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Microsoft Surface with Windows RT - A Window of Opportunity?
By Sidney Wong & Vijay Anand - 9 Apr 2013
Launch SRP: S$668

Windows RT, Navigation and the Windows App Store

Getting Familiar with Windows RT

Windows Phone users will find the Modern-style user interface on the Surface very familiar to work with. PC users who've tried Windows 8 since the beta days would also be familiar with using Windows RT as it's basically the same UI.

First and foremost, the Surface with Windows RT will not be a more portable substitute for your laptop or desktop simply because it cannot run traditional desktop applications which are designed to work with x86 processors (Intel/AMD usually). For full compatibility and executing old and new apps, that task falls upon the just release Surface with Windows 8 Pro.

The only desktop applications that can be used and are preloaded on the Surface with Windows RT are Internet Explorer 10, Notepad, Paint, File Explorer, Control Panel, OneNote, and Office 2013 RT Preview (the final Office version will be installed via Windows update when available). Basically, you can only extend the capabilities of the Surface with Windows RT by downloading apps from the online Windows Store, which will offer you apps that are designed to be used with the Modern-style user interface and are compatible with Windows RT (which is designed to work with power-efficient ARM processors) and Windows 8 (designed to run on x86 processors).

So why then is there a desktop-edition of certain apps on Windows RT? The provided desktop apps on Windows RT allow users to do much more than the Modern-UI based editions that are designed for simplicity and touch-friendly usage. For example, Internet Explorer 10 launched from the Modern-style user interface is a plug-in free edition that is supposedly more secure and is touch-friendly. However, the desktop edition of IE10 functions much the same way as the traditional browser with full plug-in support and still looks pretty much like IE9. File Explorer on the other hand allows Windows RT to have a full fledged file browser like a PC, which none of the tablet operating systems have. Couple that with mouse and keyboard support, and you can manipulate these apps just as if you were working with a traditional desktop PC. To put it simply, the desktop-mode still exists in Windows RT to launch more advanced apps, access to advanced system management tools (including opening a command-line interface, PowerShell, etc.) and running existing legacy (x86) applications that are recompiled for ARM (such as Office 2013 RT, which is why this launches in desktop mode).

The Desktop Mode gives you access to several familiar apps such as Control Panel, Internet Explorer 10, Notepad and Paint.

You can only use the apps mentioned above in the Desktop Mode. Therefore, you cannot install existing Windows applications like Adobe Photoshop or games like Diablo III.

As the tablet is designed to work best in landscape mode, the only logical way to navigate the user interface is via a horizontal scroll. Like Windows Phone, you can unpin each tile from the Start Screen or resize it. To find out what you can do with each tile, simply press, hold and drag the tile a little to reveal the option bar below.

You can unpin a Tile, uninstall, resize or turn the live tile off from the Start Screen.


Gestures to Navigate the User Interface

Here is a quick look at the basic gestures for navigating the user interface on the Surface: -

  • Pinch on the Start screen to see an overview of the tiles. 


  • Swipe down from top or up from bottom to reveal the context menu.
  • Pinch gesture in the All Apps will list the apps in alphabetical order.
  • Swipe from the left to the centre of the screen to multitask.
  • To see the most recent apps that you opened, swipe from left and quickly swipe back.
  • To quit an app, swipe from the top to bottom.
  • Windows RT allows you to run two apps simultaneously.
  • To activate Split Screen mode, swipe from the left of the screen and hold it over the existing app that you are running.
  • Only one app will have a larger view at any point in time. You can change the app which occupies a larger screen estate by simply adjusting the dividing line between the two apps.

You also can check out other gestures in our Windows 8 Mega Guide where we cover the Lock Screen, Start Screen, Desktop, Using Charms, Common Touch Gestures, Snap Multitasking, On-Screen keyboards and many more. These features are also easily demonstrated in our videos here and here.

The Surface is not the first tablet to incorporate gesture navigation. The BlackBerry PlayBook also utilizes a series of gestures for navigating its user interface. As mentioned in the review of the PlayBook, first time users are likely to face a slight learning curve. However, we found ourselves swiping from all corners of the Surface with ease in less than an hour of using the tablet. 


Windows Store 

According to third party sources, Microsoft had over 9000 apps available for download on its Windows Store on its launch day, 26 October. Within a month, an independent analyst of the Windows Store claimed that the app store had over 20,000 apps, of which 17,958 were free. By end of 2012, MetroStore Scanner stated that Windows Store had over 35,000 apps. Impressive growth numbers, isn't it?

Why are these numbers important? Well, you can only download and install apps on the Surface (or any other Windows RT device) from the Windows Store. The apps at Windows Store are specifically coded to run on both ARM-based processors and the traditional x86 processor based systems. To put it simply, any app that you download from Windows Store will run on Windows RT and Windows 8.

The Windows Store has some popular apps such as Evernote and Dropbox. While it pales in comparison with what are available on Apple App Store and Google Play, the momentum is growing for Windows Store.

  • Design 8.5
  • Features 8
  • User-Friendliness 8
  • Performance 8.5
  • Value 8
The Good
Great design and handling
Good overall performance
One of the best optional portable keyboard add-on units
The Bad
Slight learning curve for Windows UI
Limited apps on Windows Store
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