The Microsoft Surface Tablet: Suitable for featherless bipeds with broad, flat nails

Summary:Given Microsoft's past attempts to compete with Apple, you may be tempted to write off the Surface tablets - don't, blogs Dave Johnson.

Plato used to define the human species as "featherless bipeds". This thought came to me this afternoon as I stood looking at the Venus de Milo in The Louvre (I'm in Paris for Forrester's I&O Forum) and pondered what Microsoft was about to unleash on all of us. Why, might you ask? Well, as the story goes, Diogenes (the guy who invented cynicism) plucked a chicken, brought it into Plato's Academy and declared: "Behold: I have brought you a man!" After this incident, "with broad flat nails" was added to Plato's definition.

It struck me that that's pretty much what Microsoft and its OEM partners have been doing to us with tablets for a number of years now. "Behold! I have brought you a tablet!" But of course, now we know that a "tablet" is a device that we can use with nothing more than fingers with broad, flat nails.
But there's more. Microsoft's ability to respond in its modern day Peloponnesian War with Apple, has been hampered by three things:
  1. The PC OEM vendors remain one (maybe two!) steps behind Apple in making well-differentiated hardware. To wit: Ultrabooks are just now beginning to match the MacBook Air, and no one else has a Retina Display in their lineups.
  2. They haven't had an operating system for tablets without styli or mice, or that will run longer than a few hours away from a power outlet.
  3. The upgrade process for Windows PCs is labor-intensive. IT organizations upgrade operating systems only when Microsoft forces them to, so end users are frustrated. Nearly half of organizations are still on Windows XP 11 years after its release.
Microsoft is about to fix all of that. By moving to an ARM processor (note that the final processor choice has not been announced) and creating Windows RT, they are:
  1. Taking control of their own destiny for hardware on the tablet side, and hopefully creating a device that is beautiful, and that featherless bipeds will flock to.
  2. Driving a stake in the ground that it's committed to Metro and a user experience for featherless bipeds and long, flat nails.
  3. Giving IT organizations a swift kick in the pants with Windows RT, but also giving them something in return: Manageability.
Here's what it all means for I&O professionals:
  1. Windows RT will be perceived as more "enterprise friendly" because it will offer you the ability to "manage" it (updates, deployment, patching, etc) with Windows Intune or System Center Configuration Manager. We currently believe that only SCCM version 2012 will supported with RT until Microsoft tells us otherwise. No word yet on which other client management vendors are moving to support Windows RT or to what extent Microsoft will enable 3rd party management tools to participate. Note that Apple has been very deliberate in the management functions they expose at the API level for management tools to hook into.
  2. Forrester believes that the Metro UI will appeal to the Phalanx of people currently prodding you to let them use an iPad or Android tablet, and it presents new opportunities for line-of-business application developers to create highly personalized, and well-tailored application experiences. Think: point of sale systems that employees can take to the customer, while IT keeps the auditors happy with demonstrated PCI compliance. Of course until the apps appear, it's anyone's guess just how appealing RT will be, but I'm a MacBook Air and iPad nut and have been pleased with Windows 8 on a Samsung Series 7 slate. I just wish it didn't have to have a cooling fan. At least Windows 8 isn't just more of the same.
  3. Don't expect applications written for Windows 8 on a PC to be compatible with RT on ARM. Besides the implications of a touch interface, applications will need to be compiled for ARM at a minimum.
Windows RT will include Microsoft Office (presumably a touch-enabled version), will be cloud-connected with features like SkyDrive, will likely include security features like device encryption, and allow access to other computers with tools like the Citrix Receiver or perhaps RDS support. With these features, we believe it will appeal to both iPad aficionados and I&O Professionals alike. However the whole strategy hinges on how quickly the apps will become available.
Given past Microsoft attempts to compete directly with Apple (Zune, for instance), Diogenes proteges will surmise that the Microsoft tablet will flop. We don't think so. There's a lot in Windows RT we think empowered featherless bipeds with broad, flat nails will love.

Topics: Tablets

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