The upcoming operating system, dubbed Windows RT, doesn't lack any of the limited business features that iPads or Android tablets offer, and it doesn't include a string of Windows features that could ease support headaches.
BACKGROUND: Microsoft details four versions of Windows 8
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"It's no more manageable than an iPad," says Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft.
Of the four Windows 8 versions that Microsoft announced this week, Windows RT -- which is only sold as a package with ARM-based hardware -- is the one that doesn't support applications built for x86 machines -- in other words, business applications.
Windows RT also doesn't include virtual client support, domain connectivity and PC management, all of which are reserved for Windows 8 Pro or Windows 8 Enterprise editions, and those two versions are available only for x86/64 machines.
This may be for strategic reasons, but it may also be for technical aims. "I'm not sure how much is based on what Microsoft could have done and didn't, or whether they could do it later, or it's proprietary to x86," says Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. It could be that Microsoft has the option to add these features later if it deems it a good idea, he says.
Or it may be a matter of meeting deadlines, Cherry says. "I think time has become a huge factor now," he says. "[Windows RT] is a first-generation ARM device versus a third-generation iPad, and it's anticipated that it will ship this year. Shipping becomes important."
The bottom line for enterprise customers is that the devices will have limited utility, although that will be enough to make them useful in the workplace, Gottheil says. "Typically what you do with tablets is get to email, corporate calendars and contact lists," he says, all of which Windows RT will handle.
So Windows RT devices shouldn't be worse to support in business than iOS or Android devices, he says. "Will IT be less willing to tolerate Windows RT than Android? I don't think so," he says. "I don't know of anything they're leaving out that's built into iPad or Android."
Windows RT machines will have a leg up because it comes with a subset of Microsoft Office installed -- of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. While it doesn't come with Outlook, it does come with a mail application. "I would guess its email would be compatible with Outlook," he says.
Cherry says the onboard encryption with Windows RT means data on lost devices won't be as vulnerable as it might be on an iPad or Android without encryption. "With a lost device, it takes some time to brick it," he says, and that gives thieves time to ransack whatever is stored on it.
Businesses that want tablets with full corporate-style management and security can opt for x86-based tablets that will likely be more expensive both for their processors and also for larger batteries to compensate for the greater power those processors consume.
"Businesses for whom management is so critical that iPad ActiveSync level of management is not enough will have to consider staying with Intel x86/64 devices," Cherry says. He suspects Intel and AMD are working on more power-efficient alternative chips, "But the problem is when?"
Microsoft has two Windows 8 versions designated for business: Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 Enterprise.
Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 Enterprise are the only options to which customers of Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate can upgrade. They cannot upgrade to basic Windows 8 or to Windows RT.
Windows 8 Enterprise is for customers with Software Assurance agreements and includes all the features of Windows 8 Pro plus features that enable PC management and deployment, advanced security, virtualization and new mobility scenarios, Microsoft says.