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Surface Pro 3 may leave Windows RT Surface in the dust

Diana Hwang

Indications show early IT adopters are willing to take a chance on the upcoming Surface Pro 3, but the future of Windows RT-based Surface devices remains in question.

A number of corporate customers -- including the Seattle Children's Hospital, The Coca-Cola Co., BMW Group and Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy -- have committed to deploy the device within their businesses.

For some organizations, the new device was unveiled at the right time.

"We had a big laptop replacement cycle coming and found out about the Surface Pro 3," said Wes Wright, CIO of Seattle Children's Hospital. "It was good for a laptop replacement [that's usable as] a tablet too."

Seattle Children's ordered 1,000 units of the Surface Pro 3 and will replace older Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba computers. Workers will use a virtualized Windows 7 mode for legacy hospital applications and healthcare data, and they will access Windows 8.1 and the modern apps in a disconnected mode for continued productivity.

The larger screen also appeals to other IT professionals eager to try the Surface Pro 3.

More on Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

"The biggest feedback from [end users] was that the Surface 2 screen is too small," said Imran Shaikh, IT program director at Vista Equity Partners in San Francisco. Shaikh said he has already preordered a Surface Pro 3 for testing.

Shaikh's end users do much of their work on spreadsheets, and the small screen made it difficult to use the Surface Pro 2 effectively as a laptop. The latest Surface gives enterprise Windows shops a small, but usable, form factor that's competitive with Apple's MacBook, he added.

Dr. Nick Patel, a medical director and medical informatics officer at Palmetto Health in Columbia, South Carolina, is also eager to use Surface Pro 3 because of its larger screen. With Palmetto Health's existing Surface and Surface Pro mobile deployment, Patel said he has seen anywhere from 15% to 20% improvement in productivity for the medical staff.

A lot of doctors spend significant time after hours waiting for a computer with a larger screen to finish their work, but they can now do so during the normal business day using their tablets, Patel said.

Is there life for Surface RT?

IT pros seem willing to give Surface Pro 3 a chance, but questions remain about what will happen to Windows RT-based Surface units.

Microsoft hasn't officially killed the Windows RT tablet nor is it commenting on the widely reported rumors of the Surface Mini, an 8-inch Windows RT tablet. A spokesperson said the 8-inch tablet is purely for consumption, and if the company comes out with a new tablet, it will be about doing more and being productive.

Microsoft's universal apps enable applications to run on all Windows devices, no matter whether the chipset is based on ARM or the Intel architecture. Companies such as Jeppesen and Citrix are working to deliver modern applications, which in theory will enable end users to run the same apps on both Surface and Surface Pro devices.

Universal apps may help for internal custom applications, Shaikh said, but he was skeptical that developers will work with Windows RT because Apple iOS and Google Android lead the mobile market. Most medium-sized customers will stick with an iPad because the Apple ecosystem is richer, he noted.

For now, Windows RT is simply an alternative choice. Organizations that used Surface RT will continue to use them. The few Windows RT Surface units in Patel's medical practice, for example, will be redeployed to nurses and social workers, he said. Mobile workers could continue using a Surface 2 device for a vertical application while the back office uses a Surface Pro 3.

"Keeping Windows RT around doesn't cost a lot, but keeping ARM-based tablets around if they are not necessarily selling is more of a conundrum," said Wes Miller, vice president at Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Washington.

Miller noted that there is still commonality and engineering efficiency between Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 on the ARM architecture.


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