When Microsoft officially releases its next OS – Windows 8, in the next few days, it will also release its smaller cousin – Windows RT. First off, the RT doesn’t really stand for anything that I can find. The Product Managers and engineers simply called it Windows 8 for ARM until the marketing group came up with RT (maybe the engineers named it). This scaled down version of the full Windows 8 OS is designed to run on devices with ARM processors like, tablets, smartphones, and other similar devices. In a detailed posting on the Windows 8 blog, Microsoft stated that Windows 8 will have the most extensive re-design of the entire printing architecture since Windows 2000. Microsoft Product Managers have been taking a beating for years about how bloated and slow the Windows OS is. A major, no mandatory, objective of Windows 8 was to take a buzz saw to the memory requirements of all elements of the new OS, with the print driver subsystem a primary target.
As part of the overhaul, Microsoft created a new, extensible, print driver structure designed to support printing to existing devices, (even if only basic at first), to add support for new devices in the future. Even more important, the ARM based Windows RT will only use “in-box” print drivers. By design, this minimal driver approach is designed to streamline the OS. Microsoft in fact intends to evolve to a “driver-less” print platform.
So what does this really mean for a business owner or enterprise that has machines running Windows 7 and needs to support devices running Windows RT? Basically, it means that users with tablets, or devices running RT won’t be able to take full advantage of some advanced printing features like automatic duplexing or other formatting niceties, but should still be able to do basic printing. The storm of enterprise devices running RT may be tolerable though if previous Windows OS device releases are a predictor of what volume to expect.
Quietly though, the major manufacturers are hoping that the incompatibility of older machines to the new OS may lead to new machine sales. Face it, this is a major OS release and it provides an opportunity for the big manufacturers to sell more new copiers and printers.
Windows RT Drivers
Sooner or later, all of the major manufacturers will have driver support for devices with Windows RT. In the meantime though, Windows provides limited driver support via its developer website. The IT staff is probably already thinking about the slew of calls it will face in the coming days as users with devices running the new OS begin to proliferate the corporate network.
One of the side effects of evolving to a driver-less printing structure is the reduction of bloatware, add-on services, and applications that often comes along with manufacturers print driver stacks. The elimination of this leech of system resources was one of the goals of Microsoft Product Mangers.
The Botton Line
Microsoft deserves a lot of credit with their work on Windows 8 and RT. They ambitiously are attempting to move to a driver-less system under which users won’t need to add a driver for their device to work with any Windows printing system. This move may help the entire print and copy market ecosystem. Compatibility issues will occur in the short term, however, I like the long term prospects of Windows 8 and RT for the copy and print industry.