablet vendors a couple more years driving rapid obsolescence until tablets reach the 'good enough' level found with notebooks nowadays. A three year old iPad 1 is now useless to all but the most enthusiastic fan with limited use scenarios and this trend will likely continue for 2-3 years.

But not forever, Microsoft have a limited window to establish their new ecosystem and can't afford to keep making so many mistakes.

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Unhappy

Exactly.

MS will if anything INCREASE pressure to adopt Win8 and its ilk.

For example, I believe the next DirectX will be a Win8.1 and Xbox One exclusive.

I for one will resist any attempt to be locked in to their walled-up vision.

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Re: Not entirely retarded.

Actually, the idea that WinERT could be immune to infestation because of its ARM use isn't new. RISC OS, for many years, was touted by some that it was also immune.

To a certain extent, it was. Not because of the processor, but because the OS was hard coded into ROM chips. But then this didn't stop virus code being inserted into application files and other volatile system bits that were stored outside the ROM. This would have potentially got worse as more of the OS was stored in disc based modules loaded into memory on startup or first use except for the second reason. Obscurity. Nobody could be bothered to write viruses for a system that was becoming less used.

Given enough time and effort, WinERT could be hacked. Being ARM based is no protection. I suspect that the biggest protection could be the same as with RISC OS - obscurity.

In other words, and paraphrasing Piccolo from DBZ; "The balls are WinERT".

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Linux

So let me recap.

Microsoft produced a crippled ARM tablet so they could have a product that can compete with the iPad and Android tablets.

They used Windows, but they restricted it so 3rd party software doesn't run. This includes viruses and bloat ware crap that infects lots of regular Windows PCs. (Imagine the embarrassment of MS if the tablets could catch a virus, Apple and Google will trounce them with marketing)

So the only advantages MS has (general purpose, Win32, freedom to develop whatever you want, freedom to distribute) are gone.

Most people do not like the product.

And this is the point I always make: PEOPLE DO NOT USE WINDOWS BECAUSE THEY LIKE WINDOWS, THEY BUY WINDOWS BECAUSE THEY RUN WINDOWS APPLICATIONS.

Besides this Microsoft's concern with market growth are their own doing, they pushed everybody out of the market, and forced everybody to develop free (as in cost and as in freedom) alternatives.

They made their bed, and they should lie on it now.

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> Microsoft produced a crippled ARM tablet so they could have a product that can compete with the iPad and Android tablets.

I think that it went more like:

Microsoft produced WindowsOnARM so that it could wave 'loyalty discounts' (removal thereof) at its OEMs to prevent them make Android tablets, and more importantly, Linux based ARM servers.

This worked with HP who decided that dumping WebOS was cheaper than losing discounts on _all_ products.

But then MS had to make some ARM products.

Meanwhile several companies decided that they had sufficient alternatives to tell Microsoft that if the loyalty discounts were lost they would stop making Windows PCs and make Android, Chrome, Tizen and Ubuntu products, which they now make alongside Windows.

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Re: Not entirely retarded. No?

Given enough time.... Since no one wants a brain dead tablet which cannot really do anything useful with the supplied broken capabilities, why would anyone waste time writing code to subvert the useless thing? Actually there might just be a use for something like WinRT, if you have a wobbly table it might, just might be useful under the short leg.

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Black Helicopters

"Making an entirely new, incompatible, 3rd ecosystem within MS was frankly retarded. You have none of the compatibility that would make it attractive to people with desktops. You have a decent interface for the format, but it isn't compatible with your actual mobile ecosystem."

Depends on what your' goal was.

Obviously for showing the latest Windows version running on a non x86 architecture it's a failure.

But maybe that's the point

Microsoft and Intel remain a deeply dysfunctional relationship. "Proving" ARM hardware can't host Windows ("See only Intel hardware can host a Microsoft product") is a nice helpful gesture for their old pals.

Paranoid. Moi?

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Re: Not entirely retarded. No?

Not a bad idea. Certainly they're no good as boat anchors because they don't weigh enough, and welding a bunch of 'em together for anchors isn't worth the cost of the welding.

The only problem I see with using them as leg adjusters is if they are too thick for a particular leg, but then I suppose a sledge hammer could be used to flatten 'em a bit thinner if necessary in such a case.

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FAIL

Shills

Judging by the amount of MS shills posting FUD on various Linux and IT forums I would say that they're getting desperate. As for me, I would not have a MS RT tablet as a gift.

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Re: Shills

So let me get this straight: The people who like the thing that you don't are shills, however you like the thing that they don't, but I assume somehow that's ok?

This really strikes me as "yours is rubbish", "no, yours is rubbish" levels of argument.

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Re: Shills

I have one here, given to us by Microsoft, and no doubt counted as sold in their numbers. it gathers dust in the corner.

This who mess is why the tech savvvy consumers avoid Windows Phone, Surface, Xbox and all the other failing Microsoft product lines.

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Re: Shills

Let me guess, you're not a shill either?

I also note the way that you congratulate yourself as being smart, based on your choice of hardware/software defined by your opinion, neatly suggesting that anyone who disagrees is not qualified to comment. Well done, a mature and intelligent argument that wouldn't disgrace a primary school debating society.

Oh, hang on, the other one, it's sill: "your stuff is rubbish", "no your stuff is rubbish".

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Re: Shills

You lost me at "tech savvvy consumers". I know quite a few (none of whom would use such marketing drone speak to describe themselves) very clever people who happily and enthusiastically use Microsoft products over alternatives for very rational reasons.

Let's take a look at Xbox. Not exactly a failure. I do believe they've sold quite a few and they aren't nearly as disreputable on the DRM front as Sony. Windows Phone? The Nokia line up is solid, with growing sales while the OS is much leaner than Android and has more flare than iOS. So what that the App store isn't as big - 250,000 fart apps, Angry Birds rip-off and obscure social apps isn't anything to be proud of.

I think Surface is probably the only one I can agree on. This was a bad misstep. They should have scaled up Windows Phone OS, not scaled down Windows 8. An already large x86 ecosystem on one side and a shared ARM derived eco-system (for phones and smaller tablets) makes more sense than three separate ecosystems, where MS have ended up.

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Re: Shills

Why is so much of the muck-slinging, accusing everybody of being shills, being done by AC's.

Really, folks. If you want your comments to be taken seriously, at least post them with an identifiable handle, even it it is not your real name!

In case you forget, it's not possible to differentiate one AC except by content.

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Re: Shills

"Let's take a look at Xbox. Not exactly a failure."

Hah, GREAT POINT: Xbox in its entire existence STILL DID NOT GENERATE A PROFIT in total, thanks to MSFT's utter incompetence in advanced consumer electronic hardware design (remember the original Xbox, basically a shitty PC with a low-end Nvidia GPU, jammed into an ugly plastic box?), which caused BILLIONS of losses thanks to 360's RROD replacements.

"I do believe they've sold quite a few"

Oh they did, a LOT - and yet they ARE STILL IN THE RED in total... what does that tell you about their incompetence and effectiveness? It's breathtaking , this level of utterly clueless mgmt.

" and they aren't nearly as disreputable on the DRM front as Sony."

You mean after they were forced to perform a complete 180 when they announced they will kill the used game market by not allowing trades/change of ownership? :D

"Nokia line up is solid, with growing sales"

You are funny with this marketing BS... in reality Nokia is still LOSING MONEY, even despite BILLIONS MSFT PAID TO NOKIA to keep them afloat as the single WP handset vendor - and now they were forced by their own Trojan horse to buy it out, once again, to keep at least one brand behind WP.

Sales are growing in the lowest price bracket, with ASP lower than even Android ones - that's why Nokia is still losing money, grabbing market share for MSFT by losing money? Sure, and Nokia said 'hey, fatty, then buy it and finance it yourself, you fool!" and that's exactly what happened.

"while the OS is much leaner than Android"

You mean in terms of users, apps, devices, options, support, variations? Sure, I agree - but, surprise!, that't not a good thing actually...

and has more flare than iOS."

Looks ugly as hell, just like iOS, you mean? I agree but it's a subjective thing, y'know...

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Re: Shills

"Why is so much of the muck-slinging, accusing everybody of being shills, being done by AC's."

If they posted drivel under an identifiable handle, people might block them and then they wouldn't be famous on the interwebs. (Thought experiment: what would the forums look like with all the AC posts blocked? How hard would it be for El Reg to enable this so that we could try it out?)

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Re: Shills

So because I dislike Linux because for me it is absolutely useless (gamer) I must be an MS shill according to the OP.

I concur with your summary AC.

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Re: Shills @Ken

But that's the point. Nobody can become famous posting as an AC. They just merge into the crowd.

I'm not saying that the Reg should remove the ability to post AC, hell, I use it myself when commenting on something that may upset someone in my acquaintance. It's just that I'm so pissed off trying to work out who is who when they are making such cowardly accusations.

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Re: Shills @Bill

You need not be a MS shill, just part of a system where one supplier can control a market, compelling ordinary people like yourself to defend the indefensible. Microsoft want you to not have an alternative.

There is no reason why Linux cannot become as good or a better gaming platform than Windows. It's only market penetration that make gaming companies develop on Windows. It's possible that the Steam effort or Crossover may just change things.

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Re: Shills

PS: just want to add that while XB1 finally looks like the first decently designed Xbox as far as hardware-software goes it still seems to be hindered by some weird decisions eg going with a measly 32MB fast embedded RAM + 8GB lousy GDDR3 system-wide memory adds a lot of complexity and limits performance for no reason compared to Sony's straightforward 8GB system-wide fast GDDR5 modules, not to mention Sony's 50% higher compute unit count in the GPU etc etc... again, something that once again smacks of a classic Ballmerian 'it's good enough'-type of beancounter argument.

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Three out of Four Reasons

The fourth, of course, is that it costs £360. That's £40 more than a Nexus 10 and at least £100 more than a Galaxy Tab 3 10.1. Microsoft still doesn't seem to have learnt that you can only charge a premium if you differentiate on features or fashion, both of which it has signally failed to do.

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Re: Three out of Four Reasons

Funny that the SurfaceRT I bought last week from a UK electronics chain cost £259 including the Touch Type cover. I am actually quite impressed with it as I use it instead of lugging a laptop around onsite to download drivers or patches for machines that may require them as well as to generate invoices using Office. I wouldn't be using a tablet for coding or photo/video editing. I can RDP into machines with it as well.

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Re: Three out of Four Reasons

> Funny that the SurfaceRT I bought last week from a UK electronics chain cost £259

That is because Surface RT is the obsolete model (replaced by Surface 2) and MS took a $900million writedown and put them in the bargain bins before they had to write off another couple of billion.

> as well as to generate invoices using Office.

That is a business use that is specifically disallowed by your license for Office RT Student and Home edition (or preview). You need to purchase a commercial license for that product.

(which is another reason why it didn't sell).

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Re: Three out of Four Reasons

The fifth are Atom based W8 tablet pc. Similar weight, size and endurance, not that much more costly but vastly more useful since they are full sized x86 units with all the software.

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The problem is the analysis

Can you run Mac OSX apps on an iPad? No, and it's not a problem for anyone.

Can you run apps which doesn't come from the App Store on an iPad? No, and it's not a problem for anyone.

Can you ditch iOS and install Ubuntu mobile on an iPad? No, and it's not a problem for anyone.

So, please, tell me why these are the root causes for the failure of Surface?

I see it truly as a marketing problem, but not related to the abilities of the tablet, but for the expectations it generated. When people are led to see it as a PC they expect it to do what a full fledged PC can do, which is absolutely wrong. Microsoft got this one wrong. Had it just called the OS differently, without it even supporting windows phone 8 apps, I'm pretty sure people (and the "smart" analysts) would be focused on what it can do more than other platforms, especially in relation to productivity.

Furthermore, it makes complete sense to ditch win32 altogether, since that's the only way of leveraging a new generation of apps. We cannot be tied to 30 years old code / principles and every push in the direction of evolution should be praised.

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APJ

Re: The problem is the analysis

I agree to an extent. There's probably a branding problem between the Surface (RT or 2) vs Surface Pro (2). But I'd argue that the Surface RT (especially the latest version which is a lovely looking thing) compares favourably to the iPad with some advantages (Office) and some disadvantages (the app store for Windows is still a pale comparison to the Apple one, but things have improved very significantly in the past 12 months).

I've been using v1 and v2 Surface devices for home and work and really like them. I do not find myself wishing I could install Photoshop on the RT devices and also don't find them any more limited than I do the other vendor devices we have knocking around here.

The major advantages I find with the RT devices (along with all the other WIndows SKUs) is that they're multi-user, so the family all have their own logins, the Family Safety stuff is good for the kids, as is the picture logon, the kids can pull free apps and games out of the store where they are age appropriate, but anything outside that needs my authorization, the battery life is good, the devices feel robust but are lightweight, and the Skydrive integration works really well for syncing profiles and data.

YMMV, and I accept the developer challenge with x86, ARM, WinPho, etc. but these things seem to be improving and in the meantime these things don't impact me particularly severely.

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Re: The problem is the analysis

Exactly. The problem is the word 'Windows'.

The average punter will expect to see what runs on his PC to run on his -RT. It won't and they return the device.

Apple uses different branding for OSX and iPads. Far less chance of confusion.

I'd love a Surface but only to run Linux on it. Not Ubuntu mind you but IMHO a proper distro like Debian or Fedora. In my eyes, there is a lot of similarity between Microsoft and Canonical. Both of them are trying to put their ONE brand everywhere. It will IMHO be doomed to failure.

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Re: The problem is the analysis

"So, please, tell me why these are the root causes for the failure of Surface?"

Because Apple created an app ecosystem around iOS which made comparisons with OS X irrelevant. No iOS user expected to get a cut-down Mac. What they got was a pocket thing/slab which looked lovely and did a lot of obviously cool stuff you could impress your friends with.

This worked brilliantly when apps were still a novelty.

MS started WinRT with Windows branding - hence the Win in the name, which I'm sure some marketing droid in Redmond thought was clever - and then said 'But you can't actually do any of the things you expect from Windows.'

WinRT is like a car with three wheels removed. It goes in circles and makes a horrible scraping sound, and the only answer to 'Where do you want to go today?' is 'Nowhere.'

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Re: The problem is the analysis

You forgot one rhetorical question:

Can you run iPhone apps on an iPad?

Yes, of course you can, anything else would have been retarded.

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Re: The problem is the analysis

Not all of them banking apps for example require a mobile phone sim otherwise they won't work.

Also the rhetorical question would work if iPad apps worked on iPhones but because they don't your point doesn't either.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The problem is the analysis

You can run iPhone apps on the iPad. Why not wp7/8 apps on the RT?

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Re: The problem is the analysis

> Furthermore, it makes complete sense to ditch win32 altogether, since that's the only way of leveraging a new generation of apps. We cannot be tied to 30 years old code / principles and every push in the direction of evolution should be praised.

Exactly, which is why people have bought Apple or use Linux, or ChromeOS. They have ditched win32 entirely.

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Happy

Re: The problem is the analysis

"Not all of them banking apps for example require a mobile phone sim otherwise they won't work."

"Eats, shoots and leaves"

On a more serious note, that's caused by a physical limitation, similar to trying to run a GPS app on a device that lacks a GPS receiver, or a FM radio app on a device without radio hardware, or trying to run a full fledged photoshop like app on a device with a tiny screen. What we are discussing here is a set of artificial limitations imposed by MS on their devices.

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@MattEvansC3

Congratulations! You missed the point by so far you might actually hit it in the ass going the other way.

Ipads and Iphones use the SAME OS. There may be a few apps which do not work on one of the other because of a specific hardware requirement (just as some apps don't work on older generations of phones) but basically they are the same OS and apps written for one stand a very good chance of working on the other.

MS could have used Winphone on tablets, they could have waited one generation of intel atom chips and used Win8 on tablets, instead Balmer glued a pooch under his desk for easy access the decided to create an entirely new, incompatible tablet OS. Yes it utilizes metro, which on a tablet or a phone is a decent UI. The problem is there are two mature and competent ecosystems already out there so there would need to be a very compelling reason to buy a different system. Full win32 compatibility would be one, even the ability to reuse winphone app purchases would be another (like you can on android and ios) but MS decided to shoot themselves in both feet whilst walking a tightrope. Now win8 tablets are beginning to make sense, winphone is gaining some traction, they are going to have to put winnets out of our misery. At best it will eat some win8 tablet sales where consumers get confused (and therefore end up feeling ripped off and buy apple or google next time), the reality is that they will simply can the platform in a few years. WinRT is being eaten away by WP phablets at one end and Win8 Tablets at the other end and there was precious little market for it in the first place.

They aren't creating a market, they are trying to fight their way into a mature market and seem to be going about it entirely the wrong way. They failed to leverage their advantage in x86 compatibility (Apple proved with rosetta what could be done if you really wanted to) and they actively handicapped their product because some manager decided he didn't want winRT being a threat to WP or Win8. Net result, billion dollar losses and a product that is DOA. There aren't many second chances in this business, even good companies \ products fall (webos, crackberries). The sooner MS drops their arrogance, realises what they can do well and plays to that the sooner they will do well. They can throw all the billions they want at winRT for as long as they can afford, but that won't change the fact that their are better options out there, already established and taking their business.

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Facepalm

Re: 'it makes complete sense to ditch win32 altogether...'

I can only assume from this slightly deranged assertion that you're not a commercial programmer...

Without going into the boring detail, I'll just say: Because speed.

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Re: The problem is the analysis

@Favic - You missed a point here - Lots of people are claiming that (always others, not them) are confused by the fact that you can't run standard Windows apps on Windows RT.

I have never heard anyone suggest that I may be confused by the fact that I can't run iOS apps on my iMac.

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Microsoft Piles?

Piles? - Only one solution... stop sitting on the bloody tablet !

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Re: Microsoft Piles?

Just announced, All New Windows ANL Doughnut, the end of Windows Piles!

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Problem with being third to market

Essentially WinRT tries to reap the benefits of an iPad like system with its walled garden and locked down hardware. But there is the problem - iPad being first to market (ok I am not inclding desktop tablets that Winodws had but never took off) with innovation has inertia. iPads premium price allows some competition from cheap android. With neither inertia nor competitive pricing a third entryinto an ecosystem just can not succeed.

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Those things won't fix it

Those three points are techie and the tablet market is mainstream which is not techie and very few people really care about it.

What Microsoft has is a communication/misconception problem. The biggest complaint for the RT models is that they don't run desktop apps and you rarely see people complaining Chrome doesn't run Android apps or that iPads can't use OSX software and iPhones can't use iPad apps because the differences are easily understood and sufficiently explained.

Microsoft need to ditch the name, it doesn't differentiate the products enough and will always lead to comparisons. Rename it something like Windows Express (WinEx for short), it'll bring comparisons to Outlook Express which will at least set an appropriate level of expectations.

The licencing costs need to be brought down or made free. Nobody's licencing, Nokia might as well be Microsoft at this point. Licencing it under the Android tax value would help getting the OEMs back on board as WinRT is just too expensive compared to other tablet OSs and even Windows8 given the restrictions.

Microsoft need to advertise and educate on why WinRT's App Store is sufficient for tablet use and why customers don't need (want is something else) full Windows8 on a tablet.

Most importantly just clear stock, the longer the original Surfaces stay in a storehouse the longer it remains a failure. Give it one last Christmas push and knock it down to £179/$199 and £230 with cover and take the loss. At least that way people will have them, get used to the interface and increase the user base sufficiently enough that it will get app developers interested, thus bulking out the App Store and making the Surface 2 and 3 that much more marketable.

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