Is Windows RT Enterprise Ready… yet?

Guilty as charged your honour. When I first heard about Windows RT I to got sucked into the ‘this thing is crap’. It’s not a desktop, it’s not a phone, it’s not a good tablet, and it’s just this thing from Microsoft in no man’s land.

Fast forward a year and Windows RT 8.1 may now very well be ready for the enterprise and consumer to boot. In fact I think Windows RT is the PC your mother should have.

Asus VivoTab RT with 3G

Asus VivoTab RT with 3G

At MSC Mobility we are always trying to challenge the status quo and test the use case that is mobility. With Windows RT 8.1 and the ‘enterprise pack’ now offering a suitable level of management via our MDM services we decided to put it to the test once again with one of the new additions to our Victorian sale team, Sam Baker.

A quick scan of eBay turned up an Asus VivoTab RT refurb unit that came with a keyboard and more importantly 3G connectivity which was one of the pre requisites (and quite hard to find in an RT device) for this challenge.

So it’s a tablet, a laptop and a dockable PC. Perfect right?

The first question I hear you say is 'so why bother with the restrictions of RT? Why not just jump to Windows 8.1 Pro and be done with it.' To understand this at the core we need to understand the difference between a desktop OS like Windows, OSX or Linux vs a mobile operating system like Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Windows RT and more importantly what that difference means to the enterprise.

Toolbar overload is a common reason to deploy and use a SoE

The traditional desktop OS has been with us for a long time and along with the open hackable, programmable and mature operating system comes a lot of shall we say bloat and risk. With bloat and risk comes cost to manage. Most enterprise’s lock down a desktop to a Standard Operating Environment (SoE). The locked down SoE offers clear direction, management and cost for the enterprise but often leaves the user wanting more. ‘I just need to install this program or extension’ is a common service desk request. Current market data puts the management of a SoE at between $130 and $170 per month. The majority of the cost is in testing and releasing new versions of the SoE. The risk of infection or security breach makes up a significant component of this cost. This is due to what I call the bottom up access of a desktop OS. That is, any application can get root access to the operating system and effectively ‘see’ other applications that are installed. Once an application knows what is on the operating system it can then exploit any vulnerabilities. It is for this reason that extensive testing and effective SoE lockdown is so important for an enterprise. That seemingly ‘safe’ extension deployed in V1 has the ability to become rogue in V2 if not checked and macros within the Office suite can run havoc if enabled. Some enterprise SoE’s have hundreds of applications, extensions and macros that need to be continually tested to avoid this.

Modern mobile OS's use App Sandboxing with top down access

Modern mobile OS's use App Sandboxing with top down access

The modern mobile operating system however works on a completely new premise of sandboxing all applications and restricting extensions via closed app stores and limited permission sets. I call this top down access. Any application can request access to another application via published API’s with user permission prompts. ie: I would like application A to access my contacts or pictures as two common examples that you have probably seen on your smartphone or tablet on first run of a newly installed app.

Even when permission is granted the access is still over the top rather than along the bottom so nefarious additional behaviour without your knowledge is very unlikely. No app can see another app nor get root level access to it is the basic premised of a modern mobile OS. This walled garden approach offers a much higher level of security while also offering application freedom for the user in the modern world. So with RT deployed and managed via MDM there is very little risk of users getting themselves in much trouble, no concerns about too many toolbars ‘appearing’ in Internet Explorer (IE) or dangerous apps with known vulnerabilities being installed. Microsoft have taken this message to heart right down to Office RT being limited in what it can do. Macros in Excel and Word are probably the 2 biggest issues that may arise if you were to deploy RT and your company relies heavily on them as they are severely restricted in Office RT.

As part of the RT 8.1 update VPN support is now available.  A year or so ago I would have said this is a must for a mobile OS however with the move to Office 365 and other cloud services MSC has now largely retired our reliance on a VPN for sales staff as a sign of the changing mobile times.

So what happened throughout this experiment?

  • Creating proposals – We use Microsoft Word like most of the business world. We have some tables and lookups where we can put a prospect or customers name into 1 field and have it populate throughout the document. Word RT met the challenge.
  • We need to PDF documents. Word RT offers the print to PDF feature so another tick in the box.
  • Most of our reports in Excel contained drop list filters and Excel RT didn't miss a beat.
  • With IE as the browser for access to our tablet optimised instance of ServiceNow for CRM service and support, RT was successful on all fronts.
  • GoToMeeting for our weekly sales call. There’s an app for that. Tick.
  • So what about the gorilla in the room, email. With RT 8.1 the email client was upgraded from what could be best described as a ‘consumer email’ client to Outlook RT rather so another great big (perhaps the biggest) tick of them all.
  • Using OneNote for taking notes in meetings when in pure tablet mode worked flawlessly although there are many other note taking apps in the Windows store if that floats your boat.
  • Taking a screenshot. (Something I seem to do most days for one reason or another). Tick

Attaching a bluetooth mouse and keyboard along with a external screen was simple and highlighted the flexible nature of this device when docked into ‘desktop mode’. This is something an iPad simply cannot do.

The setup.  Outlook 8.1 RT running on small screen and connected to 24” monitor up scaling resolution to 1920 x 1080.  Editing a Word document and browsing the internet.  Bluetooth keyboard and mouse (no dongle required.)

The setup. 

Outlook 8.1 RT running on small screen and connected to 24” monitor up scaling resolution to 1920 x 1080.  Editing a Word document and browsing the internet.  Bluetooth keyboard and mouse (no dongle required.)

We found all 3 use cases were required most weeks.  

  1. Plugging the tablet into the supplied keyboard offered a suitable ultra-book solution for any sales guy with a whopping 17 hours of battery life to support a real full work day mobile experience.
  2. Tablet only mode matched our personal needs for social feeds like facebook and twitter along with effective consumption while on the go and meeting note taking.
  3. Full desktop mode when more screen real estate was required.

So is RT now ready for the enterprise? The answer almost certainly lies in your company’s mobile strategy. As we did at MSC, if you can take a segment of your workforce and offer them a mobile operating system over a desktop operating system you can expect your management costs to be significantly reduced. Understanding what your users need and then deploying the most appropriate mobile OS from there is almost certainly the best first step. Will you be able to remove your entire desktop OS fleet? Most certainly not. Will you be able to reduce your desktop fleet is the question you should be asking your business.

If a $500-$800 ultra-mobile device that works as a tablet, ultrabook and desktop, with management costs representative of the mobile device rather than a desktop sounds like it is something you’re your organisation could benefit from, then talk to MSC Mobility about developing your mobile strategy to transform your organisation today.

MSC Mobility consulting helps enterprise and government customers navigate this mobile transformation so you can make the right decision the first time.

Have you deployed windows RT? We would love to hear about your experiences.


MSC Mobility has been identified by Frost and Sullivan independently as the leading non-carrier specialist enterprise mobility systems integrator in Australia. MSC Mobility, as one of only a few Telstra Gold level Partners, works closely with the carrier to support its Enterprise Mobile Managed Services offerings.

Randall Cameron is the General Manager of Sales at MSC Mobility and regularly speaks at industry forums on the challenges and changes businesses are confronted with when dealing with the mobility inflection point.

© MSC Mobility Pty Ltd 2014