7 reasons businesses should and shouldn’t go for Microsoft Surface

The Surface platforms may be optimized, but talk about vendor lock-in

IT pros: Assume that the new Microsoft Surface laptop and tablet represent hardware that shows off Windows 8 to its best advantage and make decisions accordingly.

The company is taking a step outside its normal way of doing business – generally selling software and services only – to sell hardware. Since the hardware business is hyper competitive and low-margin, they’re not getting into it for the money.

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That means they want the devices tuned to operate as best they can in hopes of attracting customers who already have options if they’re looking for a fun, light, energy-efficient tablet – the New iPad. Other customers, in many cases, already have Windows laptops that they use for the heavy lifting of business tasks.

If these customers are corporate IT decision makers, they have to carefully weigh whether adopting these platforms is worth it. Here are seven reasons they might want to deploy Surface for Windows 8 and Surface for Windows RT and why they might want to avoid them, at least for now.

The upside

Microsoft has designed these devices and installed the software, so they will accurately represent what Microsoft sees as their best potential.

The tablet – Surface for Windows RT – includes four Office applications, optimized for the tablet: Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote - something that will make them  more useful in a business environment than, say, iPads.

Surface for Windows RT incudes a keyboard/cover, meaning the workers can use these applications in the way they are already accustomed, by typing on a keyboard.

The tablets include VPN support and data is encrypted by default.

They can act as smart cards for two-factor authentication.

They have two boot protection schemes.

The laptop – Surface for Windows 8 - supports traditional apps and Metro apps but also a touchscreen to support the Metro interface.

The downside

Traditional Windows apps – today’s line of business apps - don’t run on the Surface RT tablet. They do run on the Surface 8 Pro version that behavs as a traditional full laptop. So if you're interested in the low-power model, you'll have to fit it to the right use cases.

There may be no business advantage to deploying the new operating system despite its flashy Metro apps.

Having workers learn Metro will be a big educational undertaking for businesses.

Pricing and maintenance packages are unknown.

Buying these devices means relying on a single vendor for both software and hardware.

Windows 8 and Windows RT are untested in live corporate networks.

It’s hard to play given that Microsoft hasn’t released full specs on the two devices.

Those are some of the factors to consider. REmember, these devices won’t be available at least until October in the case of Surface for Windows RT and early next year in the case of Surface for Windows 8, which means there is plenty of time to consider the pros and cons.

The best course of action is to actually buy these devices when they become available and determine in controlled settings what benefits they offer and what their shortcomings are.

Since Microsoft will continue to OEM the software – sell it to other hardware makers to bundle with their own machines – that means there will be competitive products. So it also makes sense to buy exactly similar competitive devices to determine whether there are cost savings to be had.

(Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/Tim_Greene.)

More on Microsoft:

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Is Google taking a run at Windows 8?

This Windows 8 tablet might actually be a PC

Demise of Cius offers lessons for Windows 8

Why aren’t Apple and Amazon dumping on Windows RT?

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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