Microsoft Office RT: A Streamlined Version for Windows Tablets

The Importance of Office Software When Choosing a Windows Tablet

Excel 2013 RT
Excel 2013 RT. (c) Courtesy of Microsoft

As you research Windows tablets, you will want to consider which Microsoft Office versions they support.

While any Windows tablet is likely to have a lot of bells and whistles, different versions could determine what type of Microsoft Office suite you will be able to install on the tablet.

Making Your Windows Tablet Productivity Choice

According to Oliver Roll of Microsoft's Office Team, a recent Morgan Stanley Research found "...that 61 percent of potential tablet purchasers consider Microsoft Office to be the single most important software feature when considering a tablet purchase."

For example, Windows RT is a version of the Windows 8 operating system for some tablets and other ARM devices. If you choose this type of tablet, your Office choices become more limited.

Bottom line, if you want the full Office desktop version, you will need to opt for a newer Windows tablet that does not require this RT version. That said, the RT version may be sufficient for your needs, thus saving you some money.

Meet Office Home & Student RT

The RT programs began with Microsoft's 2013 version of Office--Word 2013 RT, Excel 2013 RT, PowerPoint 2013 RT and OneNote 2013 RT. Again, these are not the same as the full Microsoft Office programs. They all come together as Office Home & Student RT.

You cannot buy this RT version of Office separately. It is sold on Windows RT devices.

For those who begin this as a preview, the final will be available through Windows Update but on the Microsoft Surface website, some fine print summarizes, “Some features and programs unsupported.” These differences include:

  • No automatic file syncing to your desktop. Wi-Fi connection availability is assumed because Microsoft Office RT’s default saving location is ​OneDrive. Anything you want on your desktop will have to be manually and separately saved there.
  • No email features. A Windows RT tablet does not support desktop email applications such as Outlook. Your email options on an RT tablet are the standard Windows RT email app or another email app from the Windows Store. This means email features in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote will not show up in the ribbons and menus, such as mail merge, broadcasting a PowerPoint slide show, and more.
  • No Equation Editor. While you can view equations written with Equation Editor, you cannot edit them in Office Home & Student 2013 RT. Instead, you can go to Symbols, then Insert and you will find a toolbar that may suit your needs for authoring equations.
  • Microsoft Lync is not supported on Windows RT devices at this point.
  • No Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), meaning no macros, add-ins, InfoPath forms, or similar custom programs. OneNote may be the exception to some of this.

Word  RT

Be aware that grammar checking or style checking will be available for fewer languages than the full version of Word. Spell checking and other proofing features may be available for more languages.

Excel RT

The Excel  RT experience should be very similar to the full version experience, but you cannot create and use a Data Model. Essentially, you can still make PivotTables, QueryTables and Pivot Charts, but you cannot take advantage of Excel Data Model relationships and other advanced tools.

PowerPoint RT

  • No playing or adding Flash video
  • No narration recording
  • No support for older media formats, but you can try to convert to modern formats through Backstage View, using the Optimize for Compatibility feature
  • No Slide Library ActiveX Control (SharePoint Slide Library toolbar). As an alternative, Microsoft suggests going to Home Tab - New Slide - Reuse Slides

    OneNote RT

    • No audio recording or searching for words contained in embedded audio
    • No video recording or searching for words contained in embedded video
    • No importing images or documents from a scanner

    Microsoft Office Requires a Commercial Use License of Organizations

    Microsoft Office RT is not immediately available for “commercial, nonprofit, or revenue-generating activities.” Entities wishing to use any version of Microsoft Office, including Microsoft Office RT, must purchase a commercial use license.

    Alternatives: External Apps and Free Microsoft Office Online

    Missing features in Office RT programs might be available outside the program with a separate app. For example, you could record audio, save it, and then insert it into OneNote RT.

    Keep in mind that the free Microsoft Office Online Apps are of course an option no matter which Windows tablet you choose.

    These web apps are, however, streamlined versions of Microsoft Office, so do expect even more limited functionality.