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Skepticism mounts over Windows RT's enterprise role

Questions about IT's ability to manage Windows RT tablets makes the new OS a weak business candidate, say experts

April 19, 2012 01:14 PM ET

Computerworld - Omissions from the feature set of Windows RT are making analysts increasingly skeptical that enterprises will gravitate toward tablets running the new forked version of Windows.

Earlier this week, Microsoft confirmed that Windows RT, the operating system designed to run on battery-saving devices powered by ARM system-on-a-chip (SoC) silicon, will not include a pair of features critical to enterprises: Connectivity to a company's network, dubbed "domain joining," and support for Group Policies, a mechanism that enterprise IT administrators use to micro-manage machines.

Prior to this week, Microsoft had called the operating system "Windows on ARM," or WOA for short.

Microsoft had not given a clear answer on Windows RT's fit within enterprises before Monday, said Al Gillen of IDC. "I asked them this question point blank," he said, referring to face-to-face meetings between Microsoft and analysts earlier this year. "I never got an answer."

The lack of those features, as well as still-unanswered questions about how IT staffs will manage Windows RT devices, made Gillen and other analysts wary of recommending Windows RT devices -- tablets in particular -- for enterprise use.

"Based on what we know today, a Windows RT device will be no more manageable than an iPad," said Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, which focuses on the Redmond, Wash. developer's moves.

That may disappoint IT administrators who had expected that a Windows tablet would more easily integrate into their companies' networks and infrastructures than one from the consumer-oriented Apple. But Windows RT is increasingly seen by the experts as very similar to the iPad -- a consumer-only play -- and considering IT's needs, offers little to businesses.

"This solidly positions WOA [Windows RT] as a consumer device," argued Michael Silver, who covers Microsoft for Gartner. "As more information comes out, it looks like fewer and fewer organizations will be looking at WOA."

Information, or the lack of it, was a concern for Cherry and Gillen, who both noted that there was a lot still unsaid by Microsoft about how, or even if, Windows RT devices can be managed with standard enterprise tools such as Microsoft's own System Center.

"We're still dealing with information by a thousand cuts," said Cherry, of the dribs and drabs that Microsoft has disclosed.

"It's not clear," answered Gillen when asked whether hardware running Windows RT can be managed through tools available from Microsoft.

This week, Microsoft announced the availability of System Center 2012 and talked up Microsoft Intune, its cloud-based management platform. Nowhere in the recent blog posts and supporting materials for either System Center or Intune has Microsoft explicitly called out Windows RT, although it's named iOS and Android as supported.

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