Businesses Face Choices in Buying Windows 8 Devices
Microsoft offered guidelines for businesses buying new Windows 8 tablets, laptops or desktop PCs, as well as Windows RT tablets.
So far, Acer, ASUS, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba have indicated that they have shipped or are building Windows 8 products, although some of those products won't be seen until January. Windows 8 and Windows RT operating systems both enable a touch experience on mobile devices. Some machines should be conceived as "companion devices" to a work PC where mobile aspects may be the most important consideration, according to Erwin Visser, a senior director of the Windows Commercial Business Group at Microsoft, in a Friday blog post.
In the post, Visser laid out Microsoft's approach for how businesses can decide which Windows 8 or Windows RT device is right one to buy. It all sounds good, but lots of companies just buy in bulk, getting the cheapest machines that will pass muster. Still, there are lots of nuances to consider this time around with Windows 8 and Windows RT.
Supposedly, all Windows 8 and Windows RT machines are "tablet PCs," according to Microsoft, which means that they are supposed to have the capabilities of PCs. Still, those capabilities are tied up in the hardware. Windows 8 is designed for traditional x86/x64 hardware and comes in 32-bit and 64-bit varieties. Windows RT supports ARM-based machines and is presently designed for 32-bit machines only.
The machines that feature longer battery times for mobile use are the 32-bit devices that have system-on-chip (SoC) processors. All of the Windows RT machines have SoCs, while the x86 machines with SoCs are represented by machines with chips like Intel's Atom processor. These SoC machines support Windows 8 or Windows RT features that some of other products don't, such as the "connected standby" feature. The connected standby feature helps to save power and also automatically hooks up with cloud-based updating services.
The x86/x64 machines with AMD or Intel Core processors that run Windows 8 Pro or Windows 8 Enterprise are the higher powered machines. Visser describes them as "a full PC replacement for business customers."
According to Visser's checklist for choosing the best machines, tablets with Intel Core or Intel Atom processors running Windows 8 Pro or Windows 8 Enterprise support "full manageability." Unlike Windows RT devices, these Intel-based machines can be domain joined and managed traditionally via Group Policy. Updates can be pushed through System Center Configuration Manager.
It's also possible to establish remote connections via DirectAccess or virtual private network connections using machines with Intel Core or Intel Atom processors. However, Direct Access is a feature only available with the Windows 8 Enterprise edition.
Visser explained that Windows RT machines can establish virtual private network connections using "the Microsoft VPN client using PPTP, L2TP, and IPSec/IKEv2 protocols."
A comparison of the various features in Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro and Windows RT, can be found in this Microsoft blog post. A list of Windows 8 Enterprise edition features can be found here.
App Compatibility and Licensing
Of course, one of the biggest considerations for IT organizations buying Windows 8 and Windows RT machines is the ability to run legacy applications. Windows RT machines can only run "Metro" apps, which Microsoft now calls "Windows Store Apps." Windows RT machines can't install and run legacy apps built for x86 Windows 7 machines. Windows 8 machines can run Windows 7 apps without any issues, according to Microsoft.
In a blog post by Visser in April, he described a new "Companion Device License" that lets users with Windows 8 PCs covered by Software Assurance bring their Windows RT-based device to work to use the company network via virtual desktop infrastructure or Windows To Go. This point hasn't been elaborated much by Microsoft. Oddly, Windows RT devices have this Companion Device License privilege, whereas Windows 8 devices don't.
Another difference is that Windows RT machines come with Office Home and Student 2013 RT preinstalled. However, Office Home and Student 2013 RT can only be used at a business workplace with proper licensing, as described in Microsoft's product use rights for Office 2013. Office Home and Student 2013 RT lacks some capabilities compared with other Office 2013 products, such as the ability to run macros and Visual Basic for Applications, as well as support for third-party add-ins.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.