Microsoft partners and Microsoft devices

Only a month ago after spending a few weeks drinking the Kool-Aid at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston I wrote a blog piece about the stark contrast of devices seen at the conference versus those in the rest of the world.

Last week I attended the much smaller and localised Microsoft Australia Partner Conference (APC). Interestingly I found the usage of iOS devices to be remarkably high based purely on my own observations (I would have loved to do a scan of the local mobile tower to monitor the devices connecting).

The opening keynote by the Managing Director of Microsoft Australia Pip Marlow called for partners to be showcasing Microsoft devices when in front of customers, a statement that to me simply made sense.

What kind of a message do we as Microsoft partners send to our customers when we come out to demonstrate Office 365 or other solutions and use an iPad or Android phone? What is shows is that “hey Mr Customer this solution I’m here to talk to you about is great and works best with other Microsoft technologies, but I personally don’t want to do that”.

The least partners can do is have interchangeable hardware that they take onsite to meetings to at least give the premise of using Microsoft solutions that are “better together”.

I don’t however believe that the onus relies squarely on the Microsoft partner – as purchasing Microsoft-based devices for staff can be costly if their existing equipment works fine, not to mention the challenges if you adopt a BYOD approach.

At Paradyne half our team use a Surface Pro as their primary machine as well as a Windows Phone 8 handset (Nokia being the most popular). The other half of the devices are older form factor notebooks/PCs, with only a few iOS or Android powered personal devices. As we are a relatively small business this is somewhat manageable, especially when several of us went to WPC and were able to pick up Surface Pro units for $399.

Where I think this plea to partners to use Microsoft devices falls short is that the company does not do enough to get them into the hands of partners. While the discounted Surface hardware at TechEd and WPC in the US were great – these offers need to be extended globally. It would be great to see Nokia come to the party and offer something similar in terms of discount price for partners.

Unfortunately Microsoft’s battleground are entrenched devices on an individual basis. Partners have no specific incentive to replace their fleets of notebooks/tablets or smartphones with Microsoft-powered devices.

If the price were lowered to a point such as recent US conferences where you’d be foolish not to buy them we would see a lot more Microsoft-powered devices in partners hands. The flow-on effect would be that when we’re out in front of customers we can be busy amazing them with what Windows 8, Surface, and Windows Phone 8 have to offer – with price being a distant second consideration.

That would ultimately lead to more market awareness of devices that do more than just click, and build a strong purchasing case for the end customer who knows what it is in the first place, thanks to the partner.

Comparing the Surface RT against the Surface Pro

As I posted a few months back I have happily converted from an Apple iPad 3 (aka “new” iPad) to a Microsoft Surface RT.

I think we need to stop and focus there when reading reviews of the Surface and people comparing it against the iPad. When the Surface hit the market it was effectively a v1 competing against the iPad v4. Microsoft advocate aside it is hardly fair to compare a generation 1 device against a generation 4. That being said though Microsoft is not new to attempting to create tablets nor operating systems so it’s hard to create a true comparison.

My recent acquisition of a Surface Pro however showed that there truly is no comparison between the Surface and any of its competing operating system devices.

Why? It’s simple. Any other tablet on the market pales in comparison to the level of functionality to a full computer – be it running a Microsoft Windows or Apple OSX.

When I see an iPad in case with a keyboard attached I think it’s fantastic that the devices exist and can replicate some functionality of a full computer – but they never really are. It’s like the toys my 10-month old daughter plays with. She knows if she presses the music button that music comes out. Give her a Casio keyboard that requires turning on and she’d quickly get upset as this seemingly complex device that doesn’t play music when she hits keys (little does she know it needs to be turned on!).

This I think is the difference the Surface Pro brings to the world. Having used a Surface RT as my exclusive tablet since late October I found it to be a wonderful device – so wonderful in fact that I didn’t touch my iPad again (it has subsequently been sold). The problem was that it wasn’t a full computer. So while it was useful for meetings, presentations, travelling, working on the couch – it was never the same as using my real notebook. This became slightly frustrating as I would have to carry around both devices as IT Pros differ from normal users in that we generally need more power and functionality than an iPad can offer.

The key things I saw as an advantage of the Surface running Windows 8 over an iPad were the portability of my information (due to the Microsoft account) and the fact that Office 2013 was pre-installed and allowed me to access information store in SkyDrive, Office 365 or anywhere else.

The killer for me was that I couldn’t run Outlook nor could I install some of the desktop applications I needed.

Along came the Surface Pro – released only a few weeks ago. Unfortunately the 128GB model quickly ran out of stock, and while I feel that the 64GB device would be sufficient for the average worker who accesses cloud-based content, again for an IT Pro I need local storage space for large files or temporary content. The 64GB only comes with 23GB of free space and that was enough for fellow MVP Jethro Seghers who quickly snapped up a Surface Pro at the Microsoft Bellevue store. However I was only after the 128GB model which was out of stock – however another fellow MVP Sean McNeill found one in his Microsoft store in Denver and brought it to my waiting hands at the MVP Summit last week.

Since receiving the device I have not touched my Surface RT or my Lenovo X201 tablet. It has become my primary and ONLY device other than my phone.

Some grievances I do have with the unit:

  • A few millimetres thicker than the Surface RT
  • A few grams heavier than the Surface RT
  • Can get a tad hot
  • Battery life not as long as the Surface RT

Really the above-mentioned issues would be the same for any device that is running more processing power than a mere tablet. So while they can annoy me from time to time, I simply accept them as something I have to put up with. (First world problems.)

Notice the Surface Pro sticking out at the back?

The things that amaze me about the unit:

  • Far thinner and lighter than my previous tablet notebook (Lenovo X201)
  • Faster than the Surface RT
  • Sharper screen than the Surface RT
  • Plenty of local storage (I have put a 64GB SD card in for non-essential content I carry with me such as ISO images and VHDs)
  • The ability to flip between using my finger or stylus

The key thing here is that the Surface Pro is a full PC which also doubles as a tablet. While it’s not 100% perfect (we’d all like it to be thinner, lighter, cooler and with longer battery life) it has successfully replaced both a notebook and tablet device. I can quite easily perform the majority of my job armed with only a phone and my Surface Pro.

You cannot compare the Surface Pro to a MacBook or an iPad – it is both, and does a damn good job of it!