Microsoft Surface

Microsoft Surface: this time it's business

The latest entrant into the tablet market is ripe to solve the "enterprise tablet" conundrum.

Yesterday's announcement from Microsoft about its Surface family of tablets is lacking in detail, but it is possible to see the angle that Microsoft is going to pursue.

Surface comes in two forms: an ARM-based, Windows RT-reliant version, and an Intel Core i5-based, full Windows 8 version.

Off the bat, we should discard the ARM version. This device is aimed at consumers, and, as a device that comes with an instance of Windows that is restricted purely to Metro, it goes head-to-head with the iPad, and therefore suffers all the problems that any new entrant into the tablet market would expect. The lack of apps, momentum, and mobile data will prevent this Surface from making inroads into Apple's iPad hegemony.

But the Intel version is most certainly a horse of a different colour. This version of Surface sits between ultrabooks and tablets. It comes packed with an architecture and chip that has more power than any of the ARM-based tablets thus far, but it will likely sit under the performance offered by the new Ivy Bridge ultrabooks.

The real winner for business with this Surface is that it is running an instance of Windows 8 Professional, and will therefore have access to the classic desktop within Windows 8 to run the existing catalogue of Windows programs.

If you want apps, forget the various application stores. How does the entire Windows back-catalogue sound?

These apps might not be pretty, optimised for a touch experience, or available for purchase with an iTunes card, but they are the same applications that users have become accustomed to for years, and IT departments have been maintaining and bug fixing them for years.

You know that shocking internal application built to work with Windows 95 that your company's programmers have updated and carried screaming into the future for the past 15 years? That's going to work on this tablet.

If senior management wants an application to work on a mobile device, they could re-engineer the existing business application to work on iOS via Objective-C, or take said program online to be platform neutral. Or they could just buy a tablet where the existing application works fine. For large, complex applications, I'd expect the manager to take the last option every time. This would also minimise the need for business administrators to port applications to mobile platforms, and deal with the issues of keeping feature parity between two codebases for the same application.

Then comes the issue of enterprise deployment and management infrastructure. This is a Windows 8 device we are talking about; it can be serviced using the same set of tools and skills that corporate administrators already have. Locking it down and pushing custom software to it will remain as easy/painful as ever.

The other bonus that Surface provides is its USB port. Want extra storage with an external drive? Need a full keyboard and mouse? Want to hook up that USB rocket launcher? It's no problem at all, and you don't have to visit an Apple Store to look for an adapter.

Microsoft has made a large song and dance over the keyboard covers that will come with Surface. While they appear, at first glance, to be unique and quite an innovation, I doubt that they will be the primary avenues of input for business users. Similarly, I don't expect the Surface's display to be the primary screen that its business users work with. Instead, it'll likely be plugged in to a large display and keyboard for heavy usage.

The Intel-based Surface is shaping up to be a step towards that dockable PC/tablet/smartphone device that we've all been promised.

It's powerful enough to field a proper operating system, small and light enough to be carried like a book, and has the customisation and backwards compatibility that enterprises are going to love.

As an Angry Birds device, it will not be able to compete with Apple's offerings — but your local system administrator is likely to see the Surface as a solution to the BYOD dilemma.

Now we just wait and see whether Microsoft manages not to cripple it with an inadequate GPU, insufficient RAM, or a prohibitive price. Otherwise, I think we have a business hit on our hands.

About

Some would say that it is a long way from software engineering to journalism, others would correctly argue that it is a mere 10 metres according to the floor plan.During his first five years with CBS Interactive, Chris started his journalistic advent...

10 comments
AudeKhatru
AudeKhatru

I think you are wrong to discount the ARM tablet. During the Windows Phone 8 summit they announced that there will be management tools for Windows Phone 8. I don't see any reason why these could not be extended to cover Windows RT. While I don't see the Surface taking any measurable bit out of the iPad, I do see it as a serious competitor, and I think it will get many looks. Now, you are absolutely right about the Surface Pro. This will be the answer to the dreams of many in IT, because they will finally be able to recommend a tablet. No compromises. And, I agree that with the Surface Pro, or any Windows 8 Tablet, what I want is a dock where I can insert the tablet and then use a large monitor, possibly with the tablet screen as a second along with a keyboard and mouse. To me this would be the ultimate, and I still want the touchcover. Desktop at my desk, Tablet on the go, and when I need it on the go, a keyboard that doesn't weight me down.

sightsandsounds
sightsandsounds

"Now we just wait and see whether Microsoft manages not to cripple it with an inadequate GPU, insufficient RAM, or a prohibitive price. Otherwise, I think we have a business hit on our hands.",,,,Exactly !!!!!

Strat719
Strat719

Don't mess up Microsoft. Haven't been this excited for one of your products in a long time.

larsrosell
larsrosell

I agree in large with the article, but I would like to point out that the Arm version may be exactly what education needs. Especially institutions that are already or are planning on using Live@Edu / Office 365 as a student platform. Priced right, this could be an educational game changer.

lastchip
lastchip

I don't think it's possible to draw any conclusions from the presentation as reported in the media. There are many more questions than answers. I'm not suggesting it's bad. Indeed at first glance, it looks like it's one of Microsoft's better attempts at hardware. But equally, we just don't know. It's a significant departure from what has gone before it, so like some of the xboxes, is it going to suffer from overheating? Will it stand up to sustained use? Is it going to be a stable platform? Will it be unnecessarily locked down? Is the underlying architecture still vulnerable? Not least, what's it going to cost? Why were journalists only given a few seconds to handle it? Why was one swapped on stage at the presentation - that suggests to me this is far from ready for prime time. These are just a tiny fraction of the questions I could dream up in a few seconds. There must be hundreds of others. It's quite ridiculous to hype up something of which so little is still known. It may be a sure fire winner. But I think it's a question of wait and see.

stukana
stukana

Have waited so long for a fairdinkum tablet that I can have my clients use as mobile front end devices to our core business applications, and at the same time use it to access other MS suite of programs. There is definitely virtue in waiting. Congratulations to the person within MS who came up with the idea.

bwallan
bwallan

A truly functional Intel Windows tablet would work very well in our company! No interest in other versions...

JJFitz
JJFitz

If you look carefully at what the presenter was try to do, you will see that he panicked. He was in the browser on the Bing search page. He tried to scroll up. You can't do that when you are at the top. Then he tried to scroll down. There is no "down" when you haven't entered a search term on the Bing page. I couldn't see what he was trying to do during the other "error" but I'm thinking it might be user error again.

AudeKhatru
AudeKhatru

Actually, I think he was trying to bring down the bar with the various open tabs in IE and it wasn't working. He didn't want to spend time in from of the audience figuring out why it wasn't working, so he went to the back up.