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Microsoft Surface Pro: Why One SMB Says No

Microsoft's tablet doesn't suit every SMB. An engineering firm IT leader explains why Microsoft's Surface Pro isn't likely to end up in any of his users' hands.

Microsoft Surface Pro: Is It Right For You?
Microsoft Surface Pro: Is It Right For You?
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
IT pro Ryan Jones thinks Microsoft's Surface Pro is a fine tablet. Nonetheless, his user community won't be carrying the devices on the job any time soon.

Jones, a network administrator at the civil engineering firm Ben Dyer Associates, sees possible value for the Surface Pro in roles such as field sales, consulting and real estate, but he thinks the tablet is unviable in the engineering business. Use cases comprise a big reason: Ben Dyer's engineers -- the overwhelming majority of the company's 60 or so employees -- do much of their work in heavy-duty computer-aided design (CAD) applications. Today's tablets don't cut it for CAD work, according to Jones.

"A CAD user requires a decent system in excess of $900 for a desktop, or $1,500 for a laptop," Jones said via email. "Needless to say the capabilities of the tablet itself are more suitable for basic users, so that will rule out 90% of my office."

For the rest of the team -- mostly project managers (PMs), accountants and administrative staff -- price is a problem. In fact, it might be the problem. At $899 and up, the Surface Pro has to compete with much more affordable setups for the email-and-spreadsheet crowd, especially if there's no real need for mobility. "Realistically a secretary or accountant is going to be at their desk and [they] don't really have any take-home work, so they still have a desktop," Jones said, "leaving only the PMs as suitable candidates for the Surface."

Those PMs aren't getting Surface Pros, at least not in the foreseeable future. The reason is bit of basic math. "I'm now getting a roughly $900 device for a person to send and receive e-mails," Jones said. "Why not just invest in a $350 laptop, upgrade to [a professional edition of Windows], download Open Office and connect to our Exchange server? That's 50% less in costs to have fully functional email/word stations."

[ Learn more about Surface Pro's pros and cons. See Microsoft Surface Pro: 7 Questions To Ask. ]

The less-expensive Surface RT, which starts at $499, stands up better in a cost comparison with the traditional low-end PC system. But Jones, like others who rue the lack of legacy app support and less-robust version of Windows 8, sees RT as unsuitable in most corporate environments. His environment is no exception: "In the office they will need Active Directory, so that's going to rule out the RT," Jones said.

Another strike against the more affordable RT: Apple's iPad. "It's the industry leader and can access everything I would need it for [at] only $400-$500 for the basic units," Jones said. "Once again, far below the $900 required to even open the door with the Surface Pro."

Again, it's not that Jones thinks the Surface tablets are poor products. On the contrary, he tried to make a hypothetical case for outfitting some of Ben Dyer's engineers with a Surface RT for field work.

"Our engineers in charge of water and sewer spend time in the field, take notes and come back to a CAD station. So we could easily equip them with a RT to take notes, then transfer via e-mail or Bluetooth to their computer at work," Jones said. The math still doesn't work. "Why would we want to make two investments? A desktop plus the RT equals the price of a CAD-ready laptop."

Maybe the PC isn't dead just yet. Maybe Jones is just doing what sensible IT pros do: assessing business-specific needs and making decisions accordingly, rather than following trends or vendor pitches. Maybe Microsoft's sales team has some work to do in the engineering industry.

"All in all, these two devices don't have viable options in the engineering fields," Jones said, "other than excessive spending for devices that won't be used to their desired purposes."

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ShayneH319
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ShayneH319,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/8/2013 | 12:54:29 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Pro: Why One SMB Says No
you're talking about taking these tablets out in the field, what i'm interested in is a heavy duty case that hangs around your neck that allows you to have two hands free to measure a space then record the information....have you seen them have anything like that? The "Motion" Tablet has this kit.
kubitguy
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kubitguy,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/4/2013 | 4:48:08 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Pro: Why One SMB Says No
Hi All... I did go ahead with the purchase of the Surface Pro and so far i am quite pleased. Yes, it is an Ultrabook with a bit higher price tag. Intel core i5, 128gb solid state drive, very portable, full Windows OS, 4GB RAM. So far i am impressed. I did load full AutoCAD 2013 on the machine (not LT) and have tested some basic surveying to CAD software for the field. All is well.

Obviously we have to be realistic, this is not a machine for heavy 3D models, Revit, 3D Studio, point clouds, etc. but as far as field review, walkthroughs, isometrics, etc. this machine is functioning quite well. Programs such as AutoCAD WS are also working well when heavier 3D review is needed in the field. I still leave the heavy design/point clouds for the desktop.

The Surface is allowing me to travel light (my shoulders thank me) and have access to all of my normal PC programs minus heavy design (which i would do in the office anyway). I am sure we will see much more power soon (the Lenovo Helix looks interesting) but I am not sure we will accomplish lightweight/mobile, robust 3D in the field until these devices can support dedicated video cards or faster, real time cloud computing (power being fed from server/desktop machine via virtual desktops).

This is not IPad or Android comparable; it is a full ultrabook PC crunched into tablet size. I think there is a definite need for this niche but it will be interesting to see how big of a need. Most people either do not need this kind of power on the go (thus the need for Android/IPad) or would desire even more power (work now done in the office). If the niche remains small, the price will remain higher. If the demand increases, this will force the price down as it goes mainstream. Either way, i am a happy guy. Nice article.. thanks for the read.
OMEGATALON
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OMEGATALON,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/2/2013 | 1:01:42 AM
re: Microsoft Surface Pro: Why One SMB Says No
Apple's iPad wouldn't be capable of running CAD software either as it's processor is little better than Intel's Atom processor; but there are ways of dropping the cost of the Surface Pro like switching from an Intel Core i5 processor to something like AMD's A8 Quad Core as such a Surface Pro would be faster and cheaper and one thing to remember is that portability is expensive as smaller subnotebooks are more expensive than their larger brothers.
AustinIT
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AustinIT,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/27/2013 | 3:47:05 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Pro: Why One SMB Says No
Thanks for your post. It appears that your company is an excellant example of how Surface will meet your requirements.

No one device fits all needs... as the author pointed out. However, I am not quite sure what the real objective of the article was aiming for...
AustinIT
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AustinIT,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/27/2013 | 3:36:43 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Pro: Why One SMB Says No
Ok, so now we know that Surface isn't for everyone. What a surprise.

How about another article on one use case that is suitable?

Fair and balanced you know...

EDIT: Actually, I just found another article in favor of Surface. Apology offered.
loweg2000
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loweg2000,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/27/2013 | 9:59:54 AM
re: Microsoft Surface Pro: Why One SMB Says No
I'm a field service manager for a communication technology manufacturing company and the Surface Pro or many of the Windows 8 Pro Hybrid tablets would be suitable our field service technicians. First it runs legacy software x86 and x64 which is convenient for our proprietary software. Second it has the capability of legacy ports. We use network, RS232 and DVI ports on our laptops to repair our equipment. All these can be had using the USB and HDMI/video ports. Third windows runs office which we use daily. Fourth Surface Pro would be idea with the right app for field service to receive and log service calls, read technical manuals, order parts and get service tickets signed off by customers in tablet mode.

To do number four our CFO tried to get us to use iPads to integrate with the upcoming company wide software not realizing what all of our needs were. I was already ordering Windows 7 notebooks for our techs. The officers were taken aback that we did more than surf the web and check emails with our notebooks. You could say they were out of touch what was really needed. They were thinking we would look cool carrying iPads.

The one drawback about surface is the price. However I must say it is inline with a comparable i5 ultrabook.
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/27/2013 | 1:42:35 AM
re: Microsoft Surface Pro: Why One SMB Says No
Just to be a contrarian, there is a scenario where tablets would work for an organization that required heavy duty computing power to be deployed for each user. But, it requires a little more than just buying tablets and deploying software.

Simply put, virtualize the users' desktops and configure the tablet to connect back to the virtualized system. At that point, the only computing power needed in the hands of the users is for rendering the video output from the virtual desktop. Depending on the security profile of the organization, this could actually make a great solution - no more need to lug around client data or other information that needs to be highly secured.

Other than that, I have to agree with the assessment - there's not really a place in the enterprise for an over-priced Ultrabook competitor, especially when there's so much focus on cutting costs.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
pcbackup
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pcbackup,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/26/2013 | 8:14:41 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Pro: Why One SMB Says No
I don't think this was a crappy review! On the contrary, it's a very reasonable summary of the evaluation a typical buyer performs when considering any of various technology purchases - or at least should perform.

The revelation isn't that CAD will not run on some particular system, but instead what it says about the process of comparing features and cost against needs. Organizations must consider each user's needs and whether the features of each device justifies its cost. In this particular instance (mileage may vary, of course), the needs of this set of users did not justify the Surface Pro's cost, and that's the real revelation! Other situations may drive different conclusions, but we need more of this type of technology coverage in place of the spec comparisons and vendor hype we get now (who's screen is sharper, who's CPU is faster, who has more RAM, etc.).

Thank you for the real-world example, Kevin.
TreeInMyCube
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TreeInMyCube,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/26/2013 | 6:23:33 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Pro: Why One SMB Says No
Thanks for interviewing a real-world person, with real use cases. The breathless evangelists of a "tablet only, post-PC world" would brush off this person and the value that they bring to their business. Not all users are created equal.
wht
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wht,
User Rank: Strategist
2/26/2013 | 6:23:11 PM
re: Microsoft Surface Pro: Why One SMB Says No
Did I miss someithng in the article? The Surface Pro is not an ultrabook. It's a tablet like PC, or a PC like tablet. Very suitable for my needs, but too expensive. I can get an ultrabook with better specs for less $$, or a notebook. Price needs to be $600-700 max to be competitive.
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
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