Windows 8 was the focus of the Microsoft TechEd keynote yesterday. While it was nice to hear all of their future Windows message in one place, the keynote left me thinking about different scenarios for Windows 8 on x86 versus Windows RT on ARM devices. Since by now you’ve probably already read dozens of articles about both of those and all their features, for now I’m just going to concentrate on what does and doesn’t matter when comparing the two.
Things that don’t matter
First off: form factor. There are tons of x86 Windows 8 devices that don’t have keyboards and feel like sleek tablets. And there also (though fewer) Windows RT devices that have keyboards and mice and feel like laptops. The messaging from TechEd was that the wide network of OEMs will ensure that Windows devices will be any type of hardware you can imagine. It’s true that Windows RT ARM devices will tend towards the my tablet-like end of the spectrum, but there are enough small and light Windows 8 x86 tablets to make this a moot point. (All this, by the way, is great for people who want the line between tablet and notebook to be blurry—and since there were no touch-enabled MacBooks or new types iPads at the Apple World Wide Developer Conference this week, Windows is going to be the only way to blur that line for the time being.)
What about energy consumption and processing power? Traditionally the commonly-held knowledge stated x86 devices were more powerful but had shorter battery life and that ARM devices were the opposite. Now, however, there are plenty of long-life x86 Windows 8 devices out there, so this isn’t too much of an issue anymore.
Things that do matter
So what questions do matter? First, do you want to run Windows 7 apps? If so, the answer of course is Windows 8 on x86. But when you remember that there’s going to be a version of Office for Windows RT, that leaves a much smaller pool of devices that would need to be able to run Windows 7 applications.
The final question comes down to management. Windows RT devices will be managed similar to the way that mobile devices will are managed, while x86 Windows 8 devices will be managed like traditional Windows desktops. The result is that how these new Windows devices are managed has nothing to do with their form factor. And that means that—aside from any need for Windows 7 applications—the determining factor for whether you choose Windows 8 or Windows RT will be how you want to manage the device. This also means that users who want touch-based devices and IT admins that want to manage them like traditional PCs will both be happy.