A year ago, this IT manager was testing iPads. Now he's bullish on Windows 8

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on stage with Qualcomm at CES in January. Credit: IDGNS

About six months ago, IT manager Steve Damadeo was running a test project to deploy iPads on factory floors at a multinational manufacturing company. The idea was to replace special-purpose Windows CE devices that were bulky and hard to use.

But things have changed.

Damadeo, who is speaking at the CITE Conference in June, told me today that his company had decided to stick with the old devices for now. Not because there was anything wrong with the iPads, but simply because the old devices were working well enough.

"It got to point where we had everything together, we knew there'd be cost savings, well great, but we already had all these devices," he told me. "Why would I spend an additional x thousand dollars on top of that for devices to replace that when they're working OK? When they start to break down, I'm sure we'll switch to a different solution. But we're not there yet."

Instead, he's turned his attention to a slightly different animal: Microsoft's Surface Pro. 

The company is not planning to roll Surface out on factory floors, but is considering it as a laptop replacement for managers. 

"We don't want people to be carrying three devices. The idea of tablets for the sake of tablets isn't an acceptable answer for us," said Damadeo. "Specifically, I want know -- can I change out my standard laptop with a Surface Pro tablet with a docking station with all peripherals?"

Most surprisingly, it was the Surface hardware -- not the software -- that impressed him and his bosses. 

"The general feedback is that it's good because it gives you flexibility, it can dock or work separately. It's also lighter than anything else we've had previously, even a little lighter than ultrabooks. The third thing is  that you seem to be able to go back and forth between touch and the conventional keyboard and mouse with ease. So the idea of flexibility, of having both options, is considered enticing."

He's also excited about Windows To Go -- the bootable version of Windows 8 that runs off a USB stick -- because it would allow the company to leverage existing hardware. "If that works, I have a BYOD solution for almost anything." 

Damadeo emphasizes that his company is still a multi-platform organization, and one story shouldn't be taken as a universal truth. But Damadeo's experience illustrates a very important point: Companies are a lot slower than consumers to swap out old gear for the shiny new object of the week, and Microsoft is still very strong in IT. The IT departments of big companies could very well pull Windows 8 tablets into enterprises even as users continue to favor the iPad in their personal lives.

"I really do believe -- and I'm sure there'll be a large number of people who disagree with this -- that the Surface Pro changed the rules of the game for enterprise tablets. It is the first thing that can compete with the iPad. I'm not calling it an iPad killer. But Apple went outside in, bottom up, and Microsoft is going inside out, top down."

He continues, "So many of us have so much invested into Windows infrastructure, to ask people to redevelop apps, good luck." And legacy Windows apps are a reality for most companies. "Try as we might, it's always far more difficult to get away from than we'd like to admit."

So does Damadeo think the consumerization tide is turning? No, but he does think the definition is changing. It's not about swapping out Microsoft for Apple or Android. It's about giving users more choice.

"You'll never beat the cult of Apple," he says, acknowledging that there will always be users in every organization who want to use their iDevices for everything. "The idea of a locked-down ecosystem no longer exists."

In other words, even if Microsoft wins a big share of the tablet market, it will never monopolize the enterprise as it did five or ten years ago. That means that applications will still have to be developed with multiple platforms in mind, and will have to work well on mobile devices no matter what platform they're on.

"We need to think mobile-first, not mobile-later. But not mobile-only either. If there's one thing that most of us have in common, we work remotely. I don't mean telecommuting, but anytime, anywhere, on any device. I'm on my phone as much as laptop."

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