Long-term Win RT support brings enterprise appeal

Microsoft's 4-year support for its Windows RT-based Surface tablet would entice enterprises and software developers looking to optimize their IT investments, and will not impede future platform innovations.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Microsoft's decision to support the initial release of its Surface tablet powered by Windows RT operating system (OS) until April 2017 will help build confidence among companies and developers to deploy the device and develop apps for the platform.

This, in turn, will boost the volume of apps and adoption of Windows 8 which are vital for the software giant to catch up with competitors Apple and Google.

Tim Coulling, an analyst at research firm Canalys, said Redmond's declaration of support essentially provides reassurance for the business community that Windows RT is part of its long-term OS strategy. This reassurance is crucial to spur the development of apps, given that the number of apps on a platform tends to be played up by rivals such as Apple as a barometer for success during product keynotes, he noted.

The announcement essentially provides reassurance for the business community that Windows RT is part of Microsoft's long-term operation system (OS) strategy, he said.

Microsoft has always been focused on the enterprise space, so clarity of the terms and conditions to support Windows RT on Surface tablets will definitely help enterprises in planning their adoption of the device as part of their mobile strategies, added Tang Pin-Chen, research analyst at Canalys.

Both observers' comments come after Microsoft stated on its product support lifecycle Web page that it will support the release of Windows RT on its Surface tablet from Jan. 1, 2013 to Apr. 11, 2017. According to a company spokesperson, the support will include security updates, non-security hotfixes and no-charge incident support, among other things.

Asked why it decided to commit for that amount of time when rivals are choosing to shorten their support lifecycles, the spokesperson told ZDNet Asia: "We believe that the decades we have had in maintaining support lifecycle policies as well as the trust we've built in our customers is a significant advantage for Microsoft customers.

"It allows for future business planning and allows our customers to maximize their investments in Microsoft technologies by understanding how to achieve the most productive use of the product."

Laudable initiative
Developers and companies ZDNet Asia spoke to agreed that the lengthy support period offered by Microsoft helps breed confidence among existing Windows developers as well as non-Windows businesses.

Kong Wen Bin, a National University of Singapore (NUS) School of Computing undergraduate and freelance Windows developer, said this move is a "huge boost in confidence" for users, developers included, of Surface Windows RT.

"Today, the product life cycle of [products] is getting shorter. Some companies release similar products in a yearly cycle with minimal improvement, and yet they shift the product support to the newer version of the device," Kong said.

"This hints to users that if they want new updates, they should follow along and upgrade their devices. In this case, the users are being controlled and they won't feel good."

SquareCrumbs, a Singapore company offering iPad-based mobile learning tools, likewise commended the support given by Microsoft. Its CTO Chua Ruiwen, who himself develops Web and iOS mobile apps, said while the promise of support for four years will not impact consumers much since people are increasingly replacing their gadgets in half the time, companies will see the appeal.

Companies naturally prefer to make investments in IT that they know will not end up obsolete once a newer version is introduced, so the lengthy support makes Windows RT a viable platform for enterprise applications and services, Chua pointed out.

"Enterprises, some of whom have custom-written applications, are probably going to be more sensitive in getting the most value out of their hardware investment, so long-term support [for the Surface tablet] is a probably a good thing," he added.

Joei Huang, a partner at interactive media company WKND and a developer of iOS and Web apps, said Redmond's announcement does provide greater incentive for him to consider investing in the Windows RT for Surface.

"Developers will definitely be more confident that Surface RT is not just a throwaway experiment and that Microsoft really does believe in the product to give it four years," Huang said.

Innovation not stifled
As for whether the lengthy support period might inhibit how Microsoft continues to innovate on Windows RT, Coulling said he did not think it will impact the company's future developments for the platform.

The timeframe for the support was given to drive developer support and build confidence in its capabilities as a hardware vendor and its commitment to Windows RT. It is all part of a bigger strategy to attract enterprises and app developers and get them to commit for the long haul, the analyst reiterated.

Chua added that if Apple and Google want to compete in the enterprise arena, then long-term support for their operating systems is "probably something they should be looking at".

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