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Unmanageable Windows Tablets Do Not Change Anything

Eric is a veteran British tech journalist, currently editing ChannelBiz for NetMediaEurope. With expertise in security, the channel, and Britain's startup culture, through his TechBritannia initiative

Microsoft may have missed a manageability trick with its low-power tablets but it is still ARMed and dangerous, argues Eric Doyle

The nit-pickers are up in ARMs at the moment as they pore over every document Microsoft produces about its forthcoming tablet support and speculate about the devilish details.

A current furore has arisen from a paragraph in the so-called Windows 8 Consumer Preview Product Guide which appears to stray from its “consumer” brief and adds a few paragraphs on the business-relevant details – however in these days of “consumerisation” any device could end up being a business tool. One of these excerpts appears to hold cold-comfort for those businesses that may be contemplating adopting what is hoped will be cheaper Windows tablets based on ARM processors.

A hitch in the guide

The guide says: “ARM-based tablets running Windows 8 are ideal for workers who are constantly on the go and need a long-lasting battery. ARM-based tablets use less power than 32-bit and 64-bit devices and workers can rely on the extended uptime of these devices. Although the ARM-based version of Windows does not include the same manageability features that are in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, businesses can use these power-saving devices in unmanaged environments.”

The phrase the pundits are pouncing on is “does not include the same manageability features” extrapolating that this means the devices run the risk of being shunned by the business community.

Pause for thought.

Are there any tablets that are manageable in a Windows environment? I can’t think of any. Certainly, support under Windows would be wonderful but, if the price is reasonably low compared to iPads or Androids and the other strugglers, I can’t see a degree of unmanageability to be such a killer. Those who want a degree of control will happily shell out the extra for a standard Intel-chipped model.

If the Windows ARM tablets are delivered with the promised battery economies and seamless Windows Office compatibility, that should be enough to have punters beating a path to the nearest vendor. Let’s face it we are told that the future is “bring your own device” (BYOD) so a handsome, low-cost, battery conserving, compatible tablet should surely attract consumers. I can’t see Joe Soap in PC World stressing about business compatibility.

No worse than the iPad

The consumerised enterprise will put up with whatever is thrown onto its network and the pivotal issue is how the tablets, phones and hybrid devices fit into the workers private and business lives. The iPad is not the best tablet in terms of performance or storage capacity and, in corporate terms, it is totally umanageable but it has an aesthetic appeal that makes it a must-have for the aspirational wannabe cutting a swathe through the concrete jungle.

If manageability proves to be an issue, I have no doubt that Microsoft, or one of its partners, will address the issue. The chances are that several all-embracing BYOD management suites are currently in production to cash in on this potential market.

Microsoft may have missed a trick but it’s still within jumping distance of the bandwagon and it is too early to write them off. Look at the Windows Phone. Those of us who wrote it off a year ago are now not so sure. The Lumia range of smartphones from Nokia look good and sales seem to be stacking up.

Windows for ARM Tablets will be different from what is currently available. The question is not if it is manageable but whether it has aspirational appeal.