Windows 8 optimize

Will Windows 8 hybrids make tablets obsolete in the enterprise?

According to Donovan Colbert, if Windows 8 is executed properly, it could disrupt the momentum of mobile device platforms. Do you agree?

Recently, I realized that the last time I upgraded any of my PCs was five years ago. At the time, I had a friend who had just purchased a DIY barebones kit, but he decided it was too much to build it out into his ultimate gaming rig. I bought it from him and turned it into a workstation for my wife and daughter.

I've been using a Windows XP machine that is about eight years old, a Mac Mini 1st gen Core Duo machine, and a HP 17" Centrino Core Duo laptop. Lately, I've noticed that even the Mac Mini is showing its age. I knew I was overdue for an upgrade when I told my wife I was thinking about buying a new machine, and she instantly agreed.

The interesting thing about this is that part of the reason for my delay in upgrading is because I've been buying less expensive devices that cover the majority of my needs. I've bought two netbooks and a handful of tablets that take care of almost everything. It isn't that I haven't been buying computers, I just haven't been buying traditional PCs.

Even at work, I've been dismissive of efforts to create interest for traditional PCs over the last several years. The highest profile example of PCs we've seen offered is Intel's Ultrabook concept.

Ultrabooks promise many of the benefits of mobile computing devices, including quick startup and long battery life, but I've regarded these devices as a compromise stuck between two worlds. Ultrabooks generally have smaller solid state drives and lower speed CPUs and cost as much or more than their traditional counterparts. On the other hand, they're not truly instant-on devices and their battery life isn't a match for the standby and run-time that mobile OS devices can deliver for far less money.

Yet, it seems like my current machine is always due for a refresh right around the time that a major change is anticipated in the industry. I've been putting off my upgrade because it seemed silly to buy a new traditional PC with Windows 8 right around the corner.

I've quietly been as pessimistic about the release of Windows 8 as anyone. I played with the developer preview and just wasn't impressed -- even with the touch-screen display. It appears to be another hybrid concept that combines all the headaches and hassles of one platform with all those of another, while losing the best features of either. It's radically different than what people are used to, and based on my experience with Windows 7 Phones, I'm afraid that between driver and device issues, and a lack of software that leverages the "We-Don't-Call-It-Metro-Anymore" interface, it may just be a bolted-on front end that disrupts productivity in the traditional Windows interface.

Despite that, I recently came to the conclusion that mobile computing and cloud solutions have not broken Microsoft and Intel's lock-in for me as I once thought.

Mobile OS devices are not able to deliver my most demanding needs, but as the online browsing experience evolves, even some of those tasks are taking too long on my oldest PCs. If a Windows 8 upgrade is inevitable, it seems silly to purchase a machine now that doesn't have the necessary form and features to deliver an optimized Windows 8 experience.

Hardware manufacturers are arriving with the 1st generation of Windows 8 devices. It's no surprise that the best of these are Ultrabook convertibles that change from a traditional laptop into a tablet. I'll most likely replace one of my dated machines with an Ultrabook i5 or i7 tablet/laptop hybrid with touch-screen. Right now, the early contender is the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13.

Consumers have become adjusted to the idea of paying under $600 for the most expensive tablets on the market. Many observers have forecast that consumers will balk at price points starting around $800 for Ultrabook convertibles. Many of those are the same voices that rejected netbooks at any price because of performance, but performance is what these devices promise to offer -- computing ability that even the most powerful mobile tablets simply can't match. The price isn't competing with Android or iOS tablets, but it is competitive with other Intel PCs and promises to deliver the mobile tablet experience as a bonus. From that perspective, the premium isn't that big of a bump.

If a hybrid Intel Ivybridge CPU-based PC can deliver the battery life, the startup time, and the touch-screen mobile applications that make Android and iOS attractive, while also being my primary workhorse PC, what place do mobile OS tablets have in my life or in the enterprise? Instead of hoping an ASUS Transformer Android tablet can replace my PC, what if a Lenovo Windows 8 Ultrabook can replace my Transformer?

I'm not exactly happy about this realization, but I don't see how I can deny it. If Windows 8 is executed properly, it could be very disruptive to the momentum of mobile device platforms. The possibility seems too large to ignore.

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About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

16 comments
Nashphil
Nashphil

For years the PC convertibles were the best education tool combining large screens, keyboards and pen/inkable but, they were Expensive, bulky and unreliable. The newest thinbook convertibles/hybrids will be the best thing in a long while, Yes, that includes the iPad (the email, internet, cheap gaming, piece of over-hyped answer to all edu's problems). I will push my school to seriously look at the Lenovo Thinkpad (Lynx). A hybrid slate is what they should call it. Another thing that will be great is the classroom management software they will include, it's why they bought the software company.

aroc
aroc

My employer, global bio biz with 100K+ employees is trying to finish migrating the Wintel fleet to Win7 from XP. I have about 15-20 windows open during the workday, so tablets just won't cut it, nor will an interface that wastes screen real estate. Win8 would be another mega upgrade project that they will probably skip to see what comes next, as they did with Vista. There is too much inertia to jump on the latest fads for general usage, although the iFads are popular with sales and executive types, and being supported for their narrow needs (but the latest bug with iOS 6 users able to cancel someone else's meeting in Outlook by declining just their own invitation might cause some rethinking ...). Personal use? I have tried a dozen or so Android tablets, and kept only an Archos 5 until its battery swelled up, and then went for a phablet mode Dell Streak 5 with T-Mobile pay/go $30 plan to replace that - both "beltable", and dabble around the house with an Archos 80 (seems to be similar dimensions with the iPad mini aside from being thicker) that cost $125 from Staples on sale - finally a "reasonable" value proposition "big" tablet for me.. But my go-to for travel is a Fujitsu P1620 running LInux: 8.9' convertible tablet with a decent keyboard (since it uses a trackpoint instead of wasting such precious space on a twitchy touchpad - ideal for thisThinkpad vet). I have about $300 in it for eBay purchase and 2GB RAM, and SSD upgrades - love it for travel (although I don't fly, so that's only when I get where I am going - use the Streak for actual mobile data stuff). I just do not need Windows and all its expense and hassle for personal use aside from updating my Garmin GPS maps a few times a year (Google Maps/Navigator still cannot compare for "real world" travel use with its tiny controls) when I boot up a Virtual Box WinXP under Linux on my big old Dell D800, my home "workstation" - love the 1920x1200 15.6" screen. I dabbled with the preview Win8 in a Virtual Box for a couple hours, and quit there. Now if I could get around UEFI, and put KDE Plasma Active on an X86 Surface with its keyboard cover, I just might get interested in that hardware... YMMV

tsmyther
tsmyther

"If a hybrid Intel Ivybridge CPU-based PC can deliver the battery life, the startup time, and the touch-screen mobile applications that make Android and iOS attractive, while also being my primary workhorse PC, what place do mobile OS tablets have in my life or in the enterprise?" Obviously, if those conditions were to be met, it would knock the socks off current mobile offerings. But the likelihood of any two of those items (battery life, startup time, apps that use the WDCIMA (We-Don't-Call-It-Metro-Anymore) interface) to satisfy any but the most tech-centric of pc users is slim to none. For the next year to 18 months, I doubt any significant change will come to the tablet market, save more growth and maturity. The idea of a hybrid is fantastic, but the reality of delivering a truly good mobile OS that works well as a desktop OS is going to have to be much more robust than regular Windows with the interface formerly known as Metro tacked on as window dressing. You've got to be able to do "real work" in your mobile device, as you can with iOS. (Don't believe you can do real work with an iPad? Spend an hour in an Apple store and watch the staff at work. They are handling a huge number of scheduling tasks, point of sale processing, inventory management, customer relationship management, and I can't think of how many other tasks, just like any other business - all on iPads and three-generation-old iPod touches! True, they're not writing a huge number of words like tech reporters, or configuring servers and routers like IT professionals, but they are doing what most folks in the 21st century call "work" and there's not a traditional desktop computer on the floor. Well, there may be one, back at the Genius Bar. But it's only used occasionally.)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Interesting, You're waiting for W8 systems to hit the market before purchasing a replacement. I waiting for the last systems with W7 pre-installed to go on sale so I can replace my home box.

user support
user support

Donovan, I am confused if this intended audience of your blog is aimed at the enterprise, consumers or small office home office. Our enterprise company is currently moving from Dell Windows XP towers to Windows 7. Although they have tested a variety of tablets since the Microsoft Tablet PC back around 2004, the majority of mobile users are either equipped with a Blackberry or a laptop depending on their job role. For the consumer or small office, I think we are hoping that we could have one device that does it all. The screen on the phone is too small, the iPad is too expensive, Androids aren't as intuitive as Apple, Windows laptops are powerful but too heavy to lug around. These are comments from different sectors of consumers. If Linux made the right move, we might all be using Linux now. If Apple made the right move, we might all be using Apple devices now. If Microsoft makes the righ move, we might all be using Windows 8 hybrids in the near future. If we spent less time in front of our screens, we might find a world outside of technology.

Skruis
Skruis

Because they're running XP with older software on multiple systems and we're going to be consolidating them onto Windows 8 tablets with LTE, attachable keyboards, docks, stylus, etc all in one device. For 2 of the 4 users, I'll be replacing both their desktops and their laptops with a single Windows 8 tablet device (with all the accessories). Despite whatever opinions you may have about Windows 8, the capability to build your entire experience around a single core device is certainly attractive...and it'll ironically enough add to the declining PC sales problem. For those 2 users, I'm replacing 2 devices with 1 whereas 2 or 3 years ago, I'd be replacing 2 devices with 2.

mckinnej
mckinnej

Those Apple store folks are all using custom software developed just for them, so sure it works great. Heck, the whole system was probably designed around the iPad. The average small business doesn't have the budget for something like that, so they end up either forcing a bunch of cobbled together apps to get things done or more likely they stick with a traditional setup. So yes, real work can be done on mobile devices given the right software (and probably a redesign of the entire business process), but that idyllic situation is beyond the reach of the little guys. That leaves us with web surfing, light email, and reading documents (and games of course) which pretty much takes the shine off the mobile devices for "real" work. It can be done, but real-world examples are pretty rare. To be fair, I'd concede that it's a growing trend, but it's not growing nearly as fast nor has it been as dramatic as the tech press would like us to believe. (I've read where mobile has been a boon in the medical world, but I don't live there, so I can't confirm/deny. Again though, it is through custom software and business processes.)

dcolbert
dcolbert

But you're not the first person to doubt that the odds of people accepting an emerging tablet-oriented OS would fail to live up to promises of bringing a revolutionary shift to the personal computing landscape: http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/tr-out-loud/why-the-ipad-will-fail-to-win-significant-market-share/1666?tag=content;siu-container only to later regret that claim. ;) If it delivers, it will blow away current mobile offerings. If it doesn't, does it still make sense to adopt for your traditional desktop PC power user platform? Things won't stay *static* on the desktop at Win 7. For this latter class, if the PC experience isn't significantly hampered, it is a no lose situation - the worst you can do is break even. There is an "if" there - but I think it is less of a risk from that perspective. Everyone is focusing more on if Windows 8 can be a good *tablet*. What it means to Android and iOS. How will it compare on price, performance and experience to those products. But can it be a good PC? What does it mean to Windows 7 and XP? Less people are interested in that... but that may be the place where Windows 8 has momentum to carve a niche and become viable. And I don't doubt that you can do real work on an iPad. Many other Tech Bloggers (who are also sadists), even write on them... some IT engineers (sadists also), do some IT administration on them. I think Android is better suited to those more demanding tasks, but even Android sometimes disappoints in regard to those last two categories. That is the window of opportunity for Windows 8. In that sense... Microsoft has forward momentum to their advantage. iOS has the biggest enterprise presence, but is the least capable for *demanding* "real" work outside of a limited scope. It is great for POS, Powerpoint presentations or for medical EHR where you're clicking a bunch of boxes on a template. Android is better when you get past a certain point because of the flexibility of the platform, the file storage, the ability to interface between devices and peripherals - but has far less enterprise adoption over (legitimate) security concerns. Windows 8 shows up with the momentum of a business enterprise driven largely by Windows platforms - which it will integrate with as a true Windows machine, leveraging Windows authentication, domain joining, security, resource sharing and overall integration. I share your doubts... believe me and agree with your reasoning. The odds of it being a truly satisfying experience that delivers both sides well enough to be an overall better solution than iOS or Android seem slim. I fear that as a traditional PC, there will be limits caused by accommodating the tablet features (lower resolution screens seem like a big stumbling block, out of the gate). As a tablet alternative, I fear it will be too much like any traditional Windows Convertible tablet PC... heat, fans, noise and battery promises that do not live up to expectations in a post-iPad world. I can't sit in bed and read a book if a huge fan is whining to cool off the i5 CPU in my tablet. My wife will put up with the blue glow of an LCD as she drifts off, but not the whine of a jet engine next to her in bed. Right? Those are the concerns... and they're real concerns. I'm just sayin'... we've been taken by surprise by gadgets before. If Apple were promising this, tech journalists and gadget-heads would already be falling over themselves to be among the first to take possession, sight unseen - and sure that the execution couldn't fail. I'm pointing out there are some things going for Windows 8, when you really contemplate the platform. The biggest thing is, "If I'm going to upgrade my traditional PC eventually - and I will, why *wouldn't* I go with something optimized to work with the latest direction in traditional PC OS platforms?" That is where Microsoft's bare minimum momentum comes from, and that may be enough, by itself. If it works really well, too... that could spell trouble for Android or iOS, or both. Keep in mind this also changes the discussion about Ultrabooks. Up until Windows 8, they've been regarded as expensive PC based Airbook knock-offs. Windows 8 could change that. So it is about Intel as much as Microsoft. I don't see All-in-One touch oriented desktop devices getting a lot more love because of Windows 8. I don't see desktop towers with touch screen monitors really taking off, either. I don't see traditional laptops with touch-screen getting a big bump. But ULTRAbooks? I see Ultrabooks and Windows 8 as potentially being like Peanut Butter and Chocolate.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Tell us your reasoning. Why wait for the LAST system with W7 OEM onboard before upgrading but not going to a Win 8 pre-installed device?

Randy Hagan
Randy Hagan

As a small independent consultant, I couldn't agree with you more. My experiences match what you describe. I do software demonstrations, presentations and training with graphic design applications. My current toolkit consists of a 15" MacBook Pro bought two weeks before the surprise introduction of a 13" model. It's svelte compared to my workhorse 14" Dell laptop. I have an original iPad I take on the road too, primarily to hold digital manuals and documentation. There are times when I have to travel with all three. And all their assorted accessories as well. I currently plan to retire the MBP, which I hope to replace by the start of next year with a 13.3" MacBook Air. Since it can now carry 8GB of RAM, a fast i5 chip and a 256GB SSD, it'll finally be powerful enough to meet my needs. I can also hook it up to a USB hub to external keyboard/mouse/hard drive and plug in a desktop display to run it in my office and my home as a plug-in workstation. But if Win8 holds promise and docking tablets can provide enough horsepower for these hybrids -- even at a $1500 price point -- I'd change my plans and gladly dump both my WinTel PC laptop and my Apple-obsoleted 18-month old original iPad instead. Replacing two systems for one is worth it alone -- especially when you're jetting between terminals to make airport connections. Less weight and less bulk wins every time. And after getting unceremoniously dumped by Apple with no future upgrades, blocked from using iOS6, the idea of systems with a solid, predictable upgrade path have a lot of appeal too.

dcolbert
dcolbert

With the impact that iOS and Android have had on the enterprise, I think that the consumer adoption of Win 8 has a significant influence on how quickly the enterprise will be pressured to accept it. The consumer is likely to engage the enterprise with a desire to integrate Win 8 devices on the corporate network through BYOD policies, if Windows 8 catches on in this segment. Consumer success is why the enterprise is worried about Android and iOS in the enterprise. That segment will be key to the success of Windows 8, most likely. Consumers want devices that bridge their business needs and personal needs in a single, convenient, flexible device. That has spurred countless hybrid and convertible solutions for iOS and Android devices. So it applies to the consumer, also. Finally, the SOHO is a business use case as well... So to answer your first question... Yes. :) I can't think of a Linux release that made me honestly think, for one second, "This is probably inevitably in my future and could have a significant impact on the roadmap of my desktop enterprise support in a short time span." I guess that *could* happen. iOS certainly changed the game for enterprises, and no one really thought it would. They didn't think it would with the iPhone, and they doubted it again with the iPad... so we got caught off guard with Apple *twice* as an industry. Arguably, Apple did make the right move, and we all *are* using Apple devices (or influenced by their use). So... *exactly*. Your last observation is something that I don't disagree with you about - but the growing prevalence of these kind of devices promises that we'll be able to spend more time, not less, not seeing the trees for the tablets. This blog *certainly* wasn't aimed at social consciousness. :)

dcolbert
dcolbert

...though, is only being felt by AMD, Intel, Microsoft, HP, and other hardware manufacturers of *traditional* PCs. This could put them back on track. Tech Journalists are wildly enamored with iOS platforms on the whole, and those who aren't tend to be Android pundits, like myself. Very few of us have stuck by Microsoft over the last few years, holding out any hope that they would get back on track or re-establish relevence for the Intel/Windows architecture outside of business desktops and Data Center servers. Journalists had a good ride with those mobile platforms and I think there may be some confirmation bias at play here that is making a lot of tech bloggers miss a reality. A lot of people still want powerful machines that have to be built on IA chipsets - they'll eventually upgrade, and when they do, if Windows 8 can offer the best of the desktop experience with the best of the tablet experience, those mobile devices become redundant - as you point out. That may not be the case. It may be that I buy a Windows 8 hybrid or convertible and find that I use it almost exclusively as a PC because the tablet experience isn't as rewarding as it is (for any number of reasons) on Android and iOS devices. Which puts me right where I am today, only with an IvyBridge ultrabook that *can* do tablet oriented duty if I really need it, and secondary *very* mobile machines that I use for truly portable personal computing and content consumption tasks. My model today is that laptops are easy to move between work and the office, or between my office and a conference room, or between rooms at home - but I don't like to take them on business trips, vacations, weekend trips, holidays or other travel. I don't like to take them with me for a day out doing chores (so I can sit in the parking lot or a waiting room and find some diversion or catch up on e-mail or whatever light-duty task that comes up). The way I see it... if Windows 8 fails to replace that *second* role, I'm still going to upgrade to it because it'll give me the same roles that a traditional laptop fills - only with a modern CPU platform. But... if Windows 8 as a tablet can allow me to watch my own movies on a flight from Ohio to California and have juice left over when I land, if it can do the things my Android tablet does now... just maybe the *Android* device is what gets left behind on holidays and vacations and weekend-chores in the future. The first scenario plays out OK for Android and iOS. The second scenario is potentially disruptive to the current status quo. But there are a lot of little factors... like size, and heat dissipation, and device noise from fans... Screen resolution seems to be a factor. The Yoga has a tablet type resolution, but in a 13" device that aspires to be a LAPTOP too. Will it drive an external monitor at a higher native resolution? I don't know that yet. Those are the "worst of both world" scenarios. I've got a lot of thoughts about this segment of the device market, right now.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I don't want W8. More specifically, I don't have any reason to put up with the Metro / Modern / whatever interface on a home desktop. I don't have any other systems for it to interact with, so a common interface and enhanced cloud capability aren't factors. I'm pretty sure that my older games and apps that run now on Vista Home will run on W7; I'm not as sure about running them on W8. For me, the benefits of the other new features are outweighed by the new interface. I certainly don't want to try teaching it to my wife. By waiting, I'll get W7 on the latest hardware possible for it, at a mark down price. I can accept getting paid to eventually learn the new interface at work. I'm not paying to learn it on my time. I want a home computer that feels like a comfortable slipper, not an Army boot.

Skruis
Skruis

The Series 7 I have running the RP fulfills most of those roles except the battery only lasts 4-5 hours...that kills it as the travel companion. I'm waiting on the Atom performance reviews and battery life estimates for the newer i5 devices before I make any decisions about what to recommend (currently planning on recommending the Lenovo Tablet 2). I know "atom" carries a lot of negative connotations from the netbook era but most of the initial impressions are coming back pleasantly surprised with the snappy performance. I'm 'hoping' that they'll powerful enough to drive Office and Metro but last long enough to fulfill that travel companion role.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Until Microsoft relents and realizes that too many people are unwilling to move forward - and returns to a traditional interface? Or will this be your last PC, like the old man who decides he doesn't like modern cars, and stays with that last Buick he bought in the 50s until his dying day? I mean... I see your concern, I don't think it is a bad strategy. You'll certainly see discounts on non-Windows 8 optimized systems... heck, it is already happening. But really, those are the two options for you and your wife... either this is a mistake and Microsoft returns to this dying paradigm of a traditional desktop interface - or eventually this last machine you buy is going to be 10, 15, 20 years old... and you'll be like the guy today who insists on using a Pentium 1 with Windows 3.11. If you're in the right place in your career, I guess that is doable. I think you represent a very real attitude out there, and one that may have significant justification. I'm curious how big of an impact the segment of the market that reflects your approach will have on Windows 8 adoption. It could be insignificant, or it could be tremendous.