The only really big problem with annual leave is that at some point you have to return to work. Well, I’m back, and following 2 weeks in Florida, the resulting jetlag is the reason I’m writing this at 5am. Still, it’s not all bad, as I’m writing this on my new Microsoft Surface RT. So how is it? Why did I buy one? What will I use it for? And importantly, how does it compare to an iPad?
Before we begin though, let’s start of by saying that I’m not going to discuss the device/hardware and app store, let’s just leave it at ”the external reviews on hardware are all about right”, (it’s beautifully designed and executed), the touch keyboard really is very workable and usable, and far superior to any iPad keyboard, and there aren’t loads of apps yet, (come on, it’s only been out two weeks, give it 6 months. iPad had no apps for ages either, and up scaled/stretched iPhone apps don’t really count), those that there are beautiful on the whole (think flipboard cool).
So, why did I buy one? Well, my iPad is just over 2 years old now, and to be honest, it’s not been performing well of late. Since I moved to IOS 5, application crashes are very frequent, and I’ve found it less and less enjoyable to use. Perhaps time for a new iPad then or maybe something else? Well, I checked out Nexus 7 (and they’ve just released Nexus 10), a good product for sure but whilst in US I visited a Microsoft store and well, the rest is history. I was won over by the device after 10 minutes, add in a nice dollar/pound rate and the deal was done.
What will I use it for? Well, it’s a consumer device, (as is iPad), and I anticipate using it for a mixture of consumer stuff, and some day work usage. When I recount what I used my iPad for, I used it for the same, email at home, and a day trip device, rather than carry a full laptop. What I didn’t use it for was any creation, (I’m not a big fan of iPad keyboard and autocorrect), so as a basic consideration does Surface do those things well enough?
How does it cope? Surprisingly well…… Surface comes with Office 2013 installed (preview to be upgraded to full version soon), so document creation is easy. (this article was written in Word 2013, then copied into the WordPress RT App). Integration into corporate exchange by ActiveSync is faultless. Mail and Calendaring application, (it doesn’t have outlook), are as functional as iPad versions and the calendaring function is more reliable than iPads. Integration into Office365 is really excellent, (both Lync and SharePoint document access easy in addition to email) Citrix receiver is also available, though I’ve not tried that yet.
Where Surface works really well is the new combination of Windows 8 RT and the keyboard/touch interface, you end up evolving your interaction with the device, combining the Windows 8 UI and charms and touch/keyboard options. As an example, when using the browser if you want to move to another page, you touch into the text box and then type. If you want to go back a page in the browser, well that’s just a sideways swipe. It works really easily and beautifully, though there is a learning curve which is much steeper than iPad.
Keyboard and kickstand make the device lap or desk friendly, stable, and very usable. The really useful piece for a corporate addendum device comes in the fact the device has some really useful helpful features. Firstly it’s got a USB port, so you can add devices to it. Although it doesn’t have an Ethernet port, you can add one via USB, a useful feature given most companies in the UK don’t have wall to wireless. Secondly, when I returned home and added the device to my network, it scavenged the network, found my wireless printer, and automatically installed the drivers for me. Printing without challenges. Try and do that on an iPad.
So, what’s not so great? Surface is most certainly not a portrait device as it sports a 16:9 ratio screen, unlike iPad’s 4:3, (think old television versus new flat panel ratios). Designed for watching films and such. It can run in this orientation, but it feels odd. If you’re an organisation that’s invested in MDM products, it’ll be a little while till Windows RT is supported I expect. Microsoft licensing on RT means in theory you can’t legally use it to create documents in a work environment, (silly idea, I know). Corporate integration fully is just as painful as iPad, it can’t authenticate against AD, and you can’t just point at your CIFS file servers or SharePoint servers. The apps catalogue is thin on business tools and whilst it supports handwriting, there’s no digital stylus to actually handwrite into OneNote or Evernote (both of those apps are available already)
Is Surface a better addendum device than an iPad, in many ways, yes! In some ways it provides exactly the same challenges for corporate integration, though with less MDM integration options in the short-term. It’ll be my new addendum device for a while, (neither iPad or Surface RT could be your only device) and we’ll see how it pans out, though what’s really exciting is going to be the full Surface Pro (and other Intel based devices), which will be available in Jan/Feb and will come with the same strengths as RT, and fix many of its challenges.
One thing’s for sure though. It’s going to make for some interesting challenges for selecting the right slates/tablets in 2013 for your business.
Sometimes in the IT industry, we are prone to over complicate, confuse and bamboozle our customers. The use of acronyms, abbreviations and silly confusing names are occupational hazards in corporate IT and it’s about to get a little additional help in the next 10 days as Microsoft release 3 versions of “Windows”, developed for 3 different technology markets/scenarios: –
- Windows 8 (standard, Pro, enterprise)
- Windows RT
- Windows Phone 8
Windows 8 and RT are released for general availability on Friday October 26th, and Windows Phone 8 has an entirely different release all of its own on Monday 29th. So, 3 products, what are they for, and what are the primary differences?
Windows 8 is what users would normally consider Windows, though as I briefly covered last week, it looks different and is developed to cover both touch, keyboard and mouse. There are different versions depending on your specific need, but essentially, it’s your usual corporate windows, Active Directory integrated product, which runs typical X32 and X64 bit applications, and is entirely backward compatible with Windows 7.
Windows RT, (a name that has no meaning at all) is really geared as consumer market product. It doesn’t run on Intel X32 or X64 technology, but runs on ARM technology usually found in smartphone handset technology. It’s geared as an alternative to Android and Apples’ ubiquitous iPad tablets, and will spawn quite a lot of cheap slates no doubt.
Windows RT cannot be connected to an Active Directory, but will be shipped with Office 2013 (a version for RT), but, oddly, it’s a version which cannot be used to create corporate/commercial documents unless you have additional licence entitlement apparently. (An interesting move, but one I can’t see people keeping too, or see how that’ll be very enforceable). Most importantly, it cannot run traditional corporate 32bit or 64 bit applications, though you will be to use it with Citrix receiver if you have such technology available to you.
Applications for Windows RT will be downloaded from the app store, and as of writing this, there are around 6000 apps already available, (which isn’t bad considering it’s not released yet), and I hear Microsoft talking 100k apps by Xmas, which seems optimistic to me, but I guess we’ll see who’s the loser on that bet come Xmas. £10 that I’m a winner MS.
Windows Phone 8 will be a very interesting product, one which has been swathed in secrecy. Microsoft are seemingly try to create some hype (ala Apple). All of the features have not been released yet, and the development tools have only been released to the very top application developers to try and contain leaks of what’s in the product.
What I can tell you, is that it’s going to be a very well integrated corporate product, fixing all of its previous products shortfalls in the corporate security space. Expect class leading mail/calendar (as has been in 7.5), with encryption and application security to surpass all. We’ll cover more details when it’s released. Expect some cutting edge industry leading handsets, (Nokia Lumia 920 anyone?) and it’s going to be a big push by Microsoft to attack corporate phone supply business for Microsoft houses.
What’s the most interesting thing about all these versions of Windows though is in one specific feature that’s not been widely articulated by Microsoft, and one I believe could well prove to be one of the primary drivers for (corporate) adoption. When we consider most likely use cases for the new versions of Windows almost all are likely be used primarily on mobile devices.
The biggest challenge almost every corporate is having with mobility, (beyond the issue of wall to wall wireless internally), is getting access to corporate applications. Sure email and calendaring is pretty easy, and most corporates have done tactical MDM implementations to help with the challenge of enabling BYO, and providing some corporate integration. Applications access though, is not widely successful or even remotely easy to achieve right now.
Most corporate applications are X32 or X64, though of course, there are many applications that are widely used that are Web enabled. Windows 8 and all its derivatives, all run the same common OS core code, (we call that a kernel), what this means, is that applications that are developed for your traditional desktop OS, can be quickly and easily ported down onto both RT and Windows phone 8. What a vendor will have finally enabled, is a way of creating apps and making them easily movable across a broad spectrum of devices, a scenario that Apple hasn’t enabled or achieved across iOS and OSX and it’s entirely impossible on Android too.
Could this one specific feature be the killer feature that Microsoft needs to really provide customers with a more scalable and a better mobile integrated business? I guess only time will tell, but it’s certainly got to be an interesting consideration for an organisation and its mobility strategy, if like most, you’ve not been developing your own iOS or Android Apps. Will we finally move from tactical mobile solutions to a more strategic choice with a key vendor? Microsoft is certainly hoping so.