Is Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet a good fit for business?

Microsoft’s Windows 8 Surface tablets appear to be selling well. But are the new devices a good fit for companies to issue or support under a BYOD program? 

On October 22, Microsoft announced that it had sold out all of the pre-launch supplies of Surface RT, the version of the company’s upcoming Windows 8 tablets that uses an ARM processor. The devices will still be available on October 26 at the company’s retail locations.

The cheapest Surface RT tablet, priced at $499 and featuring 32 GB of storage and no attachable keyboard, sold out first, followed by the versions that ship with a cover that doubles as a keyboard, priced at $599 and $699 for 32 GB and 64 GB.

Of course, it’s hard to tell exactly what that means since Microsoft hasn’t revealed how many devices were available for pre-order. But the sell-out does suggest at least some level of interest in Windows 8 tablets.

So the question for IT managers is: Do Microsoft’s Surface tablets make a better option for their company’s users and IT department?

Some say yes, in part because organizations are already used to supporting Windows devices and Microsoft has long been the go-to choice for corporate-friendly platforms. In fact, 48% of IT managers say their company plans to choose Microsoft mobile devices as their standard platforms, according to a recent survey from ThinkEquity financial analyst Yun Kim. That was up from 44% in the same survey three months earlier.

In comparison, 8% said they would standardize around Android devices, while 14% were choosing iOS.

For the 100 IT managers surveyed, a big factor for choosing Microsoft’s Surface tablets and Windows Phone devices is their support of the ubiquitous Office productivity suite. Windows 8 tablets will also be able to run other legacy apps companies may used to, and offer stronger security features than most other tablets.

Why IT may avoid the Surface RT

However, some experts warn there are drawbacks to running the Surface RT in the enterprise and suggest that businesses wait for the Surface with Windows 8 Pro or choose a different platform. Microsoft hasn’t announced when the Surface with Windows 8 Pro, which will be powered by an Intel processor, will be released or how much in will cost.

Some of the downsides of Windows RT in the enterprise:

  • Fewer apps — The Surface RT can only run apps from the Windows 8 store, whereas the Surface with Windows 8 Pro will be able to run Windows 7 and Vista legacy apps. That may be an especially big deal, because right now the Windows 8 app store has just 4,000 apps (with 100,000 promised by January), which is significantly less than the number of apps available for iOS (700,000) and Android (600,000).
  • No Active Directory — One benefit of using a Microsoft tablet is that they will more easily integrate with organizations’ current Windows environments. However, only the Surface with Windows 8 Pro will be able to connect to Active Directory domains, taking away one significant advantage from the Surface RT.
  • No commercial use of Office — Another sign that the Surface RT tablets are designed more for personal than business use: The versions of Office they come installed with are the Home & Student versions. To allow for legal commercial use, businesses must pay for a standard Office 2013 license.