CIO On Windows 8 Tablets: "Best Solution Currently Available"

CIO On Windows 8 Tablets: "Best Solution Currently Available"

Summary: Last week, I argued that Seton Hall University's choice to standardize on a single platform - Windows 8 tablets and PCs - was the wrong strategy in the age of BYOD and end-user choice. Here, I give Seton Hall's top tech official a chance to rebut my claims.


My blog last week, "University Deploying Thousands of Windows 8 Tablets Is Smart Tactics, Flawed Strategy," generated quite a bit of reader reaction. 

I'm actually quite excited about what Windows 8 will deliver. But I felt that Seton Hall's plan to standardize completely on Windows 8 tablets and ultrabooks (initially all from Samsung) and effectively ban Apple and Android devices from classroom use was overly restrictive, out of touch with student preferences, and could cost the school more money in the short and long run.

One of those who responded was the architect of the Windows 8 plan, Seton Hall CIO Stephen G. Landry. His e-mail was both surprising - did you know Seton Hall has been giving out free laptops to students since 1997? - and predictable - the decision to restrict to only Windows 8 came down to a real-world analysis of the financial cost-benefits.


Credit: Seton Hall University

Landry actually acknowledges that Seton Hall is swimming against the tide. Most schools and companies will choose to support BYOD for a diversity of platforms, he writes, but going Windows 8 was "the best solution currently available" for the school.

While the e-mail didn't make me change my mind, I thought it was well-written and illuminating. The fair thing to do seemed to be to run it in its entirety below, and ask you for your thoughts. Text is bolded by me for emphasis.


Thank you again for responding to my tweet on your ZDNet article.  I found your comments both interesting and informative.  I certainly agree with you that our program’s use of Windows 8 Tablets is smart tactics.  I also agree with you that in the long term most successful IT organizations will implement strategies to support a variety of devices that users bring to work or school.  However, some background about Seton Hall might give even more weight to your assessment that SHUmobile was the best solution for us at this time, and not necessarily a flawed strategy.

For the past fifteen years Seton Hall has been a ubiquitous computing campus, that is, we provide a standard laptop to undergraduate students and their faculty as part of their tuition and fees.  One of the core principles of this program is that in today’s world access to appropriate technology is important for academic success.  Our president, Dr. Gabriel Esteban, put this well in his announcement of this program to the University community when he said, “By putting the most advanced mobile computing system in the hands of all of our students, regardless of prior experience or socio-economic background, we are leveling the playing field and creating opportunities for tomorrow's servant leaders.”

In designing our ubiquitous computing program, we’ve found that standardization enables us to provide excellent computers to our students at the lowest overall cost. This standardization also allows us to provide a very high level of service and support.  This high level of support has been especially important to our faculty who want to incorporate technology-based activities, courseware and e-texts into the classroom. Until technology evolves that will allow us to provide the same level of support in a diverse environment, or our community is willing to accept greater responsibility for their own technical support, our objective is to provide the best technology package for the price we’re able to pay. 

The Samsung Series 7 Slate PC with Windows 8 did this, while solving several instructional technology issues.   In particular, it allowed us to consolidate students’ laptop and tablet experience.  This was less expensive for us than issuing both a laptop and a tablet, or issuing a convertible laptop/tablet, as we have done with science and honors students in the past.  Once we made the decision to join Microsoft’s First Wave Program and adopt Windows 8, Nokia and AT&T also worked with us to implement and distribute a Freshmen Experience app to support greater student engagement with their classmates, suitemates, instructors, mentors and peer advisors, and to help them navigate the campus (both physically and by providing online services from the Financial Aid, Bursar and Registrar’s offices).

Here are some Web pages that provide some additional background on our program:

IT News Blog: http://blogs.shu.edu/doit/2012/08/seton-hall-university-launches-shumobile-the-evolution-of-the-mobile-computing-program/

SHU Mobile Computing Program page: http://www.shu.edu/offices/technology/about-mobile-computing.cfm

SHUmobile Web page: www7.shu.edu/technology/windows8.cfm

I’d be happy to provide you additional details about our program, our decision to adopt Windows 8, and why we believe this is the best solution currently available that meets the University’s instructional and technology requirements.  Please give me a call (my office and cell phone numbers are below) or drop me an email at your convenience.  And thanks again for reaching back to me for my point of view regarding this program.


Best regards,

Stephen G. Landry, Ph.D.

Chief Information Officer

Seton Hall University

Twitter: @landryst

Facebook: www.facebook.com/landryst

Topics: ÜberTech, Android, CXO, Laptops, Tablets, Windows

Eric Lai

About Eric Lai

I have tracked technology for more than 15 years, as an award-winning journalist and now as in-house thought leader on the mobile enterprise for SAP. Follow me here at ÜberMobile as well as my even less-filtered musings on Twitter @ericylai

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  • CIO On Windows 8 Tablets: "Best Solution Currently Available"

    Well that certainly shot down your whole argument on your post. Maybe next time you will investigate further and not let SAP tell you what to think. It was easy to see that Microsoft Windows 8 is the logical choice due to its familiarity by all students. Not just for the reasons that Dr. Landry stated which were all good, but because Microsoft continues to innovate with their products and with Windows 8 making computing a whole lot simpler. Microsoft Windows 8 UI is made for tablets. Makes it easier for app developers and for students. Seton Hall couldn't go wrong with this solution.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Landry also says "best solution for us AT THIS TIME"

      Reading between the lines, I interpret that as Landry saying that within his limited budget (remember, this is a small university with a commensurate endowment), standardizing on Win8 makes the most sense for now - but it may not several years down the road, if pressure from students and faculty for choice of platforms reaches a boil (as I see happening in many orgs) or if Seton Hall is no longer a Microsoft-only IT shop (the cloud is certainly leveling the field for other vendors).

      And Landry himself admits that he thinks that most other IT shops will not do as Seton Hall has done, but will embrace BYOD and multiple platforms.
  • Makes a lot of sense to me

    Volume purchases reduce cost. Standardization reduces cost and simplifies support. Custom apps can be written to 1 platform instead of many. When using apps, it is easier for users to be on the same page, than having to deal with tutorials for different platforms, etc. Also Windows 8 PCs are not just consumption devices: they are also productivity devices, allowing each user to perform a spectrum of consumption and productivity related activities on his device.
    P. Douglas
  • As android drops to irrelevence in the tablet space some of this

    will become a non issue. Once the corporate world reaches the same os market shares on tablets as they have now on desktops and ipads become exclusively personal toys like ipods education going 100% windows will continue to be the only real tech experience students need to prepare themselves for their corporate futures.
    Johnny Vegas
  • Wake Forest

    My daughter and son both went to WFU and they also received laptops included in their tuitions. On a whole it worked out well-they received ThinkPads with everything for school pre-installed and got a second laptop beginning of junior year which they were able to keep after graduation. And it still had a year's warrantry on it (which was used for a new display). It was extremely easy on them for if and when something went wrong, simply took it to the Computer center and had a turnaround in day or so. All their preloaded apps were restored and their files also, except for personal ones which were backed up by them. They could of course, and did get iPod, etc. but for productivity it worked out well. You just do not write fullly footnoted theses and do complex accounting without Office. And I am sure it was much easier on the Computer center. The students and faculty did not have to worry about much of anything, just learning and teaching. Just do not believe Apple or Android or any other company quite capable of doing that yet.
  • My comment is directed to Seton Hall University's president, Dr. Esteban

    Mr. President. I commend and congratulate you and your staff for attempting to enhance your student's educational needs by equipping them with state-of-the-art computer devices and resources.

    Your present choice regarding the selection of the aforementioned Microsoft hardware and software products will serve your student's needs admirably in the years to come.

    But, if I may, I would like to illustrate some personal philosophical differences which some ZDNet readers may have (myself included) over your world view expressed in a quote attributed to you by Mr. Landry.

    In announcing this program, you were quoted as saying, "By putting the most advanced mobile computing system in the hands of all of our students, regardless of prior experience or socio-economic background, we are leveling the playing field and creating opportunities for tomorrow's servant leaders.”

    Mr. President, IMO based upon a full professional career, life is not played on a level playing field. Regardless of your noble democratic motivations in this matter, one student's "most advanced mobile computing system" is not necessarily the same for another student. That one key point frames the entire argument and illustrates the reasons for the acceptance of a BYOD philosophy or policy.

    It follows, of course, that by restricting one of the most personal of choices a student will make in his attempts to advance his educational experience, that is, his choice in which computing device and associated software applications the student feels can best meet his or her personal and career goals, your attempt at "leveling the playing field" may only serve to hinder certain students from achieving their full potential at Seton Hall.

    The counter argument to the above statement, of course, is that the choice to attend Seton Hall is purely optional. However, a BYOD policy would avoid that Draconian choice in the first place.

    I fully understand the financial motivations that prompted your choices in these matters. I would concur with those choices myself. But basing policy and career guidance on the "lowest submitted cost proposal", although best for your school institution's bottom line, may prove short sighted and inadequate in the not to distant future. Technology changes fast, Mr. President whereas a student's ability to advance himself should never be curtailed by any prestigious institution of higher learning.
    • What if it where iPads?

      What if they were given iPads?, will you complain?

      As a productivity machine Windows 8 tops the iPad hands down, it support keyboard and mouse natively and can run real productivity software, included free Microsoft Office replacements that blow away even the most sophisticated iPad or Android Office replacements suits.

      Supporting multi platform is costly, cumbersome and time consuming, standardization remains the top choice, at least until computers become just pure dumb terminals and everything is ran from the cloud.
      • What if it where iPads, would I complain? Even though I sense you framed

        your question from a fanboy perspective, it is a valid question and so I will attempt to answer it.

        But first, please allow me to recap some key points, runner507823.

        One: I believe in the BYOD philosophy and program adoption at the University level.
        Two: Seton Hall's program is a bit different from other institutions in the sense they actually supply a computer (and/or compatible software applications) to incoming students rather than simply requiring a student have a computer and leaving the choice of hardware (and software) up to them.

        A consequence of that policy is definite cost benefits to the university - as you pointed out in your post and what has been pointed out in several blog articles on this topic. However, this is not germane to the question you asked of me. I'll repeat that. Cost benefits are not germane to your query.

        So now I can answer your original question. If asked for a comment, I would definitely complain if Seton Hall chose the Apple/iPad platform as a single source solution for both students and university requirements.

        And, if you read my post to Seton Hall's President, you should not be surprised by that answer.

        When it comes to technology, I don't believe in single source solutions. IMO, that philosophy or policy never "levels the playing field". It only serves to stifle creativity and productivity.

        That basically answers your question but I'll supply a bit of background trivia for you.

        Did you like the London Olympic games, runner? I enjoyed them. I can also remember the 1996 Summer Olympic games held in Atlanta, Ga. Here is a little bit of trivia about those games that you can read on this web link. http://gtresearchnews.gatech.edu/reshor/rh-win96/olympics.htm

        However, the key points from that link and the points I'm going to make can be framed from two paragraphs from that site.

        "With assistance from Georgia State University and several private companies, researchers in 1989 created a high-tech multimedia interactive program for the 1990 final proposal to the International Olympic Committee in Tokyo. The presentation won a Computerworld Smithsonian Award in 1992 and a New Media Invision Award in 1994 for its innovative use of information technology.

        The Olympic projects relied on cutting-edge computing technology, incorporating three videodisc players, three computers, computer-composed music, digitized narration and the touch-sensitive interaction system. A Commodore Amiga computer controlled the presentation, along with an Apple Macintosh IIcx and a smaller computer interface device."

        What does Georgia State University, Olympic Games, Commodore Amiga computers have in common with Seton Hall and Microsoft?

        As I stated in my original post, technology changes fast. No single platform (no matter how good) can be the perfect solution to everyone. That observation is just as true today as it was twenty years ago.

        When the Atlanta committees IOC presentation was being created, the Apple platform and the Microsoft platform (or ecosystems, if you prefer) at that time period could not, COULD NOT create a multimedia presentation on the scale needed. The Commodore Amiga platform DID have that capability but, as the article quoted, it also used some Apple computers as well. (I believe to create some of the graphics used).

        Which means, of course, the Georgia State students and staff supported a BYOD (or open) policy back then over a single sourced solution.

        No matter how good Microsoft's hardware and software products are (or for that matter, Apple's or Android or "any other platform") a single source never, ever levels the playing field. It only supports mediocrity, at best.

        PS. I could supply other current examples of the benefits of a BYOD policy from two Universities that I'm most familiar with: The University of Michigan and Michigan State University. Both enjoy academic reputations for excellence. Both support a BYOD policy. But I trust you have already understood the points I have been attempting to make.
        • Awfully long explanation for your previous long post, and weak argument

          All students will have the same platform supplied with the universities software and ebooks, at a great cost and with great support. You agree with this.
          What is stopping these students from ALSO using their own devices for whatever else they choose to do - there is no limitation there at all. The university is not stating that the students are no allowed to go out and buy additional devices of their own and use them too, so they CAN be more creative or less limited.

          There you go, only 6 lines... :)
  • Best Solution Currently Available My Butt

    This gentleman is obviously talking from a "on-paper" view of Windows 8. It just became available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers today: there is no way in the world anyone besides people in those two groups are legally "kicking the tires" right now.

    Sure, "on-paper" Windows 8 might sound great - and when it reaches general availability it might even live up to what it promises on-paper. But, to say it is the best solution without actually having the product in your hands, deploying it into your students hands, and wiring all the networks and information flows together.. Well, that is just disingenuous, this man is talking out of his butt to say "it is best." It is unproven, once it is released put it through some honest to goodness field trials before slapping a "best" sticker on it.
    • Response to BP314

      Although Windows 8 is only available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers at the moment and won't be generally available until October, the OS has been in public trial and pilots for many months. I am not sure about Seaton Hall's situation, but there are many companies who have been running pilots using developer preview, consumer preview, or release preview (fancy names for beta stages of the OS), not to mention millions who have downloaded and been using one of the preview editions which have been available since last Fall. I am one of those who have been using Windows 8 since last Fall (first Developer Preview, then Consumer Preview, and lastly the Release Preview). Each preview offered a huge improvement and overall, my experience with Win8 has been very good. I have been using it as my primary OS since the Release Preview and I think once you get used to the new Metro UI, you really get to like it a lot.
  • Usage patterns of students

    I think what you all are missing is the usage patterns of students. Students consume data and information, but they also have to write papers, do projects and do quite a lot of data entry. The Windows 8 tablets present a laptop replacement as opposed to an iPad. I can't imagine trying to write a research paper on an iPad. Even with a keyboard.
    • Only real solution for students...

      Exactly. iPads and Android tablets are 'cool'... just about everyone on campus has one... but they are also pretty useless in the classroom. Even with a note taking app, it's a pain to organize and take notes that can be used later for effective studying. Having One Note, Word, and Excel make a Win 8 tablet a no brainer for college students.
    • You could give everyone iPads - they would still need a laptop

      iPads are great, but are you really going to give someone a college ed just based on iPads? Good grief, that would be criminal negligence. This isn't 4th grade we're talking about.

      I don't care if it's MS or Mac or Linux, students need a real computer.
  • He's absolutely right

    From a support perspective, this is clearly the best solution for any organization. Several cost and support benefits come from standardizing on a single platform. Truthfully, the students and staff benefit as well... not only from the support they are able to receive, but Windows 8 provides the best platform for their computing needs in the first place. While an argument could be made for Macbooks, iPads certainly do not cut it as a usable device. More importantly, even if I am a student that has an Apple device... I do not complain about receiving another cool piece of technology.

    I pay tech fees as part of my tuition... and we certainly don't get anything as cool as a laptop or tablet.
  • Windows 8 vs iPad vs Android

    My 4c worth is that the Windows 8 "Intel" tablet decision is good one for a university. Why?

    - USB device support - printers; memory sticks; MIDI over USB etc
    - Expansion memory support
    - Open applications development environment(s)
    - External monitor support (micro-HDMI)
    - Two-way transfers of data supported when connecting to other computers
    - "Open standard" file types supported as native file types
    - FTP, RSH and other remote access technologies included

    Both the iPad and current Android devices are closed environments requiring "approval" from either Apple or Google to develop and run apps and transfer media. The iPad does not permit two-way transfers of its data between other computers (iTunes is one-way download only to an iPad leaving users locked to a single desktop station for synchronization of apps, music, video etc). There is no external monitor support, no native FTP or RSH mechanism, and file types are proprietary and locked in.

    Why would a university promote closed tablet systems such as iPad and Android when there is now a much more open commercially supported alternative?
    • Agreed - more positives than negatives to be sure

      It's got to be a good choice - the combination of touch screen tablet apps with the versatility of a full PC experience.
      No brainer.