Well, the speculation is over now – Microsoft is acknowledging its need to change its longstanding strategy of building OS software (and leaving the hardware to its OEM vendors like Dell and HP) by making a hardware companion in tablet form for its forthcoming release of Windows 8. From what the world saw in the press conference today in Los Angeles, there’s a good deal of innovation from Microsoft’s Hardware division showing here, which is a good thing for Microsoft in terms of advocating their relevance and commitment to the hyper-competitive mobile device and tablet markets.
While many naysayers are already claiming that Microsoft is too late to the game to make a difference, they might be overlooking the fact that many large organizations that know they must at some point deal with consumerization and mobile devices have been hesitant to welcome the iPad or Android tablets with open arms. The lack of management tools (or relative immaturity and cost of the ones that do exist) is a significant problem for IT and a key reason why many CIO’s love their iPads, just not on the corporate network.
I see the Windows tablets as having two distinct advantages if Microsoft can play these up right:
1. Windows networks and Microsoft infrastructures will much more readily manage and secure these devices in a way that is not totally unlike how traditional devices are managed today, at least from a systems management perspective. Applications of course are a completely different story, but I think the overall selling point from the device level is that “it runs Windows”. No doubt Microsoft will develop corporate management agents for these devices to facilitate easier management of them on Microsoft infrastructures and with Active Directory. This coincidentally makes it easier to enable such devices in BYOD programs or as an option for hardware refreshes for highly mobile users.
2. The availability of a Windows 8 Pro version that can run a complete desktop on this device makes it a huge advantage for those wanting to do VDI on a tablet form factor. I think there will be much more time and latitude for IT departments to deal with touch-based apps if they can continue to run or deploy traditional desktop-style applications to a tablet form factor and still have a relatively decent and familiar user experience. I’ve already seen several in the press liken the Surface tablet to the Asus Transformer, which should help swing those who have both a tablet and laptop as separate and discrete devices now because they each fill a certain computing need. This might allow more users the freedom and flexibility to move to a tablet for both work and personal use (a huge asset as those lines are continually blurred through “workshifting”).
Microsoft has kind of had a mixed scorecard when it comes to hardware. Xbox is hugely successful. The Zune was not. The biggest difference in those two was how well Microsoft executed on marketing and commitment and clarity of product vision. Poor execution is only one way Microsoft can fail at this. The other is pricing themselves out of the market by making this thing too expensive. Microsoft has to shed its reputation for charging ahead bull-in-a-china-shop style and not really caring what the market says or wants just because that’s how they used to do things (because they could – that’s the benefit of being really the only game in town). That effort will instead require that Microsoft approach this marketing and product development in a more entrepreneurial fashion by LISTENING to what corporate and consumer customers want, and more importantly what they don’t want and what pisses them off. Humility and holistic thinking are a small price to pay for success in a market where you’re not the dominant player. If Microsoft is able to capitalize on the advantages and unique qualities it can bring to the tablet game, and do so in a unified way with Windows 8, I can see a Microsoft renaissance like we saw with the introduction of Windows 95. I honestly liked what I saw, and see significant potential with Surface, and having started my career working at Microsoft, I do want to see them succeed. I just really hope it doesn’t become a Microsoft Bob. I’ll be watching this one closely as it gets closer to release. If anyone from Microsoft is reading, I’ll gladly be willing to receive a Surface tablet to review and test… 🙂