I was hoping to save this for my Surface 2 review, but apparently the news is a bit bigger than I realized: Microsoft has now confirmed that it is not making a Desktop tile available by default in Windows RT 8.1. I had thought that this was a bit of customization the firm made to its own devices only.
Not so. Instead, Microsoft has removed the Desktop tile from Windows 8.1 RT generally, so users of any device running this OS version will not see this tile by default. You can enable it easily enough, but the point is clear: As Microsoft pushes Windows forward into the device world, the desktop is being left behind. And the most obvious place to deemphasize it first is in Windows RT.
My Desktop tile
People still don't seem to get it, but as I noted in The Death of the Windows Desktop, the desktop is going to disappear, just like the command line before it. Not completely, of course, but it is going away. And this is how it starts.
Why? Because "the desktop is heading into oblivion—is in fact 'dead platform walking'—in that it is no longer a vital, viable platform for legitimate developers," as I wrote previously. "There is no example of a major new Win32 (desktop) app from the past several years, whereas developers have embraced mobile apps and web apps en-masse. Microsoft wants a piece of that action, and it's not going to happen with the desktop."
My expectation is that the Desktop will be optional or gone completely in the next major version of Windows RT, and that the desktop Office applications we see today will be replaced by the Metro versions that Microsoft already admits it is making. The x86 versions of Windows, meanwhile will likely continue offering the desktop environment during this transition.
On a related note, I had started writing a separate article called "One Windows" that touched on this change, but the short version is this. With Windows 8.x/RT, Microsoft's notion of what Windows is has changed. Today, this Metro environment is Windows, and the Windows desktop is something else, an add-on legacy of the past that it is working to eliminate. It won't happen overnight. But it will happen.
And again, this is how it starts.