Microsoft Surface

Microsoft Surface: What do CIOs really think about it?

Business users were always the most likely to be interested in Microsoft's Surface tablet - so what do tech chiefs make of it so far?

Microsoft Surface
 Initial enthusiasm among CIOs for Microsoft's Surface seems to be cooling. Josh Lowensohn/CNET News
Business users were always the most likely to be first in line for Microsoft's Surface tablet as they want a tablet that can fit with their existing Windows desktop infrastructure. But it seems that excitement about the device has started to wane among at least some of the technology chiefs on TechRepublic's CIO Jury.

When asked, "Does Microsoft's Surface tablet provide a real alternative to the iPad for enterprise users?" the TechRepublic CIO Jury narrowly voted yes, by seven votes to five. But when asked the same question a year ago, before the launch of the tablet, the answer was a resounding yes, with 10 votes for and only two against, suggesting that Microsoft has failed to capitalise on significant early enthusiasm from enterprise decision makers.

Microsoft recently revealed that it has generated $853m from its Surface line-up since first releasing the product line in October last year. Analyst firm IDC estimates that Microsoft shipped 900,000 Surface RT and Pro devices in the first quarter of 2013. But these are tiny numbers compared with Apple's shipments of iPads, and Microsoft has recently cut the prices of both the Windows RT version and the enterprise-focused Pro model.

Microsoft's laptop in tablet form

In their comments to TechRepublic, members of the CIO Jury ranged from very optimistic to seriously underwhelmed by Microsoft's "laptop in tablet form", which Microsoft hopes can stop Apple's iPad and a variety of Android-powered slates undermining its position on the enterprise desktop.

Andrew Paton, group manager IT services at Rondo International, said the main attraction of the Surface was that you can still use all traditional Windows software, with additional touch-based applications coming through.

"It is a far better alternative to the iPad as it is manageable through already-in-place and existing enterprise tools that do not require a new skillset. In other words you can have a manageable standard operating environment in no time. Connections to all the normal peripheral devices and monitors are also an often overlooked and important advantage over the iPad," he said.

And David Wilson, IT manager at VectorCSP, added: "I don't see the iPad as a business tool in most cases. It's a blown-up phone. The Surface is a computer. There is a real difference."

Jerry Justice, IT director with SS&G Financial Services, said Microsoft had caused "mass consumer confusion" by offering the RT version of Surface but went on: "I think the Pro version with a slightly bigger screen would contend as a dual desktop replacement/mobile corporate device."

Joshua Grossetti, director of IT at Triumvirate Environmental, said the Surface is too big and bulky to be compared with the iPad, and the interface is not nearly as elegant and streamlined as iOS. But he said it might still find some enterprise fans: "Whereas in many instances the iPad is a great supplement to a laptop, as opposed to a replacement, the Surface may excel in being a better replacement for the laptop."

Need for Windows on a tablet

For some tech chiefs, the Surface appeals because they need Windows on a tablet. For example, Brian Wells, associate CIO at Penn Medicine, said: "In the healthcare industry many vendors do not offer a web client for their apps. To use them natively, you need a tablet that supports touch but also can run Windows. Tablets from Dell and Lenovo can meet that requirement. iPads and Android slates require using Citrix or remote desktop to achieve a similar experience, which requires a higher investment in back-end infrastructure."

Similarly John Gracyalny, VP IT at SafeAmerica Credit Union, said: "When my core vendor certifies with Windows 8, it will be the only tablet that will be able to run our user GUI software."

But not all tech leaders are so impressed. Jeff Focke, director of IT for Electrical Distributors Inc, said: "So far, my personal experience does not even have the Surface come close to the functionality I need to have it be a real alternative to an iPad (or even a few other options)."

And Thomas Galbraith, director of IT, US District Court, Southern District of Illinois, said technically speaking, the Surface may offer some superior features, such as local storage, but that the device may never get the opportunity to be assessed in a pure technical arena among major enterprises.

"The reason is that the Surface is already so far behind in the battle for the hearts and minds that the technical merits are virtually irrelevant at this point. The iPad and, to a secondary degree, Android devices already occupy the branding position and are in the mental forefront of nearly every enterprise employee. Those two brands/devices are the leaders in the consumer space, and it is that consumer space that is now encroaching into enterprise IT strategy."

Surface's price barrier

Gavin Whatrup, group IT director at marketing services company Creston, said Surface could make a breakthrough, but not at the current price.

"Functionally, the Surface Pro, with additional keyboard, is almost (but not quite) an ultrabook replacement. Speed, screen quality and portability are all top notch. But cost, screen size, connectivity and storage are all limiting factors. Why pay an ultrabook price for a fraction of the functionality?" Whatrup said.

"Also, the Surface doesn't have the emotional 'Velcro' of the iPad. So there is no overriding incentive to go for the Pro. Cut the price by 50 percent – yes, that much – and it may start to gain some traction."

Matthew Oakley, group head of IT at Schroders, said: "Surface isn't the game changer; it is Windows 8 on a tablet. The Lenovo tablet is brilliant. My iPad is gathering dust."

But Duncan James, infrastructure manager at Clarion Solicitors, said: "The bottom line is that they're not desirable items. We haven't had any requests for one to date".

That lack of demand means developers will feel little need to create specifically for Surface, he said: "If there's no demand, they simply won't waste their time to develop for the Surface."

This week's CIO Jury was:

  • Delano Gordon, CIO at Roofing Supply Group
  • Brian Wells, associate CIO at Penn Medicine
  • David Wilson, director of IT services at Vector CSP
  • Jeff Focke, director of IT at Electrical Distributors
  • Tom Galbraith, director of IT at US District Court, Southern District of Illinois
  • Joshua Grossetti, director of IT at Triumvirate Environmental
  • Juergen Renfer, CIO at Kommunale Unfallversicherung Bayern
  • Gavin Whatrup, group IT director at Creston
  • Matthew Oakley, group head of IT at Schroders
  • Neil Harvey, IT director at Sindlesham Court
  • Jerry Justice, IT director at SS&G Financial Services
  • Keith Murley, manager of information systems at Schimenti Construction

Want to be part of TechRepublic's CIO Jury and have your say on the hot issues for IT decision-makers? If you are a CIO, CTO, IT director or equivalent at a large or small company, working in the private sector or in government, and you want to join TechRepublic's CIO Jury pool, or you know an IT chief who should, then get in contact.

Either click the Contact link below or email me, steve dot ranger at techrepublic dot com, and send your name, title, company, location, and email address.


About

Steve Ranger is the UK editor of TechRepublic, and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, business and culture for more than a decade. Before joining TechRepublic he was the editor of silicon.com.

23 comments
M Wagner
M Wagner

Thanks, Steve, for the balance review.  Microsoft made a serious mistake when they released the Surface RT (without sufficient user education) before the 2012 holidays but then waited 4 months to release the Surface Pro.

Further, the enterprise has come to expect steep discounts from retail which still have not materialized.  

 Retail on the Surface Pro needs to start around $699 for the consumer and $100 to $200 less for the enterprise (with offerings for on-site service for the enterprise recovering most of that lost mark-up.  The touch cover should also be included on all surface Pro offerings.

rgromen
rgromen

As soon as I read the first line: "Business users were always the most likely to be first in line for Microsoft's Surface tablet..." I said; are you crazy?" I work for a large corporation in the IT Dept and we have NO intersest whatsoever in Microsoft's new folly. Anyone remember the evil 'Vista"? We consider MS's new OS as nothing more than a social media ploy to attract younger people into doing whiz bang things with their tablets. Here we are actually for the first time incorporating Apple iPads and IPhones into our network environment. Sorry, but this article just made me laugh! 

cybershooters
cybershooters

The RT is useless because you can't join it to a domain and the Pro version is too expensive.

It's that simple. Plus there is a lot of resistance to Windows 8, but that's a minor issue by comparison.

modell
modell

The Surface table is a great idea but poorly executed.  The RT version is a waste of money and the Pro version costs too much.  Get rid of the RT and price the Pro version around $500, then you will have something.  I had such high hopes for these devices when they first came on the radar.  Until the pricing model is changed I will just continue purchasing laptops as usual. 

primartcloud
primartcloud

Win8 seems to be more popular overseas than here, specially Japan. One of the reasons given is to maintain a competitive edge which no longer seems in fashion in this country.

thejokker
thejokker

Microsoft is waiting on Intel.  When Haswell tablets are released Ivy Bridge tablets will be discounted.  When Broadwell is released next year Haswell tablets will be discounted.  Cheap tablets for everyone!


TRgscratch
TRgscratch

It appears that this group of "pre-reviewers" (like many others) should have bought Surface Pro with real Windows rather than RT.  Clearly, that's what they were expecting, price aside

Rickochet
Rickochet

Why do you call CIOs "technology chiefs"?  That's laughable.  Let me check my calendar to see if it is April 1.

amj2010
amj2010

Use the Windows Tool..............

ppg
ppg

test comment

MadestroITSolutions
MadestroITSolutions

"When asked, "Does Microsoft's Surface tablet provide a real alternative to the iPad for enterprise users?" the TechRepublic CIO Jury narrowly voted yes, by seven votes to five. But when asked the same question a year ago, before the launch of the tablet, the answer was a resounding yes, with 10 votes for and only two against, suggesting that Microsoft has failed to capitalise on significant early enthusiasm from enterprise decision makers."

This is a very biased paragraph in my opinion. Put a new movie in theaters and everyone wants to see it. The reviews afterwards really tell you if the movie was good or not. The fact that 7 said yes and 5 said no is actually a good sign.

In my opinion, the IPad has its market mostly with retail users but business users will most likely prefer the Surface Pro. The IPad is just not designed as a business tool. It's more of an entertainment one.


GeneS
GeneS

It's not clear from this report that the jury-members have even used a Surface Pro.


firstaborean
firstaborean

As an aging (69) free-lance writer (formerly a consultant electronics engineer), I once thought the Surface Pro might have something for me, but its minuscule screen has made me rule it out.  All that functionality is useless if the screen is too small to use without holding a Fresnel lens in front of it to make it readable.  If I were forty years younger, it might have some attraction, but nobody yet has discovered how to do a true rejuvenation.

adornoe
adornoe

Sounds like some of those CIOs are judging the devices for the wrong reasons.

""The reason is that the Surface is already so far behind in the battle for the hearts and minds that the technical merits are virtually irrelevant at this point. The iPad and, to a secondary degree, Android devices already occupy the branding position and are in the mental forefront of nearly every enterprise employee. Those two brands/devices are the leaders in the consumer space, and it is that consumer space that is now encroaching into enterprise IT strategy.""


Being behind with the "hearts and minds" is not the way to make important decisions in IT departments, or any department in a business environment.  That a device existed several years before some other device, and that people have become comfortable with those older devices, does not preclude making the more intelligent decision to work with what's more appropriate and prudent and easier option.   iPads and Android tablets may have been around a bit longer, and people might have gotten used to them, but, Windows 8 tablets come with superior specs and easier and less costly integration into the business environment.  Going forward, any company that had not moved to using iPads, shouldn't even be thinking about iPads (or even Android tablets), since Windows tablets offer much more of what businesses could need or want. 


nicknaz
nicknaz

As a travelling salesperson, the Android is functional if you work from the cloud because VPN has not been written for Android yet.  We need to have access to our files and network.  With Android, it is not possible, so you must transfer your files to the cloud, like Drop, etc.  The hope was Log Me In would have a 3rd Party connect for Android like they already have for Mac. Their decision has rendered our Androids unusable for work.  IPad can do this through LogMeIn Ignition and Hamachi.  No Hamachi connection for Android, however,  Microsoft missed the boat because they could have written apps and network connections easily for the Surface or joined up with any other manufacturer like Samsung to see all the possibilities. Shame on them!                                                                                                                                                                             

M Wagner
M Wagner

@rgromen Your remarks about Vista reveal a lot about your short-sighted perspective.  Vista was a transitional product which lead us directly to Windows 7.  Windows 8 certainly does represent a sea change.  All the best of Windows 7 is there - along with a tablet interface which is there to provide the first consumer-oriented product Microsoft has produced in quite a number of years.

M Wagner
M Wagner

@cybershooters On the contrary, the Surface RT allows me to access all of my employers resources securely and remotely.  Of course, your employer has to have all of the tools in place to permit such access.  My Surface RT allows me to do my job literally from anywhere with a decent wi-fi connection.

garys23
garys23

@adornoe I have to agree with your assertion here. The argument that Apple and Google have won over the hearts and minds of the consumer market should not be the deciding factor when implementing a given technology. Business and Consumer markets are vastly different in their needs and concerns.

We have implemented several Surface Pro devices in our environment and being able to add them to a Windows domain and use existing Windows applications like Exchange and Office as well as third party applications is game changing in many ways. The only real complaint that I have seen with the devices is that the screen is too small. If the question were couched as Windows 8 tablets vs Ipad and Android, I have to believe that the margin would not have been as close. There are some very good Windows 8 tablets coming out that I think will see wide implementation in the business world.

I have an Android phone as well as an Ipad and I quite like both of the devices. However, the thought of using either as a replacement for my laptop is in my mind completely irrational. They just do not integrate with my existing infrastructure in a cohesive manner. Yes, I could probably set up a Citrix server and connect to a Windows desktop that would allow me to use many of my applications but that is an added expense that is just not necessary if I were to use a Windows tablet. Furthermore, if you are required to use a Windows license on a Citrix/terminal server to be functional, can you even call that a replacement? It sounds more like a band-aid fix to me. I still have to use a Windows desktop to get the job done in that scenario. That is not even close to an optimal solution in my mind.

bstory
bstory

@adornoe I agree.  I am a Director of IT for a statewide business consulting firm.  I have been using my ipad for over two years.  I have spent a fortune on Apps...just trying and testing them to find a way to run our business from virtually anywhere.  I purchased the WinRT (wished I had waited for the Pro) last December and now my iPad is collecting dust.  I have been very pleased with the surface.  I am able to do my work from it.  I am now looking at the Lenovo Thinkpad tablet 2 as the device for our company.

joevijr
joevijr

@nicknaz 

Not quite sure what your point is Nick. VPN on Surface? LogMeIn on Surface? I use both on my Surface Pro.

MSFT has missed some opptys with the Surface but not sure "apps and network connections" are two of them

james.craig
james.craig

@nicknaz I'm confused by your statements. Maybe you need to update your version of Android? I've just checked 3 different android devices (each on version 4.1.2 or higher) and they each have built-in PPTP, L2TP, and IPSec VPN functionality. If I wanted SSLVPN I could use my firewall vendor's android app (e.g. Fortinet, Cisco, Juniper, or SonicWall). I was also able to find a number of apps that will allow me to access files directly over the VPN or via a RDP, LogMeIn, or TeamViewer session. Hummph...

jasonhiner
jasonhiner moderator

@nicknaz As @james.craig noted, I'm surprised that you're having VPN issues with Android. There's a client built into the OS and most of the major VPN vendors have dedicated apps.

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