What Is Windows RT, And Where Did Microsoft Get That Cryptic Name?

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Photo: Illustration: Ellis Hamburger

Earlier today, Microsoft announced the names of its next editions of Windows.One of them is called Windows RT.

Windows RT is the official name for what Microsoft had been calling Windows On ARM. It’s a new version of Windows designed to run on low-powered ARM processors, which are used in a lot of tablets today (including the iPad) because they offer longer battery life than the Intel-type processors used in traditional PCs.

So what’s up with that name?

We asked Microsoft. It turns out that RT doesn’t stand for “Retweet” or “Radical Technology” or “Ridiculously Tangled.”

It stands for “Runtime.”

It refers to WinRT, the Windows Runtime Library.

It’s actually quite a tricky and important bit of technology, because it allows developers to write one app that runs on both Windows 8 (which uses Intel-type processors) and Windows RT (which uses ARM). Without it, developers would have to do extra work to get their apps to run on each platform.

But still — why didn’t Microsoft just call the operating system something like “Windows 8 ARM”? Why are they taking such pains to avoid the Windows 8 brand?

That’s not clear, but it could be for licensing purposes. Companies who covered Windows 7 on a long-term licence agreement called an Enterprise Agreement automatically get upgrade rights when a new version comes out. But Microsoft might say that those upgrade rights only let them go to Windows 8, not Windows RT. That actually makes sense, since Windows 8 can be installed in place on existing Windows machines, while Windows RT cannot be bought separately at all — it will only come preinstalled on ARM-based Windows tablets.

Or it might be to make sure consumers know the difference between the ARM-based Windows RT tablets, which won’t run old Windows apps, and the Intel-type Windows 8 tablets, which will run old apps.

In case you were wondering, Windows XP stood for “eXPerience,” and Windows Me stood for “Millennium Edition.”

rumour has it that Windows NT stood for “New Technology,” but Microsoft never officially confirmed it.

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