Thursday, January 24, 2013

On second thought, maybe Microsoft Surface is worth a look for enterprises

Our CEO Peter Badger had a chance to play with a Microsoft Surface tablet the day they announced it.  As we noted here and on Twitter, he wasn’t impressed.
However, that didn’t stop him from buying one and running it through his paces alongside his other tablets here in the Framehawk office “proving ground” (AKA Peter’s desk).
But here’s the interesting part of the story.  After spending some time using the Surface, Peter changed his mind about this new tablet, especially in considering what the interest and impact might be for enterprises.  Here’s his quick, verbatim run-down from a note he wrote to us here internally, after 2 hours on the Surface RT:
“Great hardware. Sturdy, good power, nice screen/keyboard format.
“Reasonably good operating system UI, although everything is a second slower to launch/react than iOS.
“Terrible browser.  It’s confusing and slow.  You can't click on links accurately. It reminds me of Blackberry browsing.
“Interesting 'desktop mode.'  I see what they did.  They put a desktop on a tablet. I can see how the desktop/tablet experience can start to gel, although most of the desktop apps are hard to navigate using touch. It’s impossible to manage windows without a bunch of constant pinch/zoom actions. A Bluetooth mouse would be awesome.”
Overall, Peter said, “I’m still forming an opinion.  I haven't outright rejected it yet.”  And that’s saying a lot from Peter, someone who has been called an Apple fan boy before (with good reason).
Other positive ‘insider’ views of the Surface – including mine
Our CTO Stephen Vilke also got his hands on one, and as he indicated in his post a few weeks back, it impressed him.  Early indications (including this Gizmodo pre-review from CES) are that the Surface Pro is also pretty interesting.
Over the holidays, it was my turn:  I also got to play around on a Surface.  It took a bit of getting used to, but after a little bit of trial and error (and the owner kibitzing over my shoulder), I figured out the UX paradigm.  And I found it pretty easy to hop around and get some things done – in applications I recognize and have used for years.
One odd thing: Surface thinks of itself as a PC.  It even calls itself one on various start-up and settings screens.  And there are moments when it is.  There are other moments when it’s a tablet.  And there are still other moments where I feel like it doesn’t know what it is…leaving me a bit confused as to what to do next.
But, in general, the Surface was usable.  And quite appealing.  And after 30-40 minutes of poking around, I felt like I knew how to be productive on it.  The PC/tablet confusion is probably more a result of Microsoft trying to strategically blur the lines between those devices for their own gain than a serious problem.
However, it should be noted that my comments and the ones above are responses by people in the mobile business.  So, even more interesting to me was the view of some folks I know quite well, but who are outside the industry bubble.
A pragmatic choice for everyday users
Along those lines, the most interesting thing about my test drive over the holidays was that it was mother's new Surface that I was borrowing.  She, my brother, and my father are buying Surface tablets for personal use plus daily work on our family farming operation (check out Mohr-Fry Ranches…home of the grapes that go into award-winning Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel and artisan beans recently featured at Williams-Sonoma).
When they told me they were jumping on the tablet bandwagon and had selected the Surface, I was actually quite surprised.  What about the iPad and its elegant, easy-to-use interface?
It turns out that the major selling point for them is legacy investment protection.  They were comparing the Surface to their PCs.  They liked the less-bulky and mobile form factor, plus the ability to use the productivity apps they already know and use every day.
Not that my family is necessarily a great tech bellwether.  However, I found it interesting that despite all the buzz from Apple, they made a pragmatic choice based on a pretty specific use case.  It makes me think that many small, medium, and even large enterprises might come to similar conclusions as they weigh similar choices.
Don’t consider this any sort of definitive information or final word, but rather some additional data points from both mobility insiders and relative newbies – several of whom seem to be finding what they’re looking for with the Microsoft Surface.

This blog also appears on the Framehawk blog.

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