Are Microsoft Store employees misleading customers about Windows RT?
Yesterday brought the launch of Windows 8 as well as the official launch of a number of Windows RT tablets. We went to a local Microsoft Store to check out the new devices, and were surprised at some of the information being given out by store employees. By far, the worst bit of misinformation was that one employee told us that Windows RT is "nearly identical" to Windows 8.
For those of you who don't understand the difference: Windows 8 is the full fledged Windows that you'll find on most desktops and laptops, but will be available on higher-end tablets and convertibles. It can run any Windows app available including both the new apps written for the Modern UI, as well as "legacy apps" like all of the programs that you may find out on the web. Windows RT is more like Windows Phone for tablets. The only apps available for an RT device are the ones found in the Windows Store, and the only non-Modern UI programs that currently exist for RT are Microsoft Office apps.
Even worse, the Windows RT apps catalog isn't just dependent on developers writing Modern UI-only apps. The Windows Store has app restrictions similar to what we saw in the early days of the iOS App Store (Apple has been forced to open up a bit, and hasn't blocked major apps since it attempted to block Google Voice and got a letter from a senator). If you have a Windows RT device, Internet Explorer 10 had better be good for you, because that's the only browser you'll have access to. Additionally, the built-in Mail app for Windows RT doesn't support POP3 e-mail, which could make it difficult if not impossible for some users to set up their e-mail.
This is why we were so surprised on our visit to the Microsoft Store. We went in hoping to see some proper Windows 8 hybrids, but those weren't in yet, and apparently won't be released until the Surface Pro is released, which isn't for about 3 months. After mentioning that, the Microsoft Store did his job and tried pointing us to Windows RT devices, the trouble was that in doing so, he said "Windows RT is nearly identical to Windows 8." We questioned this, and got the response, "The only difference is that RT doesn't have access to 'legacy apps'."
Maybe we take issue with semantics a bit too much, but "nearly" is a very dangerous word. You could say that the NBA and WNBA are "nearly identical", but that would be giving the WNBA a bit too much credit. Fuji apples and Pink Lady apples are "nearly identical". Visually, Windows RT and Windows 8 may be "nearly identical", but functionally, Windows RT is the handicapped brother of Windows 8.
We fully understand that the employee was doing his job and just trying to make a sale, but customers still deserve the option to make an informed decision. If this is the information that Microsoft is directing employees to give out, we're afraid that is a major distortion of reality in order to make a sale, and could lead to quite a lot of disappointed users in the time between now and when the real Windows 8 tablets arrive. It's one thing for Apple to say that its products are "magical" because that's a very subjective thing to say. But, claiming that RT is "nearly identical" to full Windows 8 is objectively false and misleading. It was also troubling that we had to question that statement before getting the explanation, and even then, the explanation downplayed the impact of having no legacy app support, which is a dangerous choice by Microsoft.
The average consumer may not necessarily care about the limitations of Windows RT, but that doesn't mean that those limitations should be glazed over by Microsoft Store employees. There is a difference between trying to make a sale, and trying to create a good customer. A company can mislead customers all they want, but in general those decisions will come back negatively, because customers will be disappointed in the products. If a company is more honest, and explains things properly, some customers may decide it's not worth it, but those that do buy will be happier with their purchase because expectations have been set properly. A happy customer is more likely to recommend products to others, and you begin a virtuous circle of good service. Not explaining the limitations of RT to customers is potentially starting a circle of disappointment with users, who will then tell friends about their problems, and cause more problems than just one disappointed user.
We have reached out to Microsoft for comment on the topic, but Microsoft's PR company doesn't work on weekends, so we have to wait on a potential response.