Understanding Windows 8 vs. Windows RT – Would you settle for less?

Win 8 versus RT

It is coming to a lot of consumers attention that with Microsoft’s Surface tablet and Windows 8 being released, the company has little information explaining users that there is a big difference between Windows 8 and Windows RT.

Let’s just start by saying that Windows RT is not a version of the operating system you’ll be buying to install in new the system. It will only be distributed by OEM (device manufacturers) on new devices like the new Surface and many other mobile devices, including low-powered Windows 8 PCs.

Windows 8 is the latest Microsoft’s OS for PCs, as everyone would expect, this version runs legacy applications — traditional programs such as Photoshop, full version of Microsoft Office even Outlook, iTunes, and millions of other custom programs including many Windows 7 down to XP software (if supported)  –, because they are based on the x86/x64 architecture chipsets, e.g., Intel and AMD CPUs. But now Microsoft has a new stripped-down version of the operating system called Windows RT specifically designed for low-power ARM architecture chipsets like the ones you see today in smartphones.

The reason for the new version of the OS is for the company to stay competitive and be part of the new wave of thin and light handheld devices. Don’t get me wrong, while today traditional chipsets on Windows PCs deliver an awesome performance and never expected battery life for mobile devices, but ARM is unique on providing off-the-chart power performance and enables Windows to compete at the same level with the iPad and Android tablets.

The Problem

However, here is when things start getting a bit complicated for consumers, Intel-based chips are not compatible with ARM chips. This means that all of the millions applications, including the ones you use everyday for work or entertainment or even the Windows Phone apps, will not work on ARM-Windows RT handhelds devices. Although, the software giant is building a new ecosystem of applications that will run on both operating system Windows 8 and RT — these are the ones you’ll find at the Windows Store.

What you also need to know is that many features built-in Windows 8 are not present in Windows RT. Some applications include Windows Media Center and Windows Media Player. In features you won’t find the encryption mechanism called BitLocker — Although it is worth noting that RT comes with a custom mechanism to encrypt the device for security — or Storage Spaces, which is a new way to manage data storage in your PC.

Another drawback is that you are unable to install full-desktop applications with Windows RT and if the software you use gets ported to the Windows Store — Oh! There still not an official name for the so-called Metro Style app, but it seems that the company is settling for the name Windows Store apps –, you may be required to pay for app again, of course this is only if the software publisher decide to convert the program to a metro style app.

They look identical

To the naked eye, Windows RT and Windows 8 look exactly the same, mice, keyboards, bluetooth, USB, printers and other devices work perfectly in both versions out of the box. This is because the new class drivers that are built-in in both versions of the operating system allows you to connect a compatible peripheral and start using it right away without the need of additional driver. The only big difference as I mentioned before is that you won’t be installing any legacy programs that it isn’t bundled with Windows RT. The case and point with this will be Surface coming with Microsoft Office 2013 RT pre-installed. Let me be a bit more clear here, Office 2013 RT only offers Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote; Outlook isn’t part of the RT suite and you cannot install it from an installation media. Furthermore, consumers will find themselves in situations where not all peripherals are compatible with either version of the new OS, but that’s just the nature of having different platforms.

Connected Standby

The software giant has built the next version of Windows to be more connected and more power efficient. Both Windows RT and Win 8 comes with a new power management feature called Connected Standby, which is the key that permits the device to act a lot like smartphones. This means that devices can power down in a smarter way to conserve battery life, while Windows Store apps can stay running in the background performing different tasks such as notifications, emails, and other sorts of updates.

There are some limitations to what you can do in Window RT, but you’ll still be able to get your work done using Microsoft Office 2013 RT or by using Windows Store apps. Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro will continue being full-featured operating systems to carry out any task, that if using the new metro style apps, Office, Photoshop and with any other full-desktop software.


  • Experience the new Windows 8 user UI
  • Install many Windows Store apps
  • Play videos
  • Surf the Internet
  • Get the work done with Microsoft Office 2013 RT
  • Use WordPad and Notepad
  • Connected Standby and hundreds of new features found in Windows 8


  • Full desktop applications aren’t supported in Windows RT (only Metro style apps)
  • You cannot install Outlook
  • IE10 is the only web browser and you can only access Flash sites whitelisted by Microsoft
  • You cannot install Windows Media Center
  • You cannot use Windows Media Player
  • You cannot use Storage Space
  • You cannot use BitLocker
  • Some peripherals might not support the OS
  • SkyDrive desktop application isn’t present on RT
  • Desktop is limited to pre-installed apps (IE10, Office 2013 RT, Notepad, etc.)

Choosing a Surface

If you are thinking on purchasing a Microsoft Surface, there still some questions remaining. For this I have prepared a how to guide that will help you choose.

Wrapping up

The new application model (Windows Store apps) and the new reimagined user interface are the new ways that Microsoft believes is moving forward. And as time goes by, you will start seeing a bigger array of devices compatible for both ARM and Intel-based Windows 8 PCs and handheld devices, and some of them will run both –These will be the so-called hybrid devices –. Hopefully with this information you’ll be ready to pick the right Windows device that suits your needs.

If you want to compare Windows RT vs. Windows 8 vs. Windows 8 Pro vs. Enterprise, jump to this previous article and you’ll find every version feature-by-feature.

Note: I will be updating this article as more information comes out. If I missed something please tell me in the comments below.
About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 14 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and About.me. Email him at [email protected].