The Microsoft Surface Tablet: Suitable For Featherless Bipeds With Broad, Flat Nails

Plato used to define the human species as "featherless bipeds". This thought came to me this afternoon as I stood looking at the Venus de Milo in The Louvre (I'm in Paris for Forrester's I&O Forum) and pondered what Microsoft was about to unleash on all of us. Why, might you ask? Well, as the story goes, Diogenes (the guy who invented cynicism) plucked a chicken, brought it into Plato's Academy and declared: "Behold: I have brought you a man!" After this incident, "with broad flat nails" was added to Plato's definition.

It struck me that that's pretty much what Microsoft and its OEM partners have been doing to us with tablets for a number of years now. "Behold! I have brought you a tablet!" But of course, now we know that a "tablet" is a device that we can use with nothing more than fingers with broad, flat nails.
 
But there's more. Microsoft's ability to respond in its modern day Peloponnesian War with Apple, has been hampered by three things:
  1. The PC OEM vendors remain one (maybe two!) steps behind Apple in making well-differentiated hardware. To wit: Ultrabooks are just now beginning to match the MacBook Air, and no one else has a Retina Display in their lineups.
  2. They haven't had an operating system for tablets without styli or mice, or that will run longer than a few hours away from a power outlet.
  3. The upgrade process for Windows PCs is labor-intensive. IT organizations upgrade operating systems only when Microsoft forces them to, so end users are frustrated. Nearly half of organizations are still on Windows XP 11 years after its release.
Microsoft is about to fix all of that. By moving to an ARM processor (note that the final processor choice has not been announced) and creating Windows RT, they are:
  1. Taking control of their own destiny for hardware on the tablet side, and hopefully creating a device that is beautiful, and that featherless bipeds will flock to.
  2. Driving a stake in the ground that they're committed to Metro and a user experience for featherless bipeds and long, flat nails.
  3. Giving IT organizations a swift kick in the pants to get on the Windows 8 bus with Windows RT, but also giving them something in return: Manageability.
Here's what it all means for I&O professionals:
  1. Windows RT will be perceived as more "enterprise friendly" because it will offer you the ability to "manage" it (updates, deployment, patching, etc) with Windows Intune or System Center Configuration Manager. We currently believe that only SCCM version 2012 will supported with RT until Microsoft tells us otherwise. No word yet on which other client management vendors are moving to support Windows RT or to what extent Microsoft will enable 3rd party management tools to participate. Note that Apple has been very deliberate in the management functions they expose at the API level for management tools to hook into. 
  2. Forrester believes that the Metro UI will appeal to the Phalanx of people currently prodding you to let them use an iPad or Android tablet, and it presents new opportunities for line-of-business application developers to create highly personalized, and well-tailored application experiences. Think: point of sale systems that employees can take to the customer, while IT keeps the auditors happy with demonstrated PCI compliance. Of course until the apps appear, it's anyone's guess just how appealing RT will be, but I'm a MacBook Air and iPad nut and have been pleased with Windows 8 on a Samsung Series 7 slate. I just wish it didn't have to have a cooling fan. At least Windows 8 isn't just more of the same.
  3. Don't expect applications written for Windows 8 on a PC to be compatible with RT on ARM. Besides the implications of a touch interface, applications will need to be compiled for ARM at a minimum. 
Windows RT will include Microsoft Office (presumably a touch-enabled version), will be cloud-connected with features like SkyDrive, will likely include security features like device encryption, and allow access to other computers with tools like the Citrix Receiver or perhaps RDS support. With these features, we believe it will appeal to both iPad aficionados and I&O Professionals alike. However the whole strategy hinges on how quickly the apps will become available.
 
Given past Microsoft attempts to compete directly with Apple (Zune, for instance), Diogenes proteges will surmise that the Microsoft tablet will flop. We don't think so. There's a lot in Windows RT we think empowered featherless bipeds with broad, flat nails will love.

Comments

manageability?

My only question is, will this be a hit with the business... the users.. the people who consume these devices. "managing" to me means locking down and making something harder to get work done. IT is great at this. Microsoft, IMHO, is not helping them along. This is a victory for the IT professionals that can't get past this whole race to disable the business (and in turn lose their jobs).

The device may or may not be a hit, but this is bad for IT in many many ways. Even worse, we may see a backlash against the iPads and the Androids as they try force feed WIndows to everyone once again. Two giant steps backwards for those that go down this road.

Why do I see a lot of IT shops going down this road...

I agree 100%

Hi Henry-

I agree with you 100% and my thoughts on mismanagement of the PC estate for the last decade have been laid out in other blog posts. That said, one of the Microsoft executives I spoke with at TechEd last week said something that surprised me. When prodded about what Microsoft will expose/enable for management on RT, one said "I wouldn't bet against the end user". While that's far from a conclusive answer, I do believe that Redmond is beginning to "get it" that blowing up the management balloon only slows down Windows adoption. Best thing they can do is get rid of the need for management in the first place. Windows RT on ARM is a great place to set such a strategy on solid ground. Apple was very deliberate in this, and wisely in my opinion.

Dave