By Brian Albright, Field Technologies magazine
Will Windows 8 help Microsoft reassert itself in the enterprise tablet market?
With the release of Windows 8, Microsoft hopes to regain some lost ground in the mobile device and tablet market with a new OS that has been optimized for those devices (and for touch screens in general). The longanticipated response to Apple’s iOS and the Android platform, it represents the most dramatic overhaul Windows has undergone in years.
Competing mobile platforms have made gains in the enterprise space during the past few years. Will the enhancements in Windows 8 help the company in the mobility space? So far, the response has been positive among hardware vendors that specialize in enterprise and rugged deployments.
“Windows 8 has a truly groundbreaking user interface (UI) with its live tiles, as opposed to strictly icons, which presents key and updated information to the user,” says Matt Miller, president of MobileDemand. “This new design and live functionality has the potential to initiate a very significant change in the way consumers and enterprises use computers, notebooks, and tablets. Windows 8 is the key link to bridge the investment in enterprise applications to the newer, consumer-style, multitouch UIs that have been very successful for Android and iPads.”
The OS release is also good news for the tablet market, says Chris Wright, VP of InfoMobility at DRS Technologies/ARMOR Rugged Mobile Solutions. “This is another major step in the validation of the tablet form factor as a whole and likely the most important for the enterprise market,” Wright says. “More and more organizations will look to utilize tablets as replacements for desktops and notebooks rather than a secondary device.”
New Tablet Features Enhance Enterprise Experience
For tablet users, key new features include Wi-Fi improvements (automatically connecting to the access point with the best throughput), better unplugged performance, unified PC management, and the new Windows To Go feature. “Windows To Go is a self-contained, corporate desktop on a bootable USB drive that works with any Windows-compatible system and can include a stock set of enterprise applications,” says Kyp Walls, director of product management at Panasonic. “The new OS has better power management, yielding longer battery life, more efficient memory utilization, and much faster boot times, which is particularly beneficial to tablet users. Unlike iOS and Android devices, one advantage of Windows 8 is the ability to manage tablet devices with the same tool used for PCs: System Center. This allows IT managers to avoid the expense and hassle of deploying a new mobile management platform specifically for tablets.”
The grid of “live tiles” in Windows 8 provides real-time information about the user and their work on the Start menu screen. The Start button is gone, however, which could prove challenging for some users wedded to the current UI.
Microsoft has also introduced an app store, similar to the ones for iOS and Android applications. There is integrated functionality that can allow direct connections to manage cellular wireless data plan limitations and expenses, and the OS will automatically sense the “lowest cost” path for data communication (whether via WLAN or over the cellular network). It also features endto- end security with full drive encryption (Windows Bitlocker), secured boot process, and the inclusion of Windows Defender to keep tablets free of malware.
The introduction of Windows 8 has also led to a flurry of new hardware releases, which should provide new options to mobile enterprise users as well. “The variety of Windows 8 tablets leads to innovation and diversification in the tablet space,” Miller says. “This is a big win for consumers and enterprises looking for a tablet that best fits their needs. The market is seeing introductions of true slate-style tablets, convertibles, hybrids with removable keyboards, and notebooks.”
Windows Will Gain Enterprise Market Share
The vendors interviewed for this story indicated that they expect Windows 8 to capture a large part of the enterprise market moving forward, particularly for more conservative verticals like manufacturing. The new OS offers the same functionality as its competitors, but minus the compromises that are often required for using iOS or Android in the enterprise.
“Given the widespread use of Windows in the enterprise market, we expect there will be significant interest in Windows 8 tablets due to ease of integration and existing enterprise security features that are part of the Microsoft platform,” Walls says. “However, field service organizations must evaluate Windows-based tablets just as they would Android or iOS devices. Regardless of OS, tablet devices must be built to provide maximum performance and reliability in a user’s specific work environment. With the increased mobility associated with tablets, key features for enterprise users include drop resistance, a sunlight viewable screen, enterprise-level security, and serviceability.”
Many companies that have delayed tablet deployments because of integration issues may now move forward. “Now that all of the cards are dealt, [companies] can make truly informed decisions on how to modernize their software, taking advantage of the mobile characteristics of tablets,” Wright says. “Just the presence of a third major option should slow down Android and iOS adoption.”
The market may also be affected by Apple’s ongoing patent lawsuits involving iOS. Apple and Google haven’t gone to court yet, but Apple’s victory against Samsung could mean additional problems down the road for Android. “It seems Windows 8 has less concern about patent violations, as Microsoft and Apple have joint licensing agreements,” Miller says. “Enterprises deploying tablets would be better served with the security and long-term viability of Windows 8 than Android.”
Users Drawn To Familiar Windows Platform
There are still some drawbacks to deploying Windows 8 for mobile enterprise solutions. For one, there may be a lag in development of mobile applications, and some vendors may spend a significant amount of time playing catch-up to create mobile versions of the programs enterprise users want to deploy in the field. That said, the ability to run unified applications across mobile and desktop devices will be compelling for many IT departments, given Windows’ ubiquity in the enterprise.
“During a major project, familiarity promotes confidence, and Windows 8, in spite of its new look, has a very familiar DNA,” Wright says. “It interfaces well with existing enterprise systems without many of the security concerns that challenged early adopters of Android and iOS. Additionally, the predictability of Microsoft and its OS release cadence is comforting for enterprise IT departments. Android and iOS push major version updates on an annual basis — great for consumers, but challenging for IT professionals with a large deployment base.”
There could still be challenges. Because Windows 8 has integrated touch screen functionality, deployment on nontouch devices could present some problems in terms of presentation. The new Start Screen is essentially the same as the Start Menu, but users may initially have some difficulty navigating the new interface. “In addition, the Windows 8 release marks significant changes to the user experience, so we recommend bringing end users into the evaluation and decision process in order to garner buy in,” Walls says.
How this all plays out in the enterprise mobility space has yet to be seen, but so far it looks like Windows 8 is set to make a big impact. Reviews have been mostly positive, and CEO Steve Ballmer reported that 4 million Windows 8 upgrades were sold during the first week of availability. The company’s new Surface tablet also debuted in October, along with a number of rugged notebooks and tablets from multiple vendors.