Confused about Windows RT?

If you read the tech press, you’ll find lots of people criticizing Windows RT, and more likely than not, they will say that they are “confused.” OK, I admit that I was initially confused when I got my Microsoft Surface RT, but I’m not a professional tech writer and have an excuse. If I can figure it out, why can’t they?

The first thing to do in understanding the Microsoft Surface and Windows RT is to forget Windows. OK, forgotten? What you have is a tablet computer. Some tablets run Android; some run iOS and some run Windows RT. All of these operating systems run programs you download from a store (apps). They support local storage, network connectivity, provide a touch-screen display and support some hardware or other. Windows RT on the Surface has variable-sized rectangles to run apps, iOS had little rectangles to run apps, the Kindle Fire (Android) has this horrible Carousel to run apps, and other Android devices have other user interfaces. Pretty much all of them have cameras and microphones that let you run Skype, web browsers, and software to play videos. You can read books, listen to music and do social networking on pretty much all of them. This is very familiar territory!

So what’s so complicated? If you want to compare tablet computers, consider if it has the apps you want, how much storage you get, how much it costs, the screen resolution, processor speed and stuff like that. This is not rocket surgery.

Now in addition to being a tablet like all the other tablets out there, the Microsoft Surface RT does some other stuff that other tablets might not do or might not do well or might not do without spending some additional money on an app. The Microsoft Surface RT has these additional features, and adding features is not confusing either. Let me mention some of those additional features:

  • An alternate desktop interface that looks like and in many ways operates like Windows 8.
  • Network file sharing of files from other Windows machines, and the familiar Windows File Explorer to browse them.
  • Ability to use wireless Windows-compatible printers and printers connected to other Windows computers on your network
  • Run Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote (Outlook reportedly coming soon).
  • Run many Windows command-line utilities like tracert, ftp and ping plus familiar Windows programs like MS Paint and Notepad (yes, they’re in there).
  • Internet Explorer 10 with Flash.
  • Supports a wide range of USB and Bluetooth devices: headset microphones, keyboards, mice, headphones, flash drives.

With virtually no setup, you can remote desktop to your Windows Pro/Ultimate machine in the other room and on it you can run all those Windows desktop programs, compile software, edit video and create music. This does take a free app (Remote Desktop) that takes a minute to install. I can show you a screen shot showing the Surface with Firefox browsing the Internet.


One of my gripes about modern software is the lack of documentation, or the difficulty of finding it. One extremely useful document is the Surface RT User’s Guide. I found it on the Internet. Maybe it was on the Surface somewhere. It’s there now.

So how many tablets have standard USB ports you can plug a flash drive into, or a 500 GB USB portable hard drive? Can you put a 64GB micro SD card in your iPad to up the internal storage? Does your tablet have HDMI output (some do)? Will your Kindle work with your Bluetooth headset/microphone? How about that Blue Yeti microphone?  The only thing so far that I haven’t been able to hook up to the surface is a ten-year-old flatbed scanner.

These people who are confused are just trying to make the Surface into a Windows laptop, and that’s just not what it is. Now you can get a Surface Pro and that is a Windows laptop with a touch screen, but it’s $400 more. Besides, I already have a laptop.

About Kevin

Just an old guy with opinions that I like to bounce off other people.
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