Windows 8 'ARM' Tablets: A Disaster in the Making

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Tablets were clearly top of mind for the designers of Tablets were clearly top of mind for the designers of Windows 8. The Metro interface sacrifices usability on the PC, which suggests that Microsoft is focused on overtaking the iPad. This design choice was met with conjectures that Microsoft believed enterprises would favor Windows 8 tablets because they'd work in sync with Windows 8 on desktops and could be deployed and managed companywide with the same set of tools.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, the facts show something else. The company has revealed that any Windows 8 tablets powered by ARM chips will be no easier to manage in enterprises than iPads are. Such tablets won't be able to take advantage of Active Directory capabilities and won't support Group Policies, which are used to manage how machines work on a company network.

Windows 8 on tablets has a confusing past. Windows 8 for ARM devices was originally called WOA (for "Windows on ARM"), and then was recently renamed Windows RT. Not all Windows 8 tablets will run Windows RT; any that use Intel chips will require a different version of Windows 8. And it may well be that Windows 8 tablets with Intel chips will be managed differently than Windows 8 tablets running Windows RT. That certainly won't endear Windows 8-based tablets to IT departments, which face a difficult enough time trying to deploy and manage multiple types of devices. With Windows 8 tablets, IT may have to know what kind of chip each device runs on in order to know how to manage it.

Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, told Computerworld: "Based on what we know today, a Windows RT device will be no more manageable than an iPad." Michael Silver, a Gartner analyst who covers Microsoft, added, "This solidly positions WOA as a consumer [option]" rather than one for enterprises.

What exactly are Microsoft's plans for managing Windows 8 tablets in the enterprise? It's not completely clear. Based on a post by Jeffrey Sutherland, a program manager lead in Microsoft's Management Systems group, it appears that Intel-based Windows 8 tablets will be managed via a combination of System Center Configuration Manager and Windows Intune cloud-based management software.

As for managing Windows RT devices, there are no solid answers yet. But if you read between the lines of Sutherland's post, it appears that Intune will be used for that purpose.

All this doesn't bode well for Microsoft. It will be difficult, if not impossible, for it to unseat the iPad in the hearts of consumers. And Microsoft is also up against the rising popularity of Android tablets, such as the Android Fire and the Nook.

The one area where Microsoft appeared to have an advantage in the tablet market was in the enterprise, since so many IT departments are partial to the rich set of tools available for managing Windows-based PCs. If Microsoft had allowed enterprises to manage both tablets and PCs with the same tools, Windows 8 tablets would have the advantage.

Now it looks like Windows 8 tablets will be no more enterprise-friendly than iPads or Android tablets. Where, then, is the driver to make Windows 8 tablets a hit in the enterprise? And without an enterprise foothold, it's unlikely that Windows 8 tablets will become successful overall.

It all adds up to a potential disaster in the making for Microsoft's plans to crack the tablet market.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).

Read more about operating systems in Computerworld's Operating Systems Topic Center.

This story, "Windows 8 'ARM' Tablets: A Disaster in the Making" was originally published by Computerworld.

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