iOS vs Surface: Why Apple is not a patch on Microsoft

With its consumer focus, Apple has overlooked the importance for enterprises to be able to control and distribute patches and upgrades. It's a shortcoming to which Microsoft and its Surface tablet will not succumb
Written by Lori MacVittie, Contributor

Despite all the talk about BYOD and the need to control mobile devices in the enterprise, most of the focus has been on access control and data security.

But as tablets and phones become the standard medium through which employees interact with corporate resources, there are other important managerial issues to be considered. Yes, I'm talking about patches and upgrades.

Could Microsoft's familiarity with the enterprise give the Surface tablet a leg-up?

Most IT departments today are familiar with Patch Tuesday when Microsoft rolls out updates, fixes and security upgrades to existing systems. It's been a regular occurrence since 2003 and is probably a recurring event in the Outlook calendars of most technicians.

With this regularity comes familiarity and security. Remember — a lot of IT departments still don't allow Apple laptops in the office even today.

Enter BYOD and the iPad. The Apple iPad is a new kid on the corporate block, adopted by executives as the must-have device for digesting material and working on the move. But Apple has its own calendar of releasing updates, which may seem strange and unfamiliar. It has its own ways of working and lacks the established number of middle-man companies dedicated to managing and applying these updates.

For enterprise organisations, this is a big deal. The cost of upgrading alone and being subject to the release cycle of an outside entity are not things CIOs are willing to accept as standard operating procedure. Microsoft is familiar territory — Apple tablets are still reasonably new and non-standard.

Here comes Microsoft

Enter Microsoft, with its tablet offering, Microsoft Surface. As I've said, most large enterprises are already familiar with Microsoft technologies and Microsoft is well versed in dealing with the eccentricities of the enterprise, which upgrade and patch on their own schedule according to their own needs and budgets.

The ability to integrate Microsoft Surface tablets into the mix more seamlessly than yet another vendor platform may give the giant the edge it needs to make its tablet stick.

The ability to control and distribute patches, upgrades and applications is one that should not be underestimated, but is sadly overlooked by Apple with its consumer focus.

Downloading a single patch file and distributing to hundreds or thousands of devices on a schedule that does not overtax the network is something organisations do regularly today, mostly due to the frequency with which Microsoft has tended to patch and update in the past decade.

But for Apple this is unfamiliar territory. An organisation standardising on Apple iOS may find its network suddenly overwhelmed when every device connected attempts to download and install the latest patch pushed — and required — by Apple.

Android devices, too, with their origins in open source, lack managerial systems through which updates and upgrades and patches can be pushed in a manner appropriate to enterprises. However, Android's openness will probably lead to a market of solutions and integration with more mobile device management than the closed, proprietary Apple.

BYOD may give Microsoft the edge

Still, as enterprises continue to struggle with BYOD and BYOL and BYO-whatever-the-next-thing-is issues, Microsoft's long and often painful experience gaining a foothold in the enterprise may give it the edge it needs to gain share in this volatile market.

Enterprises will no doubt appreciate Microsoft's willingness to share control — if not give it outright. Microsoft recognises that enterprises are not consumer homes, and management integration is a critical factor in widespread enterprise adoption of any new technology.

Security is important, and certainly it is central in this brave new mobile world. But it is also the operational management of devices and applications that must be considered when adopting a mobile device strategy, whether BYOD or not.

Lori MacVittie is responsible for application services education and evangelism at application delivery firm F5 Networks. Her role includes producing technical materials and participating in community-based forums and industry standards organisations. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as in network and systems development and administration.

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