Microsoft Surface arrives

19 06 2012

Monday June 18th was a weird day in the tech world, for once Microsoft managed to create a buzz and a stir regarding an announcement they were to make, yet no one knew what that would be. This felt more like an Apple announcement than anything we have come to expect from Microsoft – which is a good thing and lead to a lot of speculation.  I too joined in with that speculation, believing that Microsoft was to announce a 7” eReader device with new partners Barnes and Noble, how wrong could I have been…

Microsoft Surface Tablet, showing off its built in stand and magentic cover that doubles as a keyboard

Microsoft Surface Family

We now know that Microsoft has announced a family of tablets named Surface. For those of you who keep up to date with technology, you would already have heard of the Surface name from Microsoft, that particular product being a multi-touch enabled table device that was highly focused and sold to businesses. Now though Surface is the brand name for Microsoft’s own made tablet devices, meaning Microsoft has gone into the tablet market in a big way.

This is a bold move from Microsoft and quite a break from tradition. Typically Microsoft doesn’t do hardware, rather it lets its OEM partners build the hardware and Microsoft focuses on the software. However, in recent years it seems the hardware that runs Windows just doesn’t look as sexy as anything produced by Apple, none of the devices have that wow factor which can only harm sales. The latest ultimate laptops are starting to compete, but it has taken a long time for many of the OEMs to get with the game and start designing good looking, light weight hardware. I can’t help feeling that Microsoft has been forced into delivering its own hardware for the tablet market, simply because it cannot rely on OEMs to deliver hardware that looks as sexy as that produced by Apple.

Microsoft Surface Devices

Essentially Microsoft has shown us two tablets, one that runs Windows 8 RT on an ARM based processor tablet, and the other, running full blown Windows 8 pro on a tablet powered by an Intel Ivy Bridge processor. Here is some information on the specs:

  • A full-size USB port and a 16:9 aspect ratio angled at 22 degrees.
  • 10.6-inch, 16:9 widescreen HD Display.
  • Integrated Kickstand: Built-in kickstand lets users move Surface from active use to passive consumption.
  • Touch Cover: 3 mm pressure-sensitive Touch Cover senses keystrokes as gestures will come in different colors.

    Microsoft Surface Magnetic Covers that are keyboards

Surface for Windows RT

  • OS: Windows RT
  • Light(1): 676 g
  • Thin(2): 9.3 mm
  • Clear: 10.6″ ClearType HD Display
  • Energized: 31.5 W-h
  • Connected: microSD, USB 2.0, Micro HD Video, 2×2 MIMO antennae
  • Productive: Office ‘15′ Apps, Touch Cover, Type Cover
  • Practical: VaporMg Case & Stand
  • Configurable: 32 GB, 64 GB

Surface for Windows 8 Professional

  • OS: Windows 8 Professional
  • Light(1): 903 g
  • Thin(2): 13.5 mm
  • Clear: 10.6-inch ClearType Full HD Display
  • Energized: 42 W-h
  • Connected: microSDXC, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort Video, 2×2 MIMO antennae
  • Productive: Touch Cover, Type Cover, Pen with Palm Block
  • Practical: VaporMg Case & Stand
  • Configurable: 64 GB, 128 GB

    Microsoft Surface with its own stand

From the specs I would suggest that Microsoft is going after the business user and home users who like to do more / want to do more with tablet devices. I think this is a wise move as Apple devices still have a very long way to go to get real market share in the enterprise. For any business looking into tablet devices, Microsoft Surface has just made their choice a no brainer. Get Surface for Windows 8 professional and you get the best world of a fully blown ultimate laptop, combined with the flexibility, portability and battery life of a tablet – not to mention the capabilities to hook the device seamlessly into your network at work and run legacy applications if needs be. Why would any business opt for an iPad now?

With regards to home users, Microsoft has really only targeted those users who want a tablet in place of their laptop. Until now, the problem has been for many users (including myself) is that I would love the flexibility of a tablet device, yet I potentially want all the power a laptop provides, meaning I would need to purchase both. Microsoft Surface has changed that, and with the neat magnetic cover doubling as a real keyboard, Microsoft has basically removed my need for a netbook or laptop. For me, and I am sure many other users, Microsoft has moved us to a desktop and tablet only world with the laptop for some acting as a desktop.

OEMs

One of the reasons I personally didn’t think Microsoft would build their own tablets, was that of Microsoft’s relationships with OEMs such as Samsung, Asus etc. It does seem harsh that Microsoft now will actually compete against them in the tablet market, but after spending some time thinking about this move, Microsoft may actually be helping them.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe some of the OEMs will be a little annoyed at Microsoft Surface, however Microsoft is in a far better position to get marketing and the tech world reviewing Windows 8 by having their own hardware. In addition, Microsoft is actually setting the bar quite high in terms of design, and what consumers will now expect from a Windows 8 tablet device. Let’s look at Windows Phone as a comparison.

When Windows Phone launched there was quite some anticipation, however the devices launched by the OEMs (Samsung, HTC etc.) actually were not that attractive to look at. The hardware specs were not that great, and compared to some Android devices and the iPhone, the Windows Phone looked quite underpowered. What is the saving grace is the actual OS itself; however, many people base their phone purchase on how the device actually looks. Only now with Nokia Lumia devices are we seeing some aesthetically pleasing Windows Phone devices, and with that, a little more marketing and market traction. With Windows 8, Microsoft cannot wait for one of the OEMs to finally get their design act together, Windows 8 in many ways is already a big enough risk. Here with Microsoft Surface, Microsoft are showing OEMs what can be achieved, and almost saying “go out there and do better!”. That’s a good challenge to set, one I’m sure will lead to many more Windows 8 tablet devices turning up that a) look stunning and b) contain some real punch.

By Microsoft only announcing two higher end devices, I feel we can read that Microsoft is not wanting to be the biggest hardware player in the tablet market, rather they are showing the way for their OEMs.

Marketplace

One of the main concerns many may raise is the lack of apps available for Windows 8 at launch or the marketplace ecosystem. I personally don’t see this as a problem at all. We have already seen in the past couple of weeks numerous reports about how developers and software companies love developing for Windows phone, how simple it is and how important they feel developing for Windows 8 will be. Attracting developers is not a problem for Microsoft, so getting the “apps” available also won’t be a problem for Microsoft (Windows Phone now has over 100,000+ apps all of which will be available on Windows tablets).

We must also remember that the Windows Marketplace will also allow older software to be sold, which means that on a Windows 8 pro surface tablet, the user has access to any software ever written to run on Windows. They also have access to the complete windows market place for metro based apps too.

I know that Apple has a great ecosystem, but you cannot deny that the Microsoft ecosystem is its equal if not better.

Conclusion

Windows 8 is a big release for Microsoft, and it’s quite a gamble, so much so that I feel Microsoft couldn’t leave it to OEMs to deliver sexy tablet devices when Windows 8 launches. If the OEMs failed, then Windows 8 could possibly fail in this market place, something Microsoft obviously doesn’t want. By producing their own Microsoft Surface tablets, Microsoft has ensured the tablet market has some wonderful Windows 8 tablets available when the general public can finally start purchasing Windows 8 tablets. If anything, this reduces the risk associated with Windows 8 and tablets for Microsoft a little, and ups the potential profits for them at the same time.

Microsoft Surface also sends a message to OEMs, that they can build sexy devices that rival and beat the iPad in terms of design, and with Windows 8 they will have an OS that beats iOS in terms of user experience and productivity, not to mention flexibility in how the user works.

Android has been the OS of choice for most tablet makers, probably because there wasn’t a viable tablet option until Windows 8. Microsoft may have in one swoop confined Android to just the mobile phone world, which makes it quite isolated when we think of how users want to share content across all their devices. That isolation could really harm Android in the smart phone arena in the long run.

Microsoft has come to the tablet market with a bang (this time round) and has actually delivered something special…I for one never doubted them….

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Life after RIM in the enterprise?

30 03 2012

There has been a lot of talk about RIM today, caused mainly because the company has stated it is giving up on the consumer market and heading back to its roots, the enterprise. Couple this with the $120m loss the company has made and the hints at “sale”, and you do see why lots of people have been talking about RIM. (If you don’t know RIM – Research in Motion make the BlackBerry devices).

One of the big conversations I have been involved in today (on Twitter with @BPMredux @puleen @souvikbonnerjee and @AlbertoManuel) is just what do we think will happen in the enterprise regarding the use of mobile devices, and vendor offerings for mobile based solutions. @BPMredux asked in his blog two simple questions

“How many BPM vendors have a mobile BPM solution based on Apple, Android or Windows Mobile”

and

“Now how many of you are still stuck with RIM and Blackberry in your own corporate environment?”

You can join in his debate at http://bpmredux.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/mobility-inside-the-bpm-scene/

So in this blog post I have want to have explore at some of the main points and give some thoughts based on conversations and relationships I have with a number of IT professionals that work within the enterprise supporting their systems…

BlackBerry

Are we seeing the BlackBerry swansong?

RIM is still a big player

For sure RIM is still a big player in the enterprise. Most people I know and speak too (within large corporations) have BlackBerry devices handed out to them as their corporate phones. There are lots of reasons why the enterprise opts for BlackBerry – security being one, durability another. Many people I speak to who have to support mobile devices within their business prefer BlackBerry, and that’s because they have better control over them, they are easier to administer, the battery life is second to none and the devices are durable (they do seem to get dropped a lot). These things mean less time is spent with the end user trying to address issues, and after all, time is money…

Apple is making in-roads in the enterprise

This all being said, the iPhone is making in-roads in the enterprise, especially within the “exec” levels of business. While the phone is undeniably a great phone, it does cause headaches for business, especially if you are already standardized on RIM. Throw into the mix that not much else in the enterprise is Apple based and the fact that you do pay over the odds for their devices, and you can see why, even with a great offering like the iPhone, Apple still isn’t king of mobile for business.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

This is something I hear a lot about and read about. However, in reality, this really hasn’t shown any traction with the enterprise, and I very much doubt it ever will. Predominantly BYOD is a media thing based on what some SMEs maybe doing – it simply isn’t a great option for the enterprise, and here is why…

The enterprise needs to support its workforce and their devices, mobile, desktop, tablet, laptop whatever. This means they have resource dedicated to help ensure IT runs smoothly. That IT needs to administer these devices, ensure business applications run as expected, ensure everything is secure as possible and support end users. (They do other things also, but no need to list out everything). If the IT department has control over its devices, it knows what they are, it can secure them better, ensure the software works as expected, manage roll outs, upgrades etc etc and help users with their devices (without having to train IT staff / mobile support staff on every handset available to a consumer). In addition, standardization allows the enterprise to strike good deals with their suppliers and all big business has preferred suppliers – that’s just life. So imagine you take all that control away from IT. What are you left with? Yeap, a mess. You simply can’t have users connecting random devices to your network. You can’t expect vendors to support all mobile platforms under the sun for bespoke software for that business. You can’t expect in house IT to help users with their particular phones OS or hardware issues, and you can’t expect everything you need to work on the device to work on every single device (have I said that one already?). All in all, BYOD is a great concept, lovely for startups and SMEs, but for the enterprise, this isn’t an option…

Software vendors and their mobile offerings

The BYOD issue does illustrate that software vendors do not support all mobile devices. Sure there are comments that solutions should be mobile web enabled, that they should run using HTML 5, but that user experience is going to be pretty poor. The reason we love our native apps is that we can do more with an app, and the experience is a lot better than anything we see on our mobile web browser. This means vendors have to support native apps, and do they really need to support so many different platforms? Ideally they want to support one, but realistically know they may need to support a few. The problem for a vendor at the moment is which to support? RIM is a must, or is it…It used to be. Apple devices, well they are a must aren’t they…well yes and no…Android? No. Symbian…erm No….Windows Phone…Well potentially……

So what do you do as a vendor? I personally would wait until the end of the year to make a decision…

Windows 8 in the enterprise

Let’s be clear, Windows 8 may not be rolled out across the enterprise as soon as it’s released, but business will be reviewing it, and scheduling in a Windows upgrade path. Some upgrade paths will be quicker than others, and some may do their normal, and wait for the version after – so upgrade when Windows 9 is available as they haven’t long been on Windows 7. The point is Windows 8/9 will be the standard OS on the enterprise desktop and on majority of their servers. With this comes the normal office based software and legacy applications that every enterprise has running on a Windows environment. However, Windows 8 is a little more than just a desktop OS. All of a sudden the enterprise can have the same OS across all devices, including mobile and tablets. Think what a nice thought that is for IT within the enterprise and vendors alike. A single OS to administer across all devices,  a single user experience to support and the ability to seamlessly tie in lots of services they already use back into the devices of choice. Office, Outlook, Lync, Office 365, Sharepoint, cloud backups, device synchronization etc. That makes life a lot easier for IT doesn’t it…

As a vendor then, supporting Windows 8 is a must. But hold on, if you support Windows 8 metro what do you support all of a sudden? Yes, tablets (including ARM based tablets), desktops, laptops, netbooks and with a few tweeks, mobiles. All of a sudden supporting Windows Phone seems an obvious choice –  a necessity. So perhaps it’s back to the usual suspects, support Windows first, then perhaps Apple…Or vice versa depending on where you are with your mobile policies and vendor software.

Let’s think about suppliers to the enterprise. Most enterprises have a strict supply chain policy, and with Windows 8, this means the enterprise can choose who supplies their hardware, including desktop and phones. Remember Fujitsu, Acer, Dell, Nokia, Samsung, HTC and others deliver Windows 8 mobile devices. These same companies will deliver Windows 8 tablets, and most of them will deliver desktops, servers, laptops and netbooks. The enterprise therefore has the flexibility it desires regarding suppliers, but the security, administrative advantages of being tied into a single ecosystem, which runs all their legacy software. Essentially, for the enterprise, Windows 8/9 is a no brainer across all devices….

Where does this all leave RIM?

Well, to be blunt, I believe in a very deep, dark hole.

Essentially if it becomes a no brainer to support Windows Phone in the enterprise and Windows 8 tablet devices, then Apple will continue to struggle in the Enterprise, but that’s not a great loss to them. RIM on the other hand, if they struggle in the enterprise then I believe we will be saying goodbye to RIM and thanks for the BlackBerry memories. Without a consumer market, Windows 8 could well be the last nail in the BlackBerry coffin. I for one am already starting to think that by mid 2013, I could be writing a blog along the lines of “bye bye RIM, thanks for the BlackBerry memories…”





BUILD and Windows 8…

19 09 2011

So last week saw Windows 8 developer preview being shown off at Microsoft’s BUILD conference, and well, there was a lot to take in. BUILD was also showing off Windows Server 8 and a host of other Microsoft initiatives / solutions, including Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Azure. With all that being shown off, it was hard to keep up and understand what exactly Microsoft was telling us about their future products and services. Unfortunately, as with most things Microsoft does, this meant that there was a lot of “dodgy”, to put it politely, blogging and tweets being thrown around. Essentially many tweets and blog posts were simply wrong, or written by pure Microsoft haters, so the messages coming out from BUILD did get a little lost for some…

Anyway…Let’s have a look at Windows 8 and what it could mean to consumers and businesses…

Metro

Well this is the new interface style if you like, what Windows now looks like by default. Metro is something Microsoft has been pushing, but it’s essentially a design look and feel. Many people see this as
primarily just for tablets, but I disagree. I like the idea of switching on my PC to see the “live tiles” environment, allowing me to peer into applications without needing to open them. It’s a feature I like on the Windows Phone 7+ platform, and I personally think it works really well for the PC, laptop, tablet market. Metro applications also look and behave great, and I have no problem with moving away from “chrome” based windowed applications.

Windows 8 new Metro UI. It's Alive...

The “Metro” side of Windows 8 only supports “metro” style apps and HTML running in IE10 (currently no Silverlight or Flash in the Metro browser experience). Metro also provides a design methodlody for applications, and as such, a framework for developers to work within when delivering “apps”.

There are also “contracts” in place between applications, allowing them to share functionality via “charms”, such as the “search charm”. What does that mean, well it means you can search inside your app from the standard search dialogue. Even better, you can share content between apps using the “share” charm, so I am in one app, and I wish to share some content, I can click on the system charm and simply share it with another application. This provides a real slick feel to using the system, as if the Apps are part of Windows 8, as opposed to a single bit of software that simply runs on Windows 8. There is quite a difference there…Essentially metro and charms all adds to the user experience, and rich environment, Windows 8 aims to deliver.

Charms in action

Using "Charms" with touch screen keyboard to search within apps

Many though have stated, why ship Metro style for the PC if you are also supporting the more traditional “desktop” look and feel, which essentially is Windows 7 updated. There have even been calls for supplying metro only for tablets, and desktop view only for traditional laptops and desktops, a bit like Apple shipping iOS for tablets and full on Mac OS for Mac Books. Well to these people I simply say “you don’t get it”…

Flexibility, choice and function is what people want. If I own an iPad and I want to edit some pictures by using Photoshop, I can’t. That means switching over to my laptop, Mac book, PC whatever to do that work, not great if I am at the mother in-laws for example. So why not deliver a tablet that can allow me to do that work if I want? What’s wrong with having the flexibility and option there? Nothing…After all, I don’t have to go into the standard desktop if I don’t need to…

Native Desktop

The native desktop is still there, essentially it looks and feels like Windows 7, and there is nothing wrong with that. The native desktop is used to support more complex applications, applications such as Photoshop or Visual Studio, applications that need lots of tool bars, need to show lots of actions and functions to the user. There is nothing wrong with these types of applications, and not all applications could be designed the “metro” way (nor should they).

The native desktop is just that, it’s everything Windows 7 is right now, so all your legacy / business applications that have gone before will run fine on Windows 8.

 

Tablets, Laptops, Netbooks, PC’s, Phones…ARM, the lot…

One of the big things with Windows 8, and something Microsoft kept on pushing at BUILD, was that Windows 8 is for all devices, and that means all forms of hardware. So Windows 8 runs well on my fully blown development beast of a PC, yet it works just as well on a small wafer thin tablet running an ARM processor. This is actually great, it means I have a single experience across all my devices, while Microsoft needs only support a single platform.

Now, throw into the mix Microsoft’s investment into the cloud and Windows Live, and you start to see added benefits of this kind of thinking. You can have all your devices understand “state” between them, so understanding where I am in an xbox live game for example, or where I am in terms of a business process. That makes life a lot easier and flexible. Simple things such as changing my “Avatar” on my PC is replicated across all my devices, which is a great touch…

For quite sometime I have wanted a tablet that allows me to install everything I may ever need on it, so that includes development studios, it includes database administration suites, it includes photo editing software etc etc and I simply cannot do that with a tablet. So that means I lug around a great laptop just in case I need these things, yet I mainly use that to search the web, run some power point presentations, check email etc etc. With Windows 8, I can get my PC on a tablet, and use it as a tablet, until I need to use it properly, and in such an event, I can…

 

WinRT, .NET, WPF and Silverlight

Ok, now this is where many bloggers etc really annoyed me, especially those saying “Microsoft has killed .NET and Silverlight”. The essential truth is that many “components” that make up the .NET framework (and therefore the Silverlight framework) have been incorporated into WinRT (which is the metro side of Windows 8 libraries – if you like). Metro apps run either XAML or HTML 5 (note that if you are familiar with WPF and Silverlight that XAML is the front end of those technologies) but don’t run what we could term “native WPF or native Silverlight” applications. Metro apps “managed code” environment is either C++, VB, or C# (oh that’s just the same as WPF and Silverlight), and pretty much everything is the same. If you have an old Silverlight or WPF app,
you do need to make a few, and I do mean few changes, before it runs in the metro environment. I personally don’t see the big problem with this. Sure if you have a business application running on Silverlight, you now need to change it if you want to run it in the Metro world, however, you can always run it in the desktop environment…If you want to migrate, make the few changes and away you
go, and you now have a Metro application. Those changes are essentially a few include changes, and that’s it…

When you look at “Metro”, you see that it really is just an update to Silverlight / WPF, actually the whole of Windows 8 looks and feels like a Silverlight / WPF.

 

HTML 5 and scripting languages

HTML 5 is now supported along with Javascript in Visual Studio 2011, now I don’t think this shows any movement away from Microsoft technologies (such as XAML), rather it shows Microsoft’s aim of allowing as many developers as possible to develop great applications for Windows 8.

From some of the videos I have watched, I would suspect that using XAML is better for Metro applications (well delivering some of them), however, HTML 5 is going to do more than adequate job.

 

Windows Azure

There was a lot on Windows Azure, especially when we start looking at how Windows 8 synchronises between all your devices. Now I am not one who has shouted about the cloud from day 1, I have often spoken of some of the issues regarding compliance and many issues with the cloud. However, that being said, Microsoft uses Azure very very well with Windows 8. They have also gone through a lot of work of exposing may Azure interfaces to developers, allowing them to take advantage of the power of Azure across all devices. Great thinking…

I also liked a lot of things being done with Azure, and how Microsoft have really addressed compliance issues that do raise their head when we think of cloud computing. If I am honest, I think the stuff I have seen on Azure of late has me praising the concept of the cloud so much more. Though I feel that’s more aimed at “Azure” than cloud computing in general. I still have issues with IaaS and concepts of cloud applications running in my browser (I hate that, I want a real user experience, a real application, and guess what, with Metro or the desktop and Azure, I can get that very easily).

 

Developers, developers, developers

BUILD was all about developers, and that means putting them at the forefront of Windows 8, giving them the tools they choose to develop with and allowing them “sell” to potentially millions of customers. On that note, there was a lot made about the sheer number of devices out there that will be running Windows 8, and just how big that audience is for developers. I know that Apple has gained traction here; I know that Android has gained traction too, but at the end of the day, if you develop for Windows you have the biggest audience out there. And that is a fact…Throw into the mix Windows 8 capabilities on tablets and the deal with Nokia, and I think you see that Microsoft is working hard to get even more devices running their software.

 

Much more I have missed…

There was simply so much at BUILD that I can’t possibly start talking about all the things I am aware of, nor did I fancy writing multiple blogs on essentially a platform that is only at developer preview stage.  I didn’t touch on Windows Server 8, nor other features such as NFC enablement, but there you go. Go visit Channel 9 and watch the hundreds of hours on BUILD.

Essentially, Microsoft has been working very hard, it has taken on board the need for touch, and the fact that mobile and tablets are becoming must have devices, and as such, Microsoft should have Windows running on them.

I personally think Microsoft has done a great job with Windows 8 and Azure, and I can really see them taking Apple on head to head in markets where Apple currently dominates. Is this Microsoft getting back to their best? I think so…