Nov 06

Why Windows on tablets makes enterprise sense

35M+ tablets will have been sold by the end of 2011, the vast majority being iOS and Android-based. One report suggests that already some 11% of adults in the US already possess one. Thus it would seem that it is ‘game-over for Windows’ as a tablet platform. I disagree. This is to ignore the evidence, and recent research combined with practical experience confirms this: Windows retains huge advantages for the enterprise.

As an Android and iOS tablet user I am constantly frustrated by how (relatively) little I am able to use these devices for practical work in the enterprise. I am not alone. Fellow Constellation and other colleagues who have Android or iOS devices still use their PCs. Understand that I am also not one of those who are able effortlessly to balance a tablet on a knee and touch type – as I have seen many do, from adolescents to fellow professionals. Adding a physical keyboard does help hugely (which probably explains why the ASUS Transformer is so popular) but this does not solve everything.

Even with a keyboard, analysis indicates there is too much ‘missing’ with Android and iOS to support the normal working environment in an enterprise. The ‘missing’ elements break into 5 primary categories:

  • Office
  • Applications
  • Infrastructure
  • Security
  • Familiarity.

In reverse order, consider each of these.

Familiarity (user friendliness) can be defined as ‘that which you already know’. Today, the majority of computer users (excluding those of smartphones) possess more familiarity with Windows than they might wish. They know how to do what they need to do. This represents a huge practical advantage. In contrast, learning how to accomplish even simple tasks on Android or iOS (like ‘exploring’ what you have where and moving or copying files) is not always simple nor readily comprehensible (if you are Windows-familiar). In short, there exists a natural enterprise bias or inclination towards Windows, born of experience and knowledge (rather than choice). Dismissing this lightly can be costly.

Security is the bug-bear of computing. It is an enterprise requisite (irrespective of whether mandated by legislation or regulation or self preservation). After 2+ decades of experience the security envelope associated with the Windows platform is well understood, in both its frailties and strengths. Vast amounts have already been invested to deliver security. In contrast, Android and iOS are relative neophytes, both in their security capabilities and associated investment. For the enterprise such a comparison should carry weight: adopting Windows exploits what exists rather than requiring additional expenditure to match what the Windows platform already possesses.

Infrastructure and Applications have broad similarities to security. The Windows platform is already part of the enterprise infrastructure and its management. Android and iOS are not (yet), and will require investment to attain equivalence. For applications the position is somewhat different: applications tend to be platform specific; moreover, most existing enterprise applications possess Windows front-ends of some form. By comparison, work has to be done to achieve the same for Android and iOS, which means more cost and use of scarce resources.

Finally there is Office (as in Microsoft’s Office). This is (whether you like it or not) the ‘secret sauce’ or ‘magic glue’ (take your pick) that holds most enterprises together. There is simply no decent equivalent on Android or iOS which can handle the variety and sophistication of all those Office ‘documents’ produced daily in enterprises. If you cannot work proactively with Word or PowerPoint or Excel (to name only the most obvious 3) as you expect to do on a PC, you are constrained. That is the position today on Android and iOS – constrained. This could change radically if either Office or Open Office ever appeared on either Android or iOS – an improbability at present.

Thus the ability to use Office is a inescapable major factor for enterprise consideration.

Ergo, there are heavyweight reasons why Windows on a tablet platform already possesses major attractions for the enterprise (to which can be added inertia). So why is Windows on a tablet so lacking in popularity?

The most popular ‘reason’ is that Android and iOS tablets (and smartphones) are more fashionable. Related to this is that enterprises tend to ‘provide’ each PC (as in ‘decide and provide’ which type) whereas for Android and iOS it is the individual who chooses and buys what he or she prefers. A third reason is that there is a dearth of good Windows tablet platforms. But that does not mean they do not exist.

For example I have a recently obtained a Fujitsu Q550 running Windows 7. Candidly, on first impressions (Constellation will publish more on this later this Quarter) it is excellent. No, it is not a duirect competitor for either Android or iOS – if what you prefer are many mini-apps that are fun but do not help much at work. On the other hand, for doing what an enterprise needs – running Office, using installed applications, exploiting existing infrastructure, satisfying security requirements and running Office – it does what the enterprise user needs. And, speaking personally, while the Windows 7 ‘tablet interface’ on the Q550 is not as slick as Android or iOS, it more than acceptable or better (and Windows 8 can only improve on this – ‘one hopes’).

If there are doubts these are practical ones about battery life and weight. The former does not compare well to an Android or iOS tablet (which is why being able to replace batteries is standard on the Q550). Yet remember, the Q550 (as the example) is a fully fledged PC in tablet form and so is expected to consume more power – because it is more powerful. Yes it is also heavier but it is simultaneously weightier in its capabilities.

What to do?

For enterprise IT life would be much easier, and less administratively expensive, if Windows-based tablet platforms emerge that can do what enterprises need and appeal to the end user. The tablet form factor is highly attractive and will likely continue to be.

A dichotomy is emerging within enterprises:

  • those which choose (or are being forced by their employees) to accept Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and then have to adapt accordingly
  • those which prefer to constrain their resource consumption and stay with a now trusted Windows approach (rather than introduce additional unknown iOS and/or Android environments with all the costs and uncertainties associated).

Each has its attractions. There are justifications for both. However, if your enterprise wants to minimize its distractions, Window-based tablets (even using Windows 7) like the Q550 do exist today which are designed for the enterprise – and customers should demand more of these. As Intel improves its low power-consumption chips and Microsoft produces Windows 8 and its new interface the situation should only improve for enterprises. It really is Microsoft’s and Intel’s opportunity to lose.

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