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Today in Tech: Window's RT, Microsoft's Answer to iOS


Microsoft unveils three versions of Windows 8, and Intel shows off a whole new kind of tablet that will use it. Will an iPad Mini kill it off?

Today, Microsoft (MSFT) unveiled the three flavors of Windows 8. For nearly every PC out there, there will be two choices for the Windows 8 upgrade: a regular Windows 8 for general users, and Windows 8 Pro for techies and enterprise users. Windows 8 Pro comes with some encryption, visualization, remote desktop, and domain connectivity extras. These two versions work for computers with x86/64 chip architecture.

The third type, Windows RT, is a complete and total departure for Microsoft, and deserves the separate name. Previously called Windows on ARM, RT is engineered to work on light notebooks with less power-hungry chips with chipsets licensed by ARM Holdings (ARMH). The ARM architecture is found in most smartphones and tablets like Apple's (AAPL) iPad. ARM chips are less powerful than the sort that Intel (INTC) makes, but Microsoft's Brandon LeBlanc promises that all versions will "offer a no-compromise experience." RT will only be available pre-loaded on the thin ARM-powered PCs with long battery life, and will include touch-optimized versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. The RT name stands for "runtime," which LeBlanc says "forms the foundation of a new generation of cloud-enabled, touch-enabled, Web-connected apps of all kinds."

Just as iPhone and iPad users can't install Mac desktop applications, RT-powered tablets will also run in an app ecosystem different from the x86/64 versions of Windows 8.

Windows 8 is attracting a lot of attention, even from die-hard Mac fans, especially for the user-friendly tiled Metro interface. I personally had the opportunity to test-drive Windows 8 on a friend's desktop. Without a touchscreen, the cool interface didn't actually improve the experience over Windows 7, in my opinion. It's surprising how simple things like a finger swipe are just that much worse with a mouse. Nevertheless, the next-generation touch-enabled Ultrabooks, like the tablet/laptop hybrid Cove Point that Intel showed off in Beijing last week, could possibly change the whole mobile-computing landscape.

The Metro layout of Windows 8 is a lot like the mobile Windows Phone platform. While Nokia (NOK) can barely keep up with demand for the Lumia 900, major European carriers are unimpressed. Reuters is reporting that an unnamed executive feels that the Lumia is simply "not good enough to compete" with Apple and Android (GOOG). The executive cited battery life and software glitches, as well as a lack of marketing for his disappointment in the phone.

"Nokia have given themselves a double challenge: to restore their credibility in terms of making hardware smartphones and succeed with the Microsoft Windows operating system, which lags in the market," the executive said. "If the Lumia with the same hardware came with Android in it and not Windows, it would be much easier to sell."

Windows 8 is due to debut in the fall, but according to rumors on the Chinese blogosphere, Apple might take the wind out of Microsoft's sails with an iPad Mini. A smaller, cheaper iPad would not be very good news for Samsung's (SSNLF) Galaxy tablets. Apple shares jumped over 3% today, snapping a five-day losing streak where Apple lost 8.45% of its share value.

Groupon (GRPN) acquired the social recommendation app today.

Research in Motion (RIMM), the maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, certainly isn't known for its retail strategy. The BlackBerry actually still dominates in some emerging markets. Jakarta, Indonesia has four BlackBerry Stores. RIM is considering a flagship location in Dubai. In North America, there is just one sad little BlackBerry store in a strip mall in Michigan. The Wall Street Journal said that most of the customers in the store were there for technical help. They spoke with the lone salesperson, who says that they had a loyal regulars. Regulars seeking technical assistance... not a very good sign for RIM.

Twitter: @vincent_trivett
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