Microsoft’s big news this week was, of course, the official release of Windows 8.1, but what was less discussed was the fact that Windows RT had received the same update. Windows 8.1 RT is here, and it is a dramatic improvement over the previous iteration.Windows RT was supposed to be a big deal for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it was consumer-grade Windows on ARM processors, something which had never happened before. It also meant affordable machines for users who simply wanted apps, IE and, Microsoft Office.Starting with the Surface RT, this experiment was less than successful out of the box. The experience was unpolished and Microsoft had compromised in a lot of the wrong places, at least as far as the demands of casual Windows users went. On top of this, Microsoft’s app store took a while to take off, which caused additional problems for users who were trying to compare the experience to iOS or Android. Stability and usability updates have come since then to help the overall experience, but the upgrade to Windows 8.1 has helped make RT devices feel like a whole new experience.Upgrading Windows RT to version 8.1 is just as simple as updating Windows 8 to 8.1. As long as you have your system up-to-date with security patches and your device is charged to at least 30% while connected to the wall, you’ll find the big purple tile in the Microsoft Store prompting you to update to the latest version of Windows. This means downloading and installing the file, which can take upwards of an hour depending on your internet connection. Microsoft allows you to wrap up any work you may have been doing while this download is happening, but afterwards the install will start and your RT device will be busy for a while. When you’re finally given a prompt, it is to set your account back up and give you a quick rundown of what is happening with this new version.Typically when you have an OS upgrade followed immediately by new hardware — specifically the Surface 2, which comes out next week — the first generation of hardware tends to suffer. All too often the new model shines while the previous model has most of the same features but is left with a sub-optimal experience. (Just ask anyone with an iPad mini how their tablet is holding up after the iOS 7 update and you’ll see what I mean.) That’s not the case with the Surface RT and Windows RT 8.1.The Windows RT 8.1 update applies all of the same visual updates from the 8.1 update. You get the new Start Page with an actual Start button on the Desktop. You get split screen app support for any app that supports the feature, and you get the new Bing Smart Search. Every feature from Windows 8.1 made its way into 8.1 RT, at the same time, just as though they were a single OS.After the update performance on the Surface RT was not diminished — it actually improved. The animations when swiping through menus are very smooth. No matter how many apps you have pinned in Modern UI, it looks nice, and it’s very fast to navigate from the Start Page to the full app panel. Going back to the first time the Surface RT booted with the launch version of the OS, this is a huge step forward.Unfortunately, not all of RT’s apps have updated to really take advantage of 8.1’s goodness. Google Search and Netflix both still think the screen should split into thirds (the 8.0 method), leaving a lot of unused space when it is set to take half of the screen. Fortunately all of the Microsoft apps have updated already, so you can enjoy Skype or SmartGlass in each of the new multiscreen positions.Considering that Windows RT 8.1 is an update to part of Microsoft’s business that was clearly not successful, Microsoft has done a fine job keeping Windows RT and the Surface RT up to date. There’s no reason to expect these results would be any different for other RT devices, as many of them are running the same hardware as the Surface. This also shines a pleasant light on the next generation of RT devices, which will be running Tegra 4 and Qualcomm 600 — or better processors — starting with the release of the Surface 2 next week.
"Windows RT 81 available and its a surprisingly big deal"