Microsoft announces that on February 9th it will begin shipping Surface, its flagship tablet device, with the Windows 8 Pro operating system. This is a significant upgrade over the current model, which come with the less functional tablet-specific operating system, Windows RT. It’s an important strategic move for Microsoft and positions them competitively in the healthcare industry for a few reasons.
First, when Surface begins shipping with a Windows 8 OS, Microsoft will become the first major player to offer both a laptop and a tablet with identical operating systems. Apple runs a much more functional OS on MacBook than on the iPad and Google’s Chromebook runs Chrome OS, while its tablets run the much more popular Android OS. Having identical operating systems on both a laptop and a tablet reduces the learning curve, and thus the productivity loss, of a first-time tablet user. From an end-user training perspective, this makes the Surface a compelling choice for health systems considering mobile options.
Second, because Surface will run Windows 8 Pro, it will be the first tablet capable of running traditional PC-based software without the need for a Citrix or VMware connection. Whether it be EMR software or barcode scanner drivers, fully functional applications will be able to be installed and executed directly from the device. With an overwhelming majority of EMR vendors still requiring Windows–based operating systems, being the only tablet in town that can run them is a good position to be in.
Third, with Windows 7, Microsoft has secured their market dominance in the overall enterprise customer-base. That may have been debatable during the down years between XP and Windows 7, but it is no longer questioned. Microsoft will continue to dominate the enterprise market for some time. By introducing a tablet running a fully functional version of Windows, IT departments will have the option to introduce a tablet into the network that is compatible with all Microsoft security and management tools, including Active Directory. Because the devices can support third-party applications, organizational antivirus software can also be loaded.
Microsoft may not be the innovation center that Apple and Google have become over the years, but it does seem to know how to keep enterprise customers happy. The Surface tablet makes a strong argument to enterprise customers struggling with BYOD security plans. It is an easily-secured tablet that requires very little end-user training and is capable of running specialized third-party software. The Surface may not be the tablet end-users would pick for themselves, but it could very well be the tablet healthcare organizations pick.