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.