Windows 8 Surface: Which Version Is Right For You?

With less than one week to go until Windows 8 upon us we’ll be spending most of this week getting you ready to make the switch to Microsoft’s most ambitious software update. But that’s not the only product that Microsoft is releasing on the 28th – there is, of course, the small matter of its Surface tablet.

You’ll probably already know this: but Windows 8 comes in two different versions when it comes to tablets. There’s the standard Windows 8 x86; which you can use on your desktop PC, laptop and tablet. Then there’s RT version; which is specifically used for ARM-based Surface tablets.

Confused? Well that’s why were here to help.

Surface will be able to run come on both versions of Windows, which is a great thing; more choice is always better for consumers. But you need to be certain which version is most suitable for yourself – as they’re worlds apart when it comes to functionality, size and features.

If you go for an RT version, which launches on Friday, it comes with a host of benefits, including battery life, the weight of devices, cheaper price points and so on – but there are some major difference which you need to know before you throw your hard earned cash down.

RT only runs RT apps

Now this might sound obvious but the RT version of Windows 8 will only run RT enabled metro apps. So if you want to use a Windows piece of software such as Photoshop or even play PC games then this isn’t the tablet for you. Of course software manufacturers will be bringing their software to the RT version, but it might take a while  – so be prepared to wait if that’s the case.

The x86 Windows tablets—like the Surface launching three months from now—can run basically any Windows program you’ve bought in the last several years. So, if you’re someone who needs a specific program for work – even something basic like Photoshop – you’re going to have to hold off on an RT machine and wait for a pricer x86 version.

Limited App Selection

While we expect this to change, there will obviously be a limited amount of apps ready at launch. So, there will be a limited amount apps you can use, and at the last time writing there were around 4,000 apps which are currently RT-enabled.

There are, of course, plenty of big hitters including support from the likes of Netflix, Evernote, and Amazon. But Much like Android’s Honeycomb software, the selection of apps is a bit ropey and it’s more a case of what it hasn’t got, than what it has. There’s no support from Spotify, Facebook or Twitter, yet. Obviously if you get the x86 compatible version then there’s no issue as you can install anything form of software whether it’s Windows legacy apps or RT metro style apps.

Thankfully, every RT Surface comes with a full Office 13 suite which includes favourites like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, and syncs your documents over SkyDrive. But it only comes with student license – so it wouldn’t be suitable for a businesses as it wouldn’t have the business license.

Surface RT Is A Walled Garden Eco-system

Windows RT is a walled garden eco-system – this means, like iOS, you can only install apps which Microsoft will allow you to install. Now, we won’t get into the arguments about whether open is better. But you need to realise that once you’ve decided to go the RT route you’re at the mercy of Microsoft and what it decides it wants on it’s apps store.

Obviously it’s too early to say quite how strict they’ll be – but we know it took months, if not years, for Apple to finally allow certain apps on its app store. It’s likely to be the same sort of situation with Surface. But with Microsoft playing third fiddle to Apple and Android you’d expect Microsoft to do its level best to get as many apps on board as soon as possible. So we’d expect their rules to be a lot more lenient than Apple’s – but don’t expect the likes of emulators and other less than legal apps to make it onto Surface RT.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s different. And it’s likely to be picked up by Android users as a reason not to buy into the Surface eco-system.

Windows Media Player Doesn’t Play Nice With RT

Another difference between x86 and RT is Windows Media Player Centre. If you use the rather archaic system as your  main digital video recorder you’ll need to get an x86 Surface, since RT doesn’t actually work with Windows Media Player.

Will It Be Compatible With My Work Office System?

No, probably not. Business users will also need to avoid the RT version as it is unable to be used with Windows Active Directory domain. So if you company or office likes keeping everything standardised then RT will not be suitable for you and you should probably wait for the myriad of x86 variants to be released towards the end of 2012.

So, Should I Wait?

If you want to use your Surface tablet like an iPad – then there’s no real reason to wait. But if you use specialist software then you might want to hold off until you can be sure you can live without certain apps. Or you can buy the more expensive x86 version which is expected to be released in December.

Tomorrow we’ll go through what you need to do to be Windows 8 ready. 

This post was written by:

- who has written 609 posts on UK Gadget and Tech News, Reviews and Shopping.

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