How to relieve Microsoft's Surface RT piles problem

Burning problem for millions... oh where is that cooling cream of a Win32 API?


Somewhere in Redmond (at least metaphorically speaking) are several very large piles of unsold Surface RT tablet components.

Why did the long-awaited and much-hyped ARM tablet running "Windows for ARM" Windows RT flop so badly, when ARM tablets running iOS for ARM from Apple are doing so well?

It's not just the Modern Windows - or Metro - interface. Yes, everyone hates it on desktop Windows (although we're all going to have to get used to it, for reasons I'll come back to in my next article). But on phones, it's actually quite well liked. Some customers even like Surface.

Everyone LOVES a tiled interface... on a smartphone

But Windows RT (which you can't call WinRT, which is - in typical Microsoft branding style - are confusingly different but related things) is not "Windows Phone 8 for tablets". It's not even compatible with Windows Phone apps - even though it's based on the same Windows NT kernel as Windows Phone 8.

The only operating system Surface will run is, yes, Windows RT, which is essentially Windows 8 for ARM – but a version of Windows 8 with much of its functionality disabled. Most desktop users dislike Windows 8's Start screen and its "Modern apps" – but on Windows RT, Modern apps are all you're allowed. Windows RT does have a desktop, but it's locked down - only Microsoft's browser Internet Explorer version 11 and the bundled version of Office RT (a version of Office Home and Student 2013) - can use it.

Similarly, Windows RT is entirely compatible with the standard Win32 API - so long as the app has been compiled for ARM, of course - but developers aren't allowed to use it. The marketdroids commanded that it be disabled. You're only allowed to install signed apps from the Windows Store.

It's possible to run standard Win 32 apps on a Surface RT that's been jailbroken. You can re-enable Win32 and then install and run a small assortment of FOSS desktop Windows apps that have been recompiled for ARM. But it's a hack, likely to disappear in future and it will probably go down about as well with resellers as rooting your smartphone.

Windows RT and Windows Phone... so close and yet so far

Something else Windows RT won't do is run Windows Phone apps, even though they're designed for an interface that looks just like Windows 8's Modern UI. Windows Phone 8 is a different branch of the family, more limited still than Windows RT, with severe compatibility restrictions.

Windows RT apps won't run on Windows Phone or vice versa: they must be ported. Allegedly, Microsoft itself estimates only 70 to 80 per cent of code reuse.

And remember that mention of "the only operating system Surface will run"? That's a deliberate restriction, too. To get the case sticker (and marketing money) that says that their devices are compatible with Windows 8, PC manufacturers must use UEFI firmware instead of a legacy BIOS. A stipulation of this is SecureBoot, which means the firmware won't boot any code that isn't signed by Microsoft.

On x86 machines, you can turn off Secure Boot if you want to install Linux or some other operating system on your computer. But on ARM-powered Windows computers, you can't turn off SecureBoot, so no other operating system can be installed. No Ubuntu Mobile or Android (or WebOS, Tizen or Sailfish) for you.

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021