Windows 8, Microsoft’s next release of its Windows operating system, is currently expected to include touch/tablet-oriented features. That begs the question, will Windows 8 tablets find a home in enterprises?
The Business Tablet Trend
Enterprises are adopting tablets — some companies, groups, and industries faster than others. Many are iPads with Apple enterprise tools, advice and support. However, Windows has a much larger footprint in the enterprise, particularly on laptops and desktops. So will Windows 8 speed or slow overall enterprise adoption of tablets and find niches that the other OSes couldn’t penetrate?
We won’t know for sure what will be in Windows 8, or when, until more is officially announced and released. Current rumors based on an allegedly leaked roadmap peg the Windows 8 beta for CES 2012 (January), the Windows 8 release candidate at MIX 2012 (spring), and commercial rollout in August. Even then, it’s a matter of how well things work in the form of a tablet operating system, and how consumers feel about them.
Here’s some of what is and is not known, so far.
The Windows 8 announced tablet-oriented features include:
- METRO: Microsoft’s “tile-based” UI and environment for touchscreens (similar to Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7), in addition to the “classic” desktop UI. You’ll “toggle” between METRO and the desktop UI.
- Chip support beyond x86: Windows 8 will also run on ARM chips, which are used in many mobile, handheld and other smaller, low-powered devices. However, the ARM version of Windows 8 won’t run x86 applications, which include legacy apps. It will just run apps that run within METRO.
- NFC (Near-Field Communications): Brian Fino, Managing Director, Fino Consulting, comments, “Widespread deployment of NFC to phones and tablets may help standardize security, personalization, and commerce functions.”
- Wi-Fi Direct: This will let the tablet connect directly to other Wi-Fi Direct devices, without needing to go through an office, home or hotspot WiFi network — like how Bluetooth devices work without an intermediary network.
- Apps: An “app shop” software ecosystem for METRO apps.
As with any tablet, the Windows 8 tablet will be able to access web-based services (although, there are limits — iOS doesn’t support Flash, for example), or act as a stateless thin client via apps like Citrix, GoToMyPC, VMware View, Remote Desktop, VNC, or SSH clients.
One Windows 8 feature that may make a big difference to enterprise IT, according to Pete Lee, Engagement Manager at SWC Technology Partners (an IT solutions to midsize businesses) is that “Windows 8 is directly integrated into Windows Active Directory, just like current desktop and notebook Windows machines. So you won’t need applications like Citrix to go between the tablet and server-side applications or virtual machines. This can mean savings of tens of thousands of dollars.” Also, says Lee, “It’s difficult for IT to administer and manage iPads or Android devices. METRO and Windows 8 can be managed through Active Directory’s Group Policies.”
Selecting and deploying Windows 8 tablets also means picking hardware vendors and models.
Perhaps the best data point for now is the Samsung Series 7 Slate tablet, available now running Windows 7. Specs include an 11.6-inch capacitive touchscreen (1366 x 768), 1.6GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB DDR3 RAM, and either a 64GB or 128GB solid state drive. The Series 7 Slate will feature rear- and front-facing cameras (3 and 2 megapixels, respectively) 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1. Samsung claims the battery can go 7 hours between charges.
The Series 7 Slate also has seamless pen integration across the device — a feature many Windows tablet fans tout as an advantage over mobile platforms, like iOS. While Android is expected to become more pen friendly with version 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), it’s unclear how Microsoft will incorporate pen input into its new METRO aesthetic.
Attendees at the September 2011 BUILD conference in Los Angeles each received a Samsung Series 7 Slate PC running the Windows 8 Developer Preview, which is availble for anyone to download. The Series 7 Slate is the reference device, though the Win 7 version available for purchase will feature neither AT&T 3G nor Near-Field Communications (NFC). (A Samsung spokesperson stressed, “This was a prototype device.”)
Vendors like Asus, Dell, HP, and Fujitsu have said or are rumored to be working on Windows 8 tablets. We know there may be Intel and ARM models, Beyond that, not much is known.
Putting Windows 8 Tablets to Work
“We don’t think that most enterprises will move to Windows 8 on their desktop or notebook computers in any hurry,” says Bob O’Donnell, Program VP, Clients and Displays at analyst firm IDC. “It’s been two years since Windows 7 was introduced, and we are still seeing many enterprises in the early stages of adopting it. Will they use Windows 8 just for tablets?
“Windows 8 will offer a better touch experience than Windows 7,” says O’Donnell. “But enterprises use tablets for certain types of applications, and you won’t see a lot of initial Windows 8 applications for enterprises when it’s released. There hasn’t yet been enterprise software optimized for a tablet. Even for Apple’s iOS, there just aren’t that many corporate applications.”
Fino Consulting’s Fino sees Windows 8 tablets as most interesting for sub-enterprises. “The availability of Windows 8 across any device empowers small and medium-size businesses to dream of their own end-to-end solutions. Today, it’s a gigantic task to create an end-to-end solution — businesses are forced to deal with Android, Windows Phone, iOS, Cloud, and many other technologies. Managing all of the software is monumental, and finding skilled people to connect and build all of these technologies is even more difficult. Windows 8 is well positioned to standardize the technology, reduce management and development costs, and deliver a rich, connected, and immersive experience for its users.”
The future for Windows 8 tablets in the enterprise is, depending on how you look at it, not promising, nor is it a massive greenfield.
“Windows tablets have been available for ten years,” IDC’s O’Donnell points out, “and they’ve never become a major enterprise phenomenon. Windows tablets in general have been very slowly adopted. The shipment numbers for the year are only about 1.6 million, and that’s mostly convertibles — and less than one million slates per year sold to the enterprise. So there’s nowhere to go but up.”
More Windows 8 Coverage from NotebookReview
- Windows 8: Consumers & Businesses Catch Early Bugs
- 10 Key Features in Windows 8
- Will Windows 8 Extend the Life of Your Netbook?
- Microsoft Gives Sneak Peek at Windows 8 Browsing, Photo Sharing, Tools
Tablets in Business
Businesses are refocusing their mobile strategies and turning to tablets. But new devices present new challenges for IT and decision makers. JoinTabletPCReview in exploring the world of enterprise tablets, with news and solutions-oriented analysis.