Friday, June 14, 2013

Windows 8 - Eighteenth Pass: Is the @Surface Really Built for Business?

One of the most baffling things about the Microsoft Surface Pro is that while the commercials portray the device as a business machine designed for synchronized dancing young professionals who like sound of the keyboard “click” as it attaches to the device the Surface Pro itself is not running a version of Windows 8 designed for the enterprise.

What version of Windows 8 is designed for enterprise users, you ask? Great question. It’s called Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise. Why it doesn’t come on the Surface Pro…well…baffles me. It is probably a marketing ploy to run the same OS flavor as the device is titled. The Surface Pro runs Windows 8 Pro and while that may be cool and all it isn’t functional and all.

Microsoft probably also didn’t want to have yet another flavor of the Surface. We have the RT version and the Pro version. They may not have wanted and Enterprise version because they wanted to stick with shorter version names. I’d suggest they have a Surface ENT version.

Why all the fuss? Another great question. In our enterprise, we use a Microsoft product called Direct Access. Many enterprises the world over use this feature as it allows you to connect your device to your network for file access and management is if the device was actually on your domain without the need for a VPN client or a physical connection to your network. This is great for remote workers and road warrior as their machine is always on the network and always able to phone home without the need for the user to run VPN or authenticate with any other methods.

Windows 8 Pro, as with Windows 7 Pro, doesn’t include Direct Access nor is there any way to add it to the Pro version. Direct Access is only available in Windows 8/7 Enterprise. This brings us back to our question, why is Microsoft marketing a device for business and enterprise users that lacks this key business and enterprise feature.

The news is not all bad though if your company wants to deploy the Surface and use Direct Access. For a small investment of around 2 hours per device you can manually wipe the device, install Windows 8 Enterprise (there is no upgrade from Windows 8 Pro), and then manually reinstall all of the device drivers. In other words, do all those things that Microsoft should have done for you in the first place.

This means the TCO of the Surface just went up IT shops are going to hate when folks bring them in – otherwise it seems the Surface Pro is a perfect fit for business.

That said, I like mine and use it all the time. I work around the lack of Direct Access by using a VPN client however that is slow and requires me to maintain another piece of software and our network to maintain another service. I’m putting up with it because the form factor and touch screen on the Surface work very well for me. That may not be the case for you.

I hope that Microsoft will see the error of their ways and either release the Surface with Windows 8 Enterprise or release an install option to add Direct Access into Windows 8 Pro, thus avoiding the need to start over again with your new hardware. Did I mention the drivers for the Surface are not all located in one place and you have to download them from other users online who have gone to the effort of consolidating them for you?

After all, they have reversed course on the Start Button so maybe this will change to with the next version of the Surface. This just seems like such a simple thing to get right from the beginning. Then again, I don’t work in an office where we dance around clicking our Surface keyboards on in a synchronized dance with multi-colored touch covers.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Windows 8 - BREAKING: The Start Button is Back

At long last the rumors have been confirmed and the Start Button, among other things, is coming back to Windows.  The next version of Window, called Windows 8.1, will include a Start Button on the desktop as well as the option to boot directly to the desktop bypassing the entire Start Screen.

While this is a huge step towards making Windows 8 work on both touch and non-touch devices they seem to be only going about it half heartedly.  For instance, the Start Button is back but can't be turned off, at least as it stands now.  I'd encourage my friends in Redmond to make the Start Button a user configurable option as to whether it is on or off - further helping Windows 8 serve all types of devices.

Lest you get too excited here, while the Start Button is back Microsoft has said it doesn't work the same as the Start Button and Start Menu do in Windows 7.  It remains to be seen how that specifically will play out.

At least we know it is coming back.  I wonder if any business will also now return to Windows 8 or if Microsoft waiting too long and already burned those bridges by not listening to us in the first place?

Windows 8 - Seventeenth Pass: The @Surface in the Real World

Where I think the Surface shines is in travel. It is great on a plane and fits very well on a tray table even if the person in front of you reclines. It is light and can be used typing on the screen or with the touch cover. The only challenge is using it if your tray table is in the armrest and not on the seat in front of you – for instance sitting at a bulkhead. I found the tray tables there didn’t move out far enough so I was a bit scrunched trying to type and since the Surface is support by the kick stand and not by a hinge to the keyboard like a laptop you can’t really push it any further away. When in this situation I typically just type on the screen.

The brightness of the Surface screen can’t complete with bright sunlight on a beach or in the desert. Even all the way up it is hard to see and at full power really drains your battery. Of course using the Surface in an office environment I turn the brightness down to 25% to save battery and keep my co-workers from seeing what I’m saying about them on Twitter – they can find out with everyone else. In fairness, the iPad also doesn’t do very well in bright sunlight.

I’ve found the battery life to be acceptable although with an active cooling system it isn’t near what it could be or what my iPad is. It lasts on most flights and if it doesn’t last on a long flight, I always have my iDevices to fall back on.

As a result of having an active cooling system the back of the case does get very warm. It is important not to store it in a case unless it is in standby or sleep mode, or just plain off. Otherwise, it can get very hot. I’m hoping in the next release of the device they are able to go to a passive cooling system, which will increase battery life and keep the unit much cooler.

The more I use my Surface the more Windows 8 makes sense. The touch screen is what really sells it however, the majority of folks running Windows 8, or that will be running Windows 8, are not using a touch screen. Even the ribbon in Office makes sense because they are large and easy to tap without having to use the pen or mouse.

Despite that, and I’m sure due to my previous posts on this subject, the rumor mill is very strong that SP1 for Windows is going to bring back the Start Button and allow you to boot directly to the desktop and bypass the Start Screen. This change will make Windows 8 much more capable of fulfilling its dual role as a tablet OS and a desktop OS. It remains to be seen if these rumors come true.