Preston Gralla

Microsoft must kill Windows RT to survive in mobile, says analyst

November 26, 2013 10:40 AM EST

If Microsoft is going to ride the boom in tablets it needs to reduce the number of its Windows-related operating systems,says the analyst firm Canalys. If you read between the lines, though, that's just a polite way of saying Windows RT must die.

Canalys's most recent forecast says that tablet sales are booming and will accelerate in 2014, with tablets making up half of the combined market of notebooks, desktop PCs and tablets next year. The report found that tablets made up 40% of all shipments in the third quarter of 2013. By 2014, tablets will have a 49.6% market share, with 285.1 million units shipped. Notebooks will have 33.4% market share with 192.1 million units shipped, and desktops will have a 17% market share, with 98.1 million units shipped.

Given Microsoft's low market share in tablets, this is potentially bad news for Microsoft. However, Canalys says that Microsoft will make some headway, growing from 2% market share in 2012 to 5% market share in 2014. That's clearly not enough. Canalys Research analyst Pin Chen Tang offers some advice for Microsoft on how to grow beyond that:

"To improve its position it must drive app development and better utilize other relevant parts of its business to round out its mobile device ecosystem. A critical first step is to address the coexistence of Windows Phone and Windows RT. Having three different operating systems to address the smart device landscape is confusing to both developers and consumers alike."

What does that really mean? In practical matters, it means killing Windows RT, or possibly folding it into Windows Phone. Clearly, Microsoft can't kill Windows Phone and it can't kill full-blown Windows. That leaves Windows RT as the odd man out.

Pin Chen Tang's suggestion mirrors precisely what Julie Larson-Green, in charge of Microsoft's devices unit, said at the UBS Global Technology Conference last week:

"We have the Windows Phone OS. We have Windows RT and we have full Windows. We're not going to have three."

Her implication was that there would be one Windows to rule them all, running on all devices. However, it's also possible that she was saying that Microsoft would reduce the number of Windows operating systems to two. One would run computers and tablets, and one would run phones. Full-blown Windows would be on computers and tablets. Windows Phone would be on phones. Windows RT would be gone.

So it looks as if the Windows RT experiment will have proven to be a failure. It resulted in a $900 million Microsoft writeoff of its Surface RT tablets. Some people even believe that it contributed to Ballmer's leaving Microsoft. But once it's gone, Microsoft will have a better chance of succeeding in the booming tablet market.