Microsoft has unleashed the Surface tablet upon the world to coincide with the Windows 8 release. However, this version of the Surface only features Microsoft’s Windows RT operating system and not the full version of Windows 8. The Surface model that will run the full version of the OS will be called the Surface Pro. This is significant because Surface users will not be able to run legacy apps on their new tablets and will have to purchase ARM-compatible apps form the Windows Store.
Despite this, the most important software suite Microsoft has ever created has been updated for RT and this version of the Surface. That’s right, Office is available for the Surface and may make word processing and collaboration available than ever before. Keep in mind, though, Outlook isn’t supported since it’s technically the Home/Student version.
The future of Windows RT and this version of the Surface will depend on how the adoption rate accepts the RT Surface and how quickly the Windows Store grows in app selection. If Windows RT truly takes off, it may make the full version of Windows 8 redundant for almost all customers.
Legacy Windows Systems Still Common in the Enterprise
Most companies today still rely on Windows XP or Windows 7 and haven’t even begun the migration to Windows 8. The traditional office setting still isn’t mobile enough to justify tablets for employees outside the bring your own device approach which lets employees purchase their own.
Computerworld reported that “According to Web metrics firm Net Applications, Windows XP powered about 41% of all personal computers — 45% of those running one form or another of Windows — in September.”
This is an 11-year old operating system, mind you. The fact that it’s still embraced so strongly in enterprise environments really shows the longevity of operating systems that work well and have high adoption rates in the enterprise.
This is another thing that sets Microsoft apart from competitors such as Apple. It supports legacy operating systems for years to come and doesn’t require updates every year to new revisions (Lion to Mountain Lion).
Windows 8 is arguably Microsoft’s biggest departure in the operating system realm since Windows 3.0 or Windows ’95. It is really also the first time since maybe the DOS days that it is supporting and releasing two different operating systems simultaneously: Windows RT and the full version of Windows 8.
However, Windows RT and Windows 8 are not as different as you might think. Both offer the Modern Interface to end users and support the Windows Store. The difference: one supports older legacy apps while the other makes you start fresh and purchase apps again that you may have previously owned in x86 form.
Overtime enterprises and end users in general do migrate to newer operating systems. As Computerworld also pointed out, “Only the much newer Windows 7 has a bigger share, and that only recently: It wasn’t until this August that Windows 7 passed XP to take the top spot.”
However, it took about a decade for companies to finally embrace Windows 7. How long will it take for Windows 8 to catch on? The answer is probably a long time as well considering that it really is made for touchscreen interfaces from the ground up and requires users to click on an icon to access the traditional desktop.
Microsoft has a funny way of telling customers “it’s time to move on.” Here is how Computerworld described the process for forcing migration on legacy users of Windows XP:
On April 8, 2014, less than 18 months from now, Windows XP exits all support when it receives its final security update. From then on, most users of the OS will be exposed to attack from hackers exploiting new vulnerabilities that Microsoft simply won’t patch.
Could Microsoft do the unthinkable and stop offering security updates to Windows 7 to force the RT and Windows 8 operating systems into the enterprise? It would be a bold move indeed and probably won’t occur for some time, but it may happen sooner than a decade from now.
What Windows RT Means for Companies
If Windows RT does take off, it could open up Office to a whole new mobile audience. Devices running it, like the Surface, are much cheaper and accessible than any new computer or tablet running Windows 8. Third world countries could benefit from this and one Microsoft exec hinted that there may even be $300 RT tablets in the pipeline. Microsoft made the amazing decision to have the full version of Office available at no additional cost for these particular tablets, which is also a great incentive to get the Surface RT model.
However, it seems that all competitive Windows RT tablets will also give users the ability to download Office RT for free. According to a blog post from Microsoft Office division execs, Oliver Roll and Jevon Fark:
All that changed with last week’s announcement of Microsoft Surface with Windows RT, which, like all Windows RT devices, comes with the preview release of Office Home & Student 2013 RT preinstalled at no additional charge… Customers who buy a Windows RT device will automatically receive the final release of Office Home & Student 2013 RT, a few days after they first use their new device (Wi-Fi connection required). Alternatively they can manually download the final release immediately via Windows Update.
The RT version of the Surface and the operating system as a whole shall be either made or broken by this Office compatibility and offering for new buyers. Office is huge among enterprises and this may make the Surface a consideration for any company. We will have to wait until we have a chance to compare the RT version of Office to the Windows 8 version to truly determine its value in the enterprise, but this is a step in the right direction for Microsoft to crowd the tablet market.