by Ron Grattopp…..If you’ve followed my blog (or Microsoft) for any length of time, you’ll recognize the name Mary Jo Foley, she publishes the “All About Microsoft” blog. Back on Jan 24th, she published a post, How Microsoft plans to market against the iPad, in which she also published slideshots from a purportedly public deck, she says: “…I had a chance to check out a PowerPoint dated December 2010 on “Microsoft Commercial Slate PCs” that the company is offering to its partners to help them explain Microsoft’s slate strategy to business users.” Well, since Microsoft Partner Network resellers are a key audience for the TS2 blogs, I thought I would weigh in on this, albeit belatedly, as well and provide some additional food for your thought.
I suspect many of you are dealing with customers who have, and perhaps you have, already jumped on the bandwagon of this sub-notebook form-factor. And just like Virtualization and Cloud, I’m betting that you either have been, or will be, getting lots of questions in this area. So I’m doing this overview to hit a couple of highlights and throw out some additional food for thought as I mentioned above.
If you’re not familiar with the definitions of mobile PC options like tablets, slates, and ultra-mobile PCs, you might check out this article, Choosing the Mobile PC That’s Right for You on Microsoft's Windows site. It doesn’t specifically call out the Netbook category but I suspect most of you are familiar with that now anyway. OF course, the main buzz these days is around the slate category because of the popularity of the iPad and, to a lesser extent, some of the new Android-based devices, so that’s what I’ll focus on, and it does describe those.
Oh, before I go on, here’s an interesting “blast from the past” – do some of your friends and customers think “Slate” PC’s are an Apple invention? Check out the date on this article (How Tablet PC Hardware Has Improved) and maybe read it (it’s a quick read). Unfortunately, back when this form factor and genre was really new, wireless connectivity wasn’t as ubiquitous or good as it is now and the popularity and availability of online apps was still some years in the future, so this whole genre of computing was relegated to popularity in niche markets and thus never achieved anything close to the adoption rates we are seeing now. But I’m sad to see Apple get credit for “innovation” in this area when, in fact, I would argue that what they’ve accomplished is a more of a significant evolution of the genre. Of course, Apple leverages a single, monolithic OS and hardware platform vs our paradigm where we produce the OS but others provide the hardware, so the time to market for them will always be faster than ours because of that; and we will almost always appear reactive in the market from that perspective. But I propose the moral of this is that you can bet that Microsoft will continue our long legacy of addressing (and competing in) this market with the help of our hardware/OEM partners. But let’s get back to the matter at hand…
As we work thru the getting to market phase with our partners, perhaps materials like the powerpoint slides in MJ’s post can help you address some of the limitations of current popular options like the iPad and also help you with the conversation to insure your customer gets the best mobile PC for their situation. One of the key points to remember about iPad, and the Android devices too for that matter, is that they were developed for the consumer space. So, for all its plusses, one must still remember, that for a corporate mobility solution, the things that make the iPad great for the consumer space may well be limitations in the corporate computing context – think lack of manageability and (real, business-level) security, and lack of ability to run/use corporate business applications, limited hardware expansion, not to mention a “one size fits all” scenario with the iPad. Does a business customer really want to bring “app store” apps inside the corp firewall? Whereas the iPad is a monolithic platform, the opposite is true of Android. Here you have a plethora of options, but alas, that’s a potential disadvantage for business computing environments as that raises the spectre of lack of standardization (devices on multiple and potentially incompatible versions of OS), not to mention management issues around updating all those different OS versions, and the potential security issues of an essentially unregulated application pool. So there’s just a brief overview of some of the things you should have you customers think about if they are considering brining their consumer platforms into the business computing environment. Of course, the biggest question that you, as a partner, and trusted advisor to your customer, should be asking is “what are your productivity needs, and which mobile computing solution best addresses all of those needs”. I’m betting that consumer-focused platforms are not going to pass muster in most cases when evaluated in light of business computing requirements for manageability and security and integration. Of course, that’s the strength of the Windows platform, you’re getting a business-ready OS that’s also a great platform for consumers – the best of both worlds.
You should be aware that there are already Windows 7-based slate PCs available from several manufacturers, see Slates at Microsoft Store, and many more on the way in the near future, that can help you address those corporate computing issues by providing the manageability, security, and software platform that a corporate environment needs. Although slates are all the rage right now, for a business computing environment, you should really have your customer investigate the tablet computing options. Bottom line, if your customer is experiencing the “consumerization of IT” around use of slate devices, one of the big things you need to do is make them aware that iPad and Android are absolutely NOT the only slate, or ultra-mobile PC, solutions available, and, as we’ve just discussed, rather than trying to make their IT fit the limitations of the devices like iPad/Android, you should really help them understand that you can help them achieve the security, manageability, and app platform they need and still take advantage of touch screens and other slate-type features with Windows-based devices that are fundamentally built for business computing – and don’t forget about tablet options.