Microsoft delivers Surface with benefits for enterprise IT

It may not be headline-grabbing news, but the Surface Pro has screws – it can be taken apart and components such as disk drives can be swapped out

The latest incarnation of Microsoft’s Surface Family of ultrabooks and hybrid tablet devices aims to propel the company into being an ultrabook powerhouse.

At a prestigious launch event in New York, the company unveiled Surface Laptop 3, Surface Pro 7 and Surface Pro X, as well as two dual-screen devices, the Neo and the Duo.

Microsoft is offering both Intel and AMD-powered devices. The 10th Generation Intel Core processor is used on the Surface Laptop 3 13.5”, while the AMD Ryzen Surface Edition is used on the larger 15” model.

To support Surface Neo, Microsoft unveiled Windows 10X, a version of Windows 10 designed for a new category of dual-screen PCs.

“With Surface Duo, we are building on Android to marry cutting-edge hardware with familiar software and services,” said Microsoft.

“We’re excited to work with developers and the industry to create the next wave of dual-screen computing and unlock a new era of mobile creativity,” it added.

Geoff Blaber, vice-president of research, CCS Insight, said: “Microsoft’s focus on Azure, its embrace of open-source and emphasis on delivering Microsoft services across multiple devices and platforms is the basis of an ambitious expansion of Surface hardware.

“With Surface Neo and Duo, Microsoft is taking a brave step into a new category. While Microsoft will avoid some of the issues that characterise flexible displays, the dual-screen approach is similarly new and will require developer support to fully realise the vision and take the concept beyond a commercial experiment.”

JP Gownder, a vice-president and principal analyst at Forrester, described the launch as “a high-energy event”. While Microsoft’s dual-screen devices gained a lot of attention, Gownder said the changes to the Surface Pro were significant, making the device viable in the enterprise.

“The construction of the Surface Pro makes it possible to open up the  laptop and have access to the component,” he said. “This is a huge driver for market adoption among commercial customers who want to be able to repurpose PCs and need to replace the hard drive to do so.”

Gownder said Surface represents a $2bn project within Microsoft, but, he added: “They want to turn into a $20bn business. This is not the high-end niche, with devices that go head-to-head with Apple products and target ‘prosumers’. A $2000 product won’t be mass market.”

Instead, he believes Microsoft is strategically positioning Surface as a low-cost premium device that can be managed by corporate IT.

While high-end premium devices may continue to be handed out to executives, or engineers that need the graphics and processing power available on such devices, Gownder said: “You can get a Surface laptop for $750 and deploy it to your sales force.”

There are inevitable comparisons with Apple MacBooks, but Gownder argues that the Mac is looking like a much older device when compared to the new line-up of Surface devices.

Combined with the Azure cloud, the acquisition of GitHub in 2018 and the Xamarin open source .net framework, Gownder believes Microsoft now has compelling hardware devices and a software platform for developers and data scientists, and tools to create powerful virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications.

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