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Surface Mini on shelves NEXT YEAR – and it will run Windows RT

Pint-sized ARM slab to launch with next Windows release – report

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Microsoft isn't done with its second round of Surface tablets, but a Mini version with an eight-inch or smaller screen and running Windows RT probably won't arrive until next year, according to the latest rumors.

Longtime Redmond-watcher Mary Jo Foley's sources say Microsoft is readying a pint-sized portable to round out its hardware line, but it's not slated to ship until early 2014, to coincide with a post-8.1 Windows update dubbed the "Spring 2014 GDR."

Presumably, "GDR" here stands for "General Distribution Release," a term Microsoft has been using for its regular updates to Windows Phone 8. It might get an actual version number before it ships; Windows 8.1 was known as "Windows Blue" during its development, for example.

What Foley's snitches claim, however, is that this tinier tablet will have an ARM processor, which means the OS it ships with will not be Windows 8, but Windows RT.

That would be a risky move. We've seen how poorly the original Surface RT sold, and whether Microsoft will be able to shift many of its recently announced second attempt remains to be seen, as they don't go on sale until October 23.

Meanwhile, other manufacturers have been shying away from Windows RT. Most recently, Dell quietly withdrew its RT tablets from its US web store, leaving Microsoft as seemingly the only manufacturer willing to invest in the stripped-down ARM OS.

For Microsoft to ship smaller tablets only with Windows RT would also suggest a surprising lack of faith in Windows 8 Pro on small screens.

The first batch of Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets all shipped with ten-inch displays or larger, but Redmond reluctantly added support for smaller screens once it became apparent that more compact devices, such as the iPad mini, were a hit with consumers.

So far, however, the only eight-inch Windows 8 tablet to reach the market has been the Acer Iconia W3, which didn't impress The Reg with its meager hardware. If Microsoft released its own smaller slab running Windows 8 Pro, it could show the other manufacturers how it's done.

But Foley's sources say Microsoft likes ARM chips for tablets because they offer both lower price points and longer battery life than Intel's offerings. Those are both fair points, yet they would only seem to be valid if customers were willing to buy Windows RT devices at any price, something that's not yet in evidence.

Naturally, there were no hard dates attached to the Surface Mini murmurings, but if we assume that the associated Windows update will arrive six months after Windows 8.1 ships to customers on October 18, then sometime in April sounds like a fair estimate. ®

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