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Can Surface Pro 2 be a true notebook replacement?

Surface Pro 2 is being touted as a notebook replacement and I’ve been using it for the last few weeks to see if I can get my job done. But there’s a world of IT administrators out there who view the Surface Pro 2 with a skeptical eye.

I put the Surface Pro 2 through its paces using our own TechTarget environment as an informal test bed to see how our admin respond to the mobile device.

The good? It’s a Windows PC and it was no harder or easier to get the system up and running in TechTarget’s environment. It supports many of TechTarget’s existing corporate policies without any additional work.

The bad? It’s Windows 8.1 and TechTarget’s VPN and other corporate applications don’t support the new operating system yet. The $899 for an entry-level 64GB unit is still high, especially if one needs to purchase a $129 Touch Type cover and $199 docking station.

Paul Gonzalez, Tech Target’s systems architect, gave me a first-hand look of what he, like many other IT administrators, would have to do to get a new device up and running if an end user wanted to use the Surface Pro 2 as a bring your own device (BYOD) unit.

Like any organization, TechTarget has its own set of policies and processes required for deploying a new device to an end user. Paul said the device should image easily. He created an Active Directory account called Surface Test giving himself full admin rights. The name popped right up in the Active Directory.

As Paul restarted the Surface Pro 2 , we chatted about Windows 8.1. It only took a minute to restart the device. He, like many other IT admins and end users, prefer the classic desktop instead of the glitzy tiles interface. In fact, as Paul explained, when TechTarget was a Windows XP shop, there was a policy put into place that would automatically boot a system into the classic desktop mode. Paul was particularly pleased to see when the Surface Pro 2 finally finished its restart; the policy withstood the test and in Windows 8.1 booted right up in the desktop mode.

As an IT professional, Paul worried about security. Our company has added in some extra security layers with our wireless network. For example, only certain organizational business units can jump on the wireless network, thus providing our IT administrators with an additional level of control.

Paul tried installing some off-the-shelf applications such as Adobe Reader and set up his email on Outlook 2013. It went without a hitch. In addition, he tried Remote Desktop, and it worked well during the test.

So what was the biggest issue from our exercise? The Surface Pro 2 cannot access our VPN. Just to be clear, this is not a function of the Surface Pro 2 or Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 but rather Tech Target’s lack of support for Windows 8.1, which would require the company to rework our licensing agreement with Microsoft.

Unless there is a true business need for Windows 8.1, our organization will not upgrade our software just to support it, due to the time and expense.

I also handed a Surface 2  to Paul as well to get his IT administrator thoughts.  It took him all of one minute to say: “I’m out.” Why? Because Surface 2 uses Windows RT and it does not support Workplace Domain Join. As an IT administrator, he cannot easily  manage the unit. Enough said.

So what’s the conclusion? The Surface Pro 2 could be useful as a BYOD unit and it certainly served my needs well during my travels. But it’s not a corporate notebook replacement for companies that aren’t on Windows 8 yet.

There are ways to work around the issue, but if an organization wants to do it right, it could be an expensive proposition. At the end of the day, there has to be a specific business need for upgrading to Windows 8.1 and deploying the Surface Pro 2s.

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The constant demands, challenges, and COSTS of the upgrade treadmill. You run, run, and run but don't really get anywhere(?).