Windows RT app incompatibility could be Surface 'buzzkill'

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The Windows RT operating system, which runs Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) new Surface tablet, is not compatible with earlier Windows apps, which could be a "major buzzkill" for the tablet, observed Current Analysis analyst Charlotte Dunlap.

There is currently a limited selection of apps and app support for Windows RT. "The only apps available on Windows RT are the ones listed via the Marketplace, and popular desktop and laptop apps are not going to be ported to this environment anytime soon," Dunlap wrote on the IT Connection blog.

At the same time, the new Windows 8 OS, which runs PCs, laptops and desktop software, is fully compatible with legacy apps.

"Microsoft is feeding a frenzy of confusion among developers that are questioning the implications of incompatible Windows operating systems used between laptop and mobile devices," Dunlap observed.

"The new [Windows RT] OS is a stripped down version of Windows 8, i.e., it's the same OS, but without backwards compatibility. That's a real issue for tablet users that want to use their current applications with the device, which has very limited application support," she noted.

Windows RT runs on an ARM chip, while Windows 8 runs on an Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) multicore processor; this difference gives rise to the app compatibility issues for the two operating systems.

If the compatibility issues confuse developers, imagine the impact on consumers when they go to buy a Surface tablet and find they cannot run any of their favorite apps. "Compatibility is a huge, huge issue," IDC analyst Bob O'Donnell told CNET recently. Microsoft needs to be clear about how the ARM-based Windows RT tablet differs from the Intel-based Windows 8 Pro tablet, he noted.

"The two devices are going to be virtually identical, but the two chips inside determine which software actually works with it--or not," said O'Donnell. The IDC analyst warned that the Surface tablet could suffer the same fate as the Android tablets, which had similar app compatibility issues and resulted in many consumers returning them.

The Windows OS compatibility conundrum is likely to impact Surface uptake among consumers and enterprises. Microsoft hardly needs another misstep in the mobile device marketplace dominated by Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android and Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iOS.

For more:
- read Dunlap's blog
- check out the CNET article

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