Will Surface Be The Secret Route Into Business Sites For Windows 8?

Microsoft’s Surface tablet finally has pricing and a release date, with much of the initial discussion around the device focusing on competition with Apple’s iPad. But that’s not the only game at stake. One market observer argues that the tablet will be the main route for Windows 8 into businesses in the short term.

Picture by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

“It’s a big leap from 7 to 8, and what 8 really brings is the touch interface,” Brian Walshe, general manager of Microsoft infrastructure solutions at Dimension Data, told Lifehacker. “But the typical hardware in businesses isn’t touch-based at the moment. That means Windows 8 will come in slower on corporate desktops. Where it will get in is via tablets and phones.”

“Windows 8 works OK with a mouse, but when you see it on a touchscreen device, it is so much more intuitive to use. I don’t think we’ll see too many pilots until we get more hardware out there.”

Windows 8 tablets and phones could also force a rethink of current hardware boundaries, Walsh suggested. “Because Apple have almost set the market here — laptop, tablet, phone — we look at everything through that lens. With Windows 8 we’ll see some crossover type devices. That overlap between tablet and laptop has a lot of interest; it’s mobile and easy to use but able to run a full desktop.”

“In broader business, most people use the iPad for mail and browsing. There aren’t line of business applications running. What will be interesting with Windows 8 tablets is firstly you get Office, and secondly, from the corporate point of view, there’s the ability to have one set of applications which run across all the devices.”

A lack of business applications and management options hasn’t stopped many workers using tablets, but Walshe predicts that there will continue to be resistance to the BYOD trend. “We’ve got 20 to 30 years of hard-earned learnings from managing desktops and laptops, and to a certain extent in the last year or two we’ve gone ‘bright shiny object’ and chosen to ignore some of those learnings. It’s only going to take a couple of high-level problems that really impact people before they decide we do need to control these devices.”

“The question that I keep asking people is ‘Why are your staff wanting to bring these devices in?’ and the answer is always ‘They don’t want to use what you provide’. Would it be cheaper to provide that [with company gear] than to retrofit security and management to someone else’s device? That’s what you need to ask.”

Dimension Data has been evaluating Windows 8 for use with its own customer base, and one local site it is working with has already begun deploying Windows 8 devices. However, Walshe predicts that it will be some time before most Windows-using businesses make the shift on desktop devices.

“Over half the market’s now on Windows 7,” Walshe said. “There’s still 30-40 per cent running XP who will have to move in the next 16 months or so [as extended support for Windows XP is withdrawn]. If they’re still on XP, they’re planning their move.”

Walshe doesn’t imagine many businesses jumping direct from Windows XP to Windows 8 either. “The people on XP today, we’ll take them to 7. We won’t take them to Windows 8 because XP to 8 is jumping two releases and that’s a bit rich. What we’ll see with Windows 8 is there’ll be less the big wave of upgrades, and more evolution.

Microsoft’s lower pricing for Windows 8 may also factor into this. “If you look at how they’ve priced the upgrade, they’ve made it more attractive to move because it’s quite cheap That’s an indication of where Microsoft is going with upgrades. I would expect we’ll see much more regular upgrades than in the past.”

Can you see a role for Surface (and Windows 8) in your workplace? Tell us in the comments.

Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.

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