Microsoft’s announcement of their Surface tablet on Monday has sent a buzz through enterprise IT departments. Those who have been eagerly awaiting a Microsoft-compatible tablet for business uses now have a solid solution in sight. This imaginative and intelligently designed device may be the most innovative PC the world has ever seen.
The machine has a large, widescreen, high-definition display and comes with a 3-millimeter-thick, pressure-sensitive cover that doubles as a keyboard. Surface has a screen that measures 10.6 inches diagonally, compared to 9.7 inches for the iPad, but it comes in the 16:9 aspect ratio, which is suited to watching video in the widescreen format. The iPad's screen size ratio is 4:3. The 3 millimeter thick cover snaps on using magnets and doubles as an impossibly thin keyboard and touchpad mouse. Microsoft claims that the keyboard's software is sophisticated enough to allow touch typers to rest their fingers on the home keys, and it says the Surface will know the difference between a keystroke and a resting finger. That's not possible when typing on glass, the current standard for mobile device touchscreens. And the keyboard function shuts off when the cover is folded back. Genius!
But, how does this machine fit into Enterprise IT? This hybrid ultrabook-tablet comes in two versions, on that will run on Windows RT (an OS version developed for tablets) and a slightly thicker and pricier version will run on Windows 8 Pro. This is the version that will be aimed at enterprise users.
The Surface is Microsoft’s answer to the iPad which had many enterprise IT managers fretting how they would support the iPad or Android tablets for that matter. The Surface looks sleek enough to appeal to high-end users, and comes with the functionality that IT users would need for work purposes.
As with any new device there are concerns. The RT version will be most price appealing probably staying close to the iPad pricing starting at $499. The RT Surface will be aimed at consumers, but most enterprises will want employees to have the desktop Intel-based version, which will be bigger, heavier, and more expensive starting somewhere around $1000. This may cause some tension between bring-your-own-device (BYOD) employees and their IT managers.
The RT devices won’t offer the full Windows experience. They will run on ARM chips, the power-sipping microprocessors that are in 95% of the world’s smartphones and tablets. They will not be compatible with any software that runs on Windows 7 or earlier desktops with the exception of Microsoft Office. If you want the full compatibility of a Windows machine you’ll have to wait until later in the fall for the Windows 8 operating system version of the Surface to immerge.
The expansion into hardware is unusual for Microsoft, which relies on manufacturers like Hewlett-Packard and Dell, and could cause some friction. It’s rarely a good idea for software manufacturers to start competing with their OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners. And only time will tell what type of hardware venture this will be for Microsoft. Will it be another Zune or Kin product, which Microsoft produced after hardware partners had failed to produce competitive products with Microsoft’s software, and will ultimately end up being pulled from the shelf? Or, will it be in it for the long haul like Microsoft’s Xbox, which didn’t tread on the toes of any Microsoft partners.
Either way, many hardware manufacturers such as Dell, HP, and Lenovo have been waiting for the release of the tablet-friendly Windows 8 operating system to launch their own tablets for the business environment. They have seen this as a way to satisfy corporate need for mobility and reduced complexity by staying within the Microsoft environment. Not to mention a way to stay in front of employees who are increasingly tempted by Apple and BYOD strategies.
The fall of 2012 should bring a plethora of choices to the table for end-users. Choices that will be enterprise IT ready and easy to implement into corporate BYOD regulations and strategies. Choices that come with the enticing sleek and sexy feel of the iPad, yet the functionality of a laptop. The Surface is a remarkable accomplishment for Microsoft and on that has the potential to be a game-changer for the tablet market and enterprise IT.
XS International (XSi) is an IT services company that specializes in Cross-Platform OEM and Alternative IT Maintenance, Data Center Consolidation, Data Center Relocation, IT Asset Disposition and IT Hardware and Software Sales. XSi helps Federal Agencies, Contractors, Universities and the Commercial Sector stretch their IT budgets without compromising quality or responsiveness.