What's The Difference Between Windows 8 And Windows RT, Anyway?

Recently, we reported that Samsung officially halted its plans to release any Windows RT tablets in the United States, at least for the foreseeable future. The company said that the cost of educating consumers on the difference between Microsoft's various Windows operating systems wasn't worth the investment cost, nor was there sufficient demand to make the investment necessary.

Samsung isn't the only company to following this route, as Acer similarly decided to take a wait-and-see approach to the Windows RT market. Back in October, the company said it would delay its Windows RT tablets until it's clear how the market is developing.

If it seems like Microsoft's mobile ambitions are plummeting, there's a good reason for that. Ever since the company introduced Windows 8 and Windows RT, people have been quick to declare it a refreshing change of pace for Microsoft as well as a potential landmine. The two operating systems look exactly the same, but carry significant differences under the hood and in terms of capability. The major questions were: Are customers going to know the difference? If not, are salespeople going to be able to explain it to them in a way that makes sense?

So far, Samsung and Acer are hedging their bets. Not helping matters was the fact that even as launch loomed in October, Microsoft store representatives couldn't properly explain the differences. On some occasions, the reps simply gave out incorrect information or insisted there was no substantial difference between the two systems. Microsoft eventually said that reps were going to receive an extensive training in order to help customers choose the right product.

So, what exactly are the differences between Windows 8 and Windows RT? And which one is right for you?

The simplest way to explain the two is to say that Windows 8 is a full-fledged operating system, much like Vista or XP. It's capable of running the full range of desktop software that you're used to dealing with, and can run third party programs outside of what's available in its app store. Windows 8 can be bought separately as an upgrade to your current operating system, and will run only on x86 products powered by Intel or AMD chips. The battery life for mobile Windows 8 devices is estimated to be between 6-8 hours, so it could even clock in at a little less.

Windows RT, meanwhile, is essentially a less powerful version of Windows 8 designed specifically for tablets and other mobile devices. RT devices come packed with their own versions of Microsoft Office programs like Word or PowerPoint, but the programs won't have all the features that regular users are used to (you'd need a Windows 8 device to run the programs as you know them). RT will also only run on devices powered by ARM chips, which means that you sacrifice the full features of Windows 8 for better battery life and cheaper costs. To put things in perspective, Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet runs Windows 8 but retails at $900, while the Surface RT starts at $500.

But it's not just that you don't get a full-featured Office suite. Windows RT doesn't support Outlook either, opting to go with new mobile programs called Mail and Calendar. Windows Media Center/Player is not supported either, though RT does have a different media player.

Perhaps most importantly, though, RT doesn't support any third party apps or programs that aren't available directly through the app store. You can't download third party software like Firefox and run it. And the app store still lacks official apps for popular social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

So while Windows 8 and Windows RT do share similar looks and features, there are some important differences to consider before purchasing anything. RT is a good option if you mostly need it for light work and media consumption. If you're in the market for a business-oriented full-feature tablet, however, Windows 8 devices are probably the better choice.

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