Microsoft made a major splash a few years back when they announced that the NFL would be using the Surface tablets on the field and in the locker room for various aspects of team management. Up until now it really only caught the media’s eye briefly when commentators mistakenly identified the Microsoft tablets as Apple iPads, a stinging verdict on the strength of both Microsoft and Apple’s branding. Unfortunately for Microsoft, the Surface tablets were correctly identified this time at the recent AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos. Unfortunate because the Patriots were experiencing technical difficulties with the devices at a crucial moment in the most important game of the season. As you’d expect, the internet had a field day with this, even though the the technical difficulties were quickly overcome, and the Patriots carried on.
What this means for you:
Rather than taking an easy opportunity to poke fun at Microsoft as you might expect, I’m more interested in making sure everyone grasps the more important lesson here. Even though the Surfaces had become an important part of sideline operations during a game, the Patriots were able to keep moving forward with their critical processes because the Surface tablets weren’t a single point of failure in the complex workflow of team and game management. Are there parts of your business or organization that depend on a single point of technology that, if it failed, would prevent you from executing on critical processes or tasks? Always have a back up plan, both in the literal sense (as in: Back up that data!) as well as the figurative. Important presentation tomorrow that you’ve only stored on a single thumb drive and nowhere else? What would happen if that little thumb drive accidentally fell out of your pocket while you were on the way to the big meeting? When it’s game day, make sure you have more than one way to get the ball into the end zone!
Earlier this year, CEO Thorsten Heins of beleaguered tech company BlackBerry infamously stated, “In five years I don’t think there’ll be a reason to have a tablet anymore.” The press had a field day with this quote and the explosive growth of tablets in 2013 alone seems to be proving otherwise. As if to rub Mr. Heins’ and other tablet-doomsayer’s faces in it, October is seeing the launch of multiple new tablets, including new lineups from Microsoft, Nokia and Apple, all essentially debuting on the same day.
Apple dominated the American media on Oct 22 with the debut of “the lightest full-sized tablet” on the market, the iPad Air, weighing in at a diminutive single pound. It also updated the wildly popular iPad Mini with its high-resolution “Retina” display, bringing the 7″ tablet up to par with competing models from Google and Amazon. In an attempt to not be out-done (and sadly not quite succeeding in that effort), Nokia announced its first tablet today as well. The Lumia 2520 will run Microsoft’s Windows RT, a move that analysts questioned given the tepid consumer response to Microsoft’s tablet OS, but is not unexpected in light of the Redmond tech-giant’s recent acquisition of Nokia’s hardware business. Not wanting to be left out of the tablet party, Microsoft held its own midnight release event on Oct 21 at its retail stores around the country to celebrate the arrival of the Surface 2. Despite loud music, flashy displays and enthusiastic staff, the Surface 2 launch parties seemed to be (unsurprisingly) sparsely attended.
What this means for you:
If you’ve been holding off on buying a tablet for some reason, the market is currently overflowing with choices, and many of them are very strong on features and backed by staunch developer support and healthy ecosystems, notably the iOS and Android family of products. Though many are saying it’s too early to tell, the Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets have a stiff, uphill climb in the market, something that is keeping developers away from the OS, leaving Microsoft’s app marketplace relatively barren compared to the competition. There’s been a minor stir of interest in the Surface tablets from the arts industry, primarily because of the hardware’s robust pressure sensitivity, but unless you have a specific use case in mind, I’d steer clear of the Windows tablets for now. If you’ve been concerned about the size and weight of the 10″ tablets (very hard to use as bedtime readers or if you spend any time as a standing commuter) you can’t go wrong with a 7″ tablet from either Apple, Google or Amazon, all of which now feature high-definition screens, robust app stores and great portability.
If you’ve held off buying a Surface tablet in the hopes that the new device would settle in and get its legs after a less-than-stellar showing at launch, you have probably been disappointed to find that instead of capturing the hearts and minds of the public (or the media), the Surface continues to struggle for identity in the shadow of the iPad and, to a lesser degree, Google’s Nexus tablets. Zach Epstein at BGR.com had one of the more favorable launch reviews of the tablet, and 30 days later, he updates his stance: he’s still thumbs way up on the hardware, but finds that Microsoft’s innovative hardware is limited by Windows RT, the tablet-only version of Windows 8, and its still-thin selection of apps.
What this means for you:
Mobile warriors looking to get work done via tablet alone (that aren’t already doing it via the iPad or Nexus) may still find themselves hamstrung by the limitations of the Windows RT and the lack-luster selection of apps. Even if you spend most of your time in Microsoft Office, performance of Outlook RT is still poor, and if there’s one thing people won’t suffer, its a slow email client.
Look carefully at the applications you need to exist as a tablet-capable version before chucking your laptop for any tablet (not just the Surface), and even if it does exist, make sure it meets your needs before investing. Die-hard tablet enthusiasts will be able to surmount most of the limitations of Windows RT just by virtue of their innate patience and willingness to “hack” around problems, but if you are someone who’s patience is tried even by the ultra-polished iPad, don’t even think about a Surface at least until the Windows 8 Pro versions arrive in early 2013.
The Windows 8 RTM (Release to Manufacturer) build has been available to technology professionals now for several weeks, and I recently took the plunge by installing it on my Dell Inspiron 1500 laptop. Even though my Inspiron was sold as a “Windows 8-ready” laptop, it definitely wasn’t ready for the RTM build. Despite repeated attempts to upgrade the existing Windows 7 installation (a path most folks will likely take), I ended up wiping out the entire OS and installed Windows 8 from scratch.
First, say something positive…
First impressions are important, and let me tell you, the new Windows 8 user interface is eye-popping and unlike anything you’ve seen on a desktop OS. Versions of this UI have been evolving on Windows Phones, the Xbox 360 and the Zune for months, and the designers behind the look of the OS have clearly been working very hard, and to great effect. The Windows 8 interface is a stark contrast to the shiny, chromed look of Windows 7 or OS X, using bold colors and geometric shapes in what they are calling a “tile” based interface.
It’s engaging, intuitive, and not as huge a paradigm shift in how we work as you might think. On the whole, the new OS ran as fast or faster than the previous install of Windows 7, and even though my laptop did not have a touch-enabled screen, I was able to navigate around the new interface comfortably after spending a few hours familiarizing myself without how it works.
…There’s a “but” and it’s a big one.
If Windows 8 blows your mind with its look and feel out of the gate, be prepared to have some of that wind sucked right back out of your sails. Windows 8 maybe ready for its close-up, but the rest of the world isn’t quite ready for it. Knowing this, Microsoft actually did the only thing it could do: incorporate large chunks of Windows 7 into 8 so as to maintain backwards compatibility with its gigantic (and predominantly slow-to-change) user base. This “layering” of two different OS’s will be a tremendous struggle for the average user, and it’s even a bit of a headache for seasoned technology professionals. In a nutshell, either your applications are designed for and run in Windows 8, or they run in the “desktop” layer, which is essentially a stripped down version of Windows 7. Some of them, like Google’s Chrome or even Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer, run in both environments, but they don’t use the same settings, nor do they communicate with each other! Say, for example, you have Chrome open in the desktop environment. Windows 8 alerts you via audible beep that new email has come in on your Hotmail account (which has it’s own app in Windows 8), so you punch the Windows key on your keyboard to bring up the tile interface. After reading the email, you punch the “Chrome” tile on the start page, thinking to go back to your surfing session in Chrome. Nope, that tile opens the Windows 8 version of Chrome with a blank window. To get back to your desktop session, you have to Alt-tab to the other Chrome window. As you can imagine, this will continue to be confusing until the majority of your applications live entirely in the Windows 8 world, and the desktop environment fades into memory.
What this means for you:
Unless you have a compelling reason to do so, avoid installing Windows 8 on any work computer for the time being, as at minimum you’ll be frustrated and slowed down by the awkward transition phase the new OS will be going through for the next 12-18 months. When ordering new machines, make sure (if the option is even available) to “downgrade” the installed OS to Windows 7. If you really want to try out the new Windows 8, think about purchasing a Surface tablet (arriving later this month) or installing it on a non-essential computer so you can take your time to learn the new OS without hampering your ability to get work done. If you really want to take the plunge, make sure your critical business applications and platforms can work with the new OS, and be prepared for a period of reduced productivity as you and your employees adjust to the new OS.
Microsoft has confirmed the arrival of its new tablet, dubbed “Surface” via press-only invitations to a launch event happening on October 25. Following the conclusion of the event, the tablets will actually be available for sale at Midnight PST via Microsoft’s website as well as the actual brick and mortar retail stores – 27 locations in the US as of this writing. The new tablet will be running Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 8, and will come with a keyboard integrated into the built-in cover. Pricing is still not definite, but most analysts think the tablets will range in price from $500-800, making them slightly pricier than the current tablet champ, the Apple iPad.
What this means for you:
If you’ve been waiting for a “Windows” tablet with bated breath because your business is firmly entrenched in the Microsoft camp, or your IT department is slow to incorporate the beloved iPad into their technology implementations, I wouldn’t hold your breath that the arrival of Surface will change that timetable in the immediate future. Windows 8 is still very much untested in the corporate IT space, and the business world at large will be predictably slow in adopting it, as most businesses are only just starting to adopt Windows 7. Tablets, like laptops before them, represent a difficult challenge to most IT departments in terms of managing both the hardware as well as the data on them because of their highly mobile form-factor.
The arrival of a “Windows” tablet may allow for a more corporate style of tablet usage, with the underlying expectation that because the tablet is based around Microsoft technology, that it will be easier to manage from a corporate perspective and able to leverage existing investments in MS platforms. If you are the adventurous type and don’t already own an iPad or Android-based tablet, the Surface may be worth investigating, but don’t expect a robust app choice until (and if) the device can carve a niche into the existing tablet marketplace.