(August 15, 2012: Seton Hall's CIO counters my argument. Read his letter here.)
Twenty miles from Manhattan, New Jersey's Seton Hall University is offering about 2,500 students, including all incoming freshmen and junior students, the choice of either a Samsung Series 7 tablet or Samsung Series 5 ultrabook running Windows 8 Release Preview version, as well as Nokia Lumia 900 Windows Phones.
The laptops and tablets will be updated to the official RTM (Release To Manufacturing) of Windows 8 after its release on October 26.
Seton Hall is going all-in on Microsoft. It's also using Office 365 for education for e-mail and other collaboration. While I think the school's move has some short-term merits, I also think it unwisely bucks long-term trends because of a false assumption.
Here are the good things. Apart from Microsoft, all of the relevant vendors are within an hour's drive of Seton Hall. The North American headquarters for Samsung and Nokia as well as AT&T's historic headquarters are all less than 50 miles from Seton Hall's South Orange campus (AT&T is the main systems integrator).
Samsung's Windows 8 tablet is a great piece of hardware that also happens to cost more than twice as much as an iPad.
Also, as a "First Wave" beta tester of Windows 8, Seton Hall is receiving "great support" from Microsoft, CIO Stephen Landry told CIO magazine.
"We had a list of what we thought was wrong. And the patches came. That gave me comfort. And 99 percent of our issues were resolved with the Windows 8 Release Preview. It was ultimately enough of a game-changer for us on tablets."
Seton Hall seems to have done its due dilligence. As you can see from my iPad deployment list, as well as Seton Hall's own SHUmobile information page, it has experimented with Nokia smartphones, Amazon Kindles, iPads and Samsung Galaxy Tab Android tablets.
From those tests and more, Seton Hall officials say they chose Windows 8 because:
1) Windows 8's strong enterprise features, including its manageability via Active Directory and Group Policy;
2) Problems distributing apps to large groups on the iPad;
3) Apple's lack of enterprise-wide warranties for its iPads, making the process of getting support cumbersome, according to Landry.
Bucking BYOD and Other Trends
But there are also tactical disadvantages of going Windows 8. Based on list prices, deploying 2,500 Samsung Windows 8 tablets (the lower-end one is $1,100) would cost the university about $1.5 million more than buying the same number of $499 iPads ($2.75 million versus $1.25 million). That's a big chunk of change.
Now, Seton Hall may hope that by standardizing on Windows 8, it will be able to save money by avoiding the need to invest in new management software.
If you are a large enterprise that is married to Microsoft technologies such as Active Directory and System Center, as Seton Hall apparently is, that might be possible - but only in the short run.
Think of the overwhelming preference of consumers and enterprises, especially schools and universities, for iPads today. Apple sold 1 million iPads for educational use its most recent quarter. Or the huge popularity of Android smartphones.
While Seton Hall students will love being handed free hardware, my guess is that they will quickly tire of having to lug multiple phones or tablets around in their backpacks. And they won't be happy if their iPhones and Google Nexus tablets are treated as second-class citizens compared to Windows devices, actively blocked or even hunted down as security risks.
Any of those moves smack of the command-and-control management style that is going out of vogue among CIOs in favor of the user-centric one that accomodates BYOD, the Consumerization of IT and other trends. Try to go that route, and a CIO risks creating an enduser revolt that would look something like this:
So if restricting devices and apps is not the way to go, what to do? Well, you'll probably want to add multi-platform Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Mobile Enterprise App Platform (MEAP) software in order to manage and control the iPads and Android devices hitting your networks.
In terms of features and power, most MDM and MEAP software are true peers with one-platform solutions such as System Center or RIM. This includes Android, provided the right MDM software and hardware are deployed together.
Ultimately, my view is that Windows 8 will be a great platform and will have many fans. But it will only be ONE of several technologies that enterprises will need to manage and support in the modern age. Enforcing a single-platform mobile strategy is both quixotic and wrong.