Preston Gralla

Microsoft's top Surface exec: We're all in with Windows RT

May 27, 2014 2:18 PM EDT

Last week's introduction of the Surface Pro 3 was noticeably lacking an RT version of the device -- the first time a Surface Windows tablet was announced without a Windows RT companion. But Panos Panay, in charge of the Surface, today insisted that Microsoft is committed to Windows RT for the long haul.

Panay and the Surface team today are participating in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) session, and among the questions asked was one related to Windows RT. A user called vehcilet asked this question:

"Does the omission of a non-Pro Surface during last week's presentation mean the end of the product and Windows RT?"

The answer from Panay and the Surface team was fast and seems unequivocal:

"Windows on ARM continues to be an important part of the Windows strategy. The Surface 2 (which runs Windows RT) is a great choice for both play and getting work done. Windows on ARM got even better with recent additions including third-party MDM, workplace join and Outlook, which is preinstalled along with the other Microsoft Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote), with the Windows RT 8.1 update."

That's a surprise. With the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft has changed its marketing and technology plan for its tablets. The company is now pushing them not just as productivity tablets, but as full-blown laptop replacements. And its primary market is now businesses more than consumers, because of the high price of the Surface Pro 3 plus keyboard, $930. Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar WorldPanel Comtech, told Computerworld that the tablet is clearly aimed at businesses, who can use them to replace aging PCs and laptops:

"The enterprise is where they fit. And maybe it's best to think about [the Surface Pro 3] as where the next replacement cycle for PCs will go, and how something like it gives companies an upgrade path for their [current] laptops and PCs."

But Windows RT can't run desktop apps, which means that it's thorougly unsuited for the enterprise. So where do Windows RT tablets fit in? That's not at all clear. Either Panay has a secret plan for RT that he's not telling the world, or he's simply repeating the company public line for now. My guess is that he's toeing the line. There seems to be no place in the world for a Windows RT-based tablet that can't be used by enterprises, and that consumers continue to shun.