Microsoft Surface makes us all winners, even as it loses

Summary:Microsoft is showing a way to enterprise mobility, albeit via a perilous path for its historic partners and channels.

Where goes Apple, there follows Microsoft. Where goes Microsoft, there follows the enterprise.

And so, the inevitability of mobile work and resulting higher productivity across almost all that IT enables is now assured, thanks to Microsoft's unveiling yesterday of its Surface family of mobility PCs.

It's not that workers have not wanted mobility, as only defined in the past few years by smartphones and tablets, best represented by iOS and Android. It's just that IT departments and planners didn't really know how to give it to them.

Now, with Surface and the Windows PC-tablet hybrid it defines, Microsoft is showing a way to enterprise mobility, albeit via a perilous path for its historic partners and channels. But Microsoft has bolted from its own ecosystem before and still thrived.

Give up control
W
hat's different this time is that Microsoft will need to give up much more control over its users and its ecosystem in order to make its late-to-the game Windows mobility plan work. And that means the Surface plan will be no means replicate the old Windows Everywhere business model.

In effect, to be successful against Apple and the Android ecosystems, Microsoft must walk away from how its own very definition of success was once measured. At best, Microsoft will go head to head in a three-way tied race over a long slog. And that does not allow for the margins or lock-in it has enjoyed in the past -- at any level.

The more that Windows locks in across Windows-only devices, the more value the other platforms demonstrate for doing dynamic and services-based, extra-enterprise business -- even if all other things are equal. To win, Microsoft must give up its long-cherished assets of control -- which means it loses.

To clamp down and force a Windows-only enterprise, means that those shops suffer compared to ones that enjoy more open mobility, broader ecosystems and agile cloud-services vibrancy.

Low chance of lock in
T
his is great news for enterprises. Surface gives them a path from their legacy Windows PCs, applications, and data to progress to mobility, but with low chance of being locked in again, or of losing their past Windows investments. They can have their old Windows cake, and their new cloud-driven mobility marketplace productivity -- and the choice of new services galore, a blooming universe of available native apps, and interoperability across nearly all their HTML 5-empowered web and software-as-a-service (SaaS) services.

Because Microsoft has not won a cloud advantage either, it lacks a critical mass of applications to force a mobile platform lock in Surface. There's just no way to cut off the oxygen of the cloud. That means Surface is just another mobile choice, not THE mobile choice for enterprises, and that makes all the difference.

There's just no way to cut off the oxygen of the cloud.

More likely -- and a reverse from its role in the lead up to GUI PCs -- Microsoft will soften up the enterprise for mobility in general, and make it easier for its competitors to do far better there than without Surface in the game. Surface also forces total client strategy choices that may well lead to more mobile and less PC, which at this point does not favor Redmond.

This is all a huge boon, and it shouldn't be underestimated. There is so much opportunity to improve how business is done and how people work when mobility is part of the full mix.
Absolutely huge

Enterprise architects, business analysts, and IT innovators around the world should now feel confident that they can design their processes and innovate and transform businesses based on the knowledge that nearly all apps and all data can reach all people at all time. This is absolutely huge.

With Surface, Microsoft has pushed the enterprise from the era of limited client vehicles to the era of processes borne on any transport, of untying work from a client form factor. Finally.

Microsoft will try to keep this a Windows Everywhere world, but that won't hold up. What makes mobility powerful is the escape from the platform, device, app shackle. Once information and process flow and agility are the paramount goals, those shackles can no longer bind.

Mobility requires the information flow to move across all boundaries. Windows lock-in can't meet the requirements of mobility, and the mobility competitors will always stay one step more interoperable -- and therefore advantageous -- than a Windows only solution.

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Topics: Software, Hardware, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Security, Tablets, Wi-Fi, Windows

About

Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, an enterprise IT analysis, market research, and consulting firm. Gardner, a leading identifier of software and cloud productivity trends and new IT business growth opportunities, honed his skills and refined his insights as an industry analyst, pundit, and news edito... Full Bio

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