Lockheed IT pro Doug Lampe explains why an unusual tablet has all but replaced his traditional laptop in the office -- and why Microsoft's Surface team should pay attention.
IW: How thorough was your testing and evaluation?
Lampe: Luckily, I managed to get my hands on one of the few pilot devices. At first I used it as a secondary device to see how it worked, playing with the touch keyboard and handwriting recognition. While I never felt really comfortable being away from my desk, I began loading it up with some of the heavy-duty applications to see what it could handle. I installed two instances of Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 (Express and Developer) and three versions of Visual Studio (2008, 2010, and 2012) -- in essence a fairly standard image for my team. To my surprise, I couldn't find a scenario that burdened the hardware and since the tablet featured a solid-state drive, performance was often better than on my standard-issue company laptop, where it seemed I was constantly battling the encryption and anti-virus software for disk I/O.
Even though I was frustrated with the lack of built-in support for handwritten notes, I installed OneNote and fell in love with its capabilities. Before long, my Franklin Covey day planner -- my trusted companion for over a decade -- was finally obsolete. I could sit in meetings and take notes in my own (horrible) handwriting without having to look at a touch keyboard. I could convert my chicken scratch to text at the click of a button and even though it usually took some editing -- we seem to like acronyms much more than Microsoft's handwriting recognition does -- I was able to have clear, digital, searchable notes that I could cut and paste, organize, forward as e-mail, et cetera.
After a few weeks of manually synchronizing critical files, I decided to take a leap of faith. I locked my laptop in a cabinet by my desk and set off on an experiment to determine if I could use this tablet as my primary device. I moved my Dell D-dock out of the way, and installed the Samsung dock in front of my 22-inch monitor. I plugged my ethernet cable and standard company-issue USB keyboard and mouse into the USB port on the dock and connected the monitor to the dock's full-size HDMI port. The tablet fit nicely just below my main monitor and so I use it as an extended desktop where I typically keep e-mail and other low-usage applications that work “good enough” on the 11-inch display.
IW: Describe your current set-up and usage now that the 700T has become your primary device.
Lampe: When I'm at my desk, it sits in the dock and it's easy to forget that I am using a tablet and not a docked laptop or desktop workstation. Performance is actually better than the company standard laptop primarily due to the solid state drive and even though battery life is only three to four hours, I'm rarely away from my desk that long and if I am I can bring a charger. When I leave my desk, I put it to sleep, toss it in a neoprene sleeve, and head to my meeting. There I take notes with a stylus using OneNote and with two clicks I can be on the company Wi-Fi to keep up with other appointments, email, et cetera. Most importantly I have the entire contents of my workstation with me and can share presentations, notes [and other information] by simply passing the tablet to other people in the meeting or share via Lync. I've even used RDP [remote desk protocol] to control demos running on the tablet from a desktop PC hard-wired into a conference room -- the tablet just sits on the table, once again just being a PC. What makes me most productive isn't just the tablet form factor, it is the fact that when I am at my desk it is just as good as a desktop PC. Being able to just pick it up and walk away from my desk and drop it into the dock when I get back is a huge benefit. When I'm not at my desk, it's a tablet. When I am at my desk, it's a PC.
IW: Who else in the company is (or will be) using these devices?
Lampe: We have piloted the devices on the factory floor, in the field at supplier facilities, and with frequent travelers and executives. Most of the people who have used the devices haven't wanted to give them back.
IW: A Samsung 700T running a federated Windows 7 image seems to rank pretty low on the "cool" scale for tablets. Do you think this will be an issue with your end users who aren't in IT?
Lampe: Windows 7 may seem "uncool" in smaller or less-rigid businesses, but most people are still impressed when they see my tablet. The typical exchange usually goes something like this:
"Is that an iPad?"
"No, it's a Samsung tablet… company-issued… Windows 7."
"So you have Outlook on there?"
"And SAP and Office... Check out OneNote…"
"Can I get one?"
Most of the people I am in meetings with are engineers and managers of engineers -- end users, not IT folks -- and their IT world while they are at work exists entirely inside our firewall using our internal systems. Punching a hole in our firewall can sometimes literally take an act of Congress. Doing any 'real'work requires access to everything you need to do your job, so our "coolest" OS is Windows 7 and if we can put that on "cool" hardware people get excited.
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