With Windows 8.1, Surface RT Far Better for Business and Education

Rob Enderle

I was an early user of Microsoft Surface RT, in fact, it was my carry-around laptop for nearly two months. I truly loved several things about the device, including its weight and price, and one thing I truly hated, the email client. For the life of me, I could not figure out why Microsoft would leave out Outlook, which was connected at the hip to the Exchange service (I’m an Exchange addict). Well, with Windows 8.1 out in Preview form now, Outlook, with some limitations is back in and that one part I’ve been missing is back.

But this week, Microsoft also announced that for qualifying educational institutions, it has dropped the price of the Surface RT tablet from just under $500 to just under $200. Now that is a pretty amazing value, but Microsoft knows that if it loses education, it’ll lose the market, much like Apple nearly did about a decade and a half ago.

Let’s talk about Surface RT this July 4th week.

RT: The Real Windows 8

Windows RT, the x86 version, is a hybrid that tries to meld the legacy software of the past to the new interface Microsoft has created in Windows and Windows Phone. By making a clean cut, the product doesn’t need the level of protection against malware that the full version does, because most simply won’t run on it, and it provided a much more consistent user experience than its sister product, which had to balance between the new and the old.

It wasn’t perfect, though, because initially, some of the old menus did come across and Domain Join and VPN support were painfully not in place or extremely limited. Having said that, even with all of these issues, it provided purer experience and 10-hour battery life, sub-$500 price, and iPad-like carry weight. The danger was that you might forget it because you can’t tell if it is in your backpack or not. All of that made this a wonderful product to use.

8.1 Making Windows RT Real

While this still can’t be joined to a Domain, any more than any other tablet, Microsoft has increased VPN support and does have a Domain Join workaround that most should find acceptable. It has put Outlook back into the device so that if you are an Exchange user, you don’t feel crippled on RT. It has replaced most of the Windows 7 admin menus with Windows 8 menus so the product is even more consistent. Yes, you still have to deal with the new interface and, particularly in RT, the legacy interface isn’t much use. But then, try to run any of those apps on any other tablet without hosting them on a server and you’ll find this is no worse.

All of the stuff that made Windows RT work is still there, from the massive battery life to the amazing carry weight and, at least for me, the annoying stuff is gone.

Surface RT

This brings us to Surface RT. You know my favorite product in this class was actually the Lenovo Yoga product because it had a ThinkPad keyboard. I really never got that comfortable with the keyboards that shipped with Surface. Ironically, what I ended up doing is using the keyboard as a cover and then buying the Keyboard Apple sells for the iPad, wireless of course, and using that instead. By flipping the keyboard under the kickstand, the Surface tablet was less likely to take a header off the table on an airplane and the Apple keyboard was, though not as good as the Yoga, quite delightful.

We are getting close to a Surface update (looks like NVIDIA Tegra 4) and I expect this to be one of the things that gets fixed. Still, for $200, which is what education will pay for this tablet, it is one hell of a deal, particularly given that it comes bundled with full Office now and you can always get a better keyboard.

Wrapping Up: Windows 8.1 (Blue) Makes RT Real

In the end, Windows 8.1, which used to be called Windows Blue, makes Windows RT real and vastly more usable than it was in its .0 iteration. Nice thing about a software fix is my old Surface RT tablet will be automatically upgraded to 8.1 when it comes out and the upgrade, based on what I saw at Build, is pretty seamless. I’ve been playing with 8.1 on a Surface Pro tablet and there really is a lot to love here, but I love it far more on Surface RT.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 2, 2013 6:21 AM Alan Alan  says:
The big headline news is that the Start button has returned to Windows 8 with Windows 8.1, although it still goes to the Start screen rather than the Start menu. There is also more integration between the desktop and Start screen to stop the jarring of the two interfaces. Reply
Jul 5, 2013 6:19 PM S Carter/Stan S Carter/Stan  says:
Surface RT education discount for schools is an excellent idea. However, many institutions have already selected the iPad. There are many teachers who have tons of legacy PowerPoint and other M/S Office teaching materials that are not optimized on the iPad e.g. Powerpoint animation doesn't work. M/S needs to also facilitate acquisition of the Surface RT at the teacher level if it wishes to make an impact in education with the RT. I'd make my purchase today if it were possible. Reply
Jul 12, 2013 5:10 PM buy business review buy business review  says:
I am also a user of Microsoft Surface RT Reply
Jul 23, 2013 3:07 PM Madhu Madhu  says:
Question for you! I'm thinking of buying a Surface RT in the next month, but I keep hearing about the NVIDIA Tegra 4 update. Do you think it'll be a huge difference/improvement to the Surface RT now? In other words, should I wait for the update or buy the Surface RT as it is now, given that Windows 8.1 is a pretty major improvement in terms of software. Reply
Aug 2, 2013 8:58 PM Shaun Shaun  says:
Can you expand a little more on the domain join workaround? We have SharePoint 2013 on-prem and the ability to link SkyDrive Pro and SharePoint web apps with out IE prompting for credentials is hindering our adoption of the Surface RT. People don't want to let go of their Ipads since they have apps that do work already for SP on-prem. Thanks Reply
Oct 17, 2013 11:49 AM Another Shaun Another Shaun  says:
@Shaun I think he's talking about this: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/connect-microsoft-domain-account Reply
Nov 2, 2013 3:04 AM Kand Kand  says:
Great product. Great price. Love my RT and have used it extensively as a tablet AND a laptop and it has performed beautifully. I use it mostly for work and I searched for quite a while to find a product that is light and mobile, could handle all of my work tasks, one that is responsive and touchscreen yet could be used with a keyboard and a mouse and has Outlook 2013. This is the future of computing in a mobile world and Microsoft is once again at the front. If you are on the fence, BUY it, you will not be disappointed. Reply
Dec 3, 2013 3:22 PM Ryan Ryan  says:
Could you point me in the direction of that domain workaround? Thank you for your assistance Reply
May 6, 2014 12:40 PM Brion Bell Brion Bell  says:
Wrong! The RT cannot join a business or school active directory domain. It's as simple as that. One MUST be able to join computer entities to the workplace domain in order to be able to administer computer and user settings and policy. These settings are the mechanisms that protect the network and computer resources on that network. The windows Surface Pro 2 is your best bet for both education and business. In a school where there are hundreds, (if not thousands) of kids, why risk the network and its resources, and how would you set policy to protect the network from rogue users, or the nonsense that kids download, (games, file-sharing, gadgets, etc.)? Reply

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