Windows 8 vs Windows RT vs WinRT

The next time you abbreviate Windows RT to WinRT I’m gonna hit you, because they’re just not the same thing.

That’s the feeling I’ve been having recently while reading dozens of uninformed comments on tech blogs all over the Web talking about Windows 8.

Windows 8 Editions

Windows 8 comes in three SKUs:

  • Windows 8
  • Windows 8 Pro
  • Windows 8 Enterprise

All three copies can run Desktop Apps, which is to say unrestricted desktop-mode applications. This includes stuff like Microsoft Outlook, Adobe Photoshop, Google Chrome, Java, Minecraft, and all of these gazillions of traditional Win32 executables that make Windows the universal platform it is today.

The rest of the differences are somewhat irrelevant if you don’t already know the difference between Windows RT and WinRT, but they include stuff like encryption for the Pro edition and enterprise deployment capabilities for the Enterprise edition.

If you’ve been in love with Windows Media Center however, take note that it is only available as a free add-on on Windows 8 Pro. Plus, it’s not really supported anymore, so if you’re still using that, consider moving to some other solution with a better future.

Windows RT

In traditional talk, Windows RT is part of the Windows 8 SKUs, except in reality, plans at Microsoft indicate that Windows RT will remain a separate version of Windows in the future, and rightfully so.

You see, Windows RT runs on the ARM architecture of microprocessors, versus Intel’s X86 platform for Windows 8 (and all other versions of Windows prior). Applications compiled for X86 do not run on ARM, although it’s easy to simply recompile them. But Microsoft wants Windows RT to be just like Apple’s iOS, so on Windows RT, only Metro-style apps will run, and they can only be downloaded via the Windows app Store.

While Microsoft did include a Desktop environment with Windows RT, including a free copy of Office 2013 Home & Student (which does not and never will include Outlook), it will never run Desktop Apps.

You got me right. No Photoshop, no Google Chrome, no Outlook. Ever! Unless they’re rebuilt to run in Metro (that’s the whole tile interface).

The WinRT Framework

To make things more complicated, all of these editions are powered by what Microsoft calls the Windows Runtime, or WinRT for short, the successor to Win32, also known as Windows API or WinAPI, used in previous editions of Windows since the migration from DOS.

The RT in WinRT means Runtime, but the RT in Windows RT does not. Microsoft chose not to explain what RT means in the case of Windows on ARM (and Runtime does not make sense).

Windows RT is actually an edition of the Windows operating system that runs the WinRT framework. Oh how confusing.

Stop the abbreviations

So there you have it;¬†next time you speak about Windows 8 and Windows RT, do not use “WinRT”. That’s a framework featured in all Windows 8 editions and Windows RT, not an OS variant.

Windows 8 is Windows 8
Windows RT is Windows RT
WinRT is Windows Runtime

The WinRT Song

I also made a song which I posted on Facebook earlier to help anyone remember what they’re buying (should they buy a Windows RT-based device or a Microsoft Surface RT):

Remember kids:

Windows 8 is like OS X
Windows RT is like iOS
Windows 8 is partially open
Windows RT, isn’t
Windows 8, runs desktop apps
Windows RT, doesn’t
Windows 8, comes with nothing
Windows RT, comes with Office, but will never run Outlook
Surface Pro, runs Windows 8
Surface RT, runs Windows RT
Surface Pro, is like a laptop with a touchscreen
Surface RT, is like a tablet with a keyboard
Surface Pro, has a pen
Surface RT, doesn’t
Surface Pro, runs Photoshop
Surface RT, doesn’t
Surface Pro, runs Minecraft
Surface RT, doesn’t
Surface Pro, runs Steam
Surface RT, doesn’t
Surface Pro, is like a PC
Surface RT, is like an iPad with no apps
Surface Pro, can run any browser
Surface RT, can only run IE


5 thoughts on “Windows 8 vs Windows RT vs WinRT”

  1. The mere fact that you have to write this article shows how horrible Microsoft is at naming their products. Let me just pull my Microsoft Surface table/tablet out and look this up…

  2. Sadly, this is not exactly the case. We know Microsoft will try to update its Windows RT devices to a version of Windows 10 with only some of the new features, but what’s probably for sure is that the limited functionality of Windows RT is not going away.

    You’ll get the UI improvements of Windows 10, but this is essentially Windows Phone on any ARM device, still. You won’t be able to run traditional desktop apps any more than you were on Windows RT.

    The only difference beyond UI improvements and probably Cortana & Co. is a unified development model for modern apps. And even on that, we don’t still don’t know what it means exactly. We’ll have to wait for Build 2015 at the end of April.

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