Last week you guys did an awesome job with the discussion around the role of tablets in the workplace. There are a good number of you who have already embraced tablets for work, or who at least see the potential for the form factor at work if other hardware requirements are met. Now comes the next level, and honestly a question that I'm asked quite often when meeting with manufacturers. As far as work tablets are concerned, how important is backwards compatibility with existing x86/Windows applications?

The question obviously lends itself to a Windows 8 vs. Windows RT debate, but it's actually even bigger than that. We're really talking about Windows 8 vs. Windows RT or Android or iOS in the workplace.

While the previous question could definitely influence future design decisions, your answers here help answer more fundamental questions of what OSes to support for OEMs looking to play in the enterprise/business tablet space.

Respond in the comments below!

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  • dgingeri - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Well, not so much with apps themselves, but with the equipment I use, yes. I have a great need for a decent serial terminal (and drivers for serial to USB adapters) to talk to switches and raid arrays. Remote desktop for both Windows and Linux is useful, whether RDP, VNC, or SSH, as well. I suppose the apps that would handle that would need to be, but I'm not objecting to moving to a different app to do the same thing. Reply
  • Sam Jost - Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - link

    In my opinion the end customers do not care which OS is running on their devices. They will just ask their software provider which devices are supported and buy those. Sometimes they'll might try to convince the Software Provider to Support something Special, but without the Software they won't use anything.
    So I'd say important is what the Software companies to Support for workplace customers. A lot are going the HTML5-Route which will work on most devices (more or less good). Depends on the Software used, though.
    Reply
  • Wolfpup - Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - link

    Backwards compatibility is EXTREMELY important. I regularly use programs from the *90s* let alone more recently, for both work and home (and of course play).

    Ergo while an RT tablet actually would be fun to play with, and could kind of do a lot of my basics, there's no way it could replace real Windows as my primary or work PC.

    Not to mention how many CURRENT programs run on x86, that will NEVER be ported to RT because of it's closed nature.

    Heck, I can easily watch shows from my Tivo on a Windows 8 tablet, which an RT tablet can't do without transcoding...which a Windows 8 tablet can actually do, and again RT can't.
    Reply
  • hlovatt - Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - link

    I use my iPad all the time. I have found that Safari, Mail, Notes, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote on the iPad interact well enough with the rest of the work infrastructure that is heavily Windows XP/7 centric to not be a problem.

    I use a Mac Book Pro as my desktop machine and find that automatically syncing of the above Apps between my iPad and my Mac great. This easy sync'ing easily trumps any compatibility issues.

    To open the debate up further I don't think running a desktop app on a tablet is a good idea. The great tablet apps, like the ones I listed above, don't have the same UI as their desktop versions and that is why they are great. I read all these comments from people wanting to run desktop on a tablet and I suspect that they have not tried a really good tablet with really good tablet specific software to see how good that combination is. Also when you have used tablet specific software you dont want to go back to lesser UIs on tablets, for many tasks it is actually better on a tablet than the desktop (general web browsing, mail, presentations, etc.).
    Reply
  • Ytterbium - Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - link

    In my job legacy is critical, the apps I use are only used by a few 1000 people in the world, there is no motivation for application developers to build a new app for a platform that will only sell a few 1000 copies & my company isn't prepared to pay the full price for development. Reply
  • A Geologist - Thursday, June 20, 2013 - link

    I should have replied to the original article, I just remembered a brief stint in industry between undergrad and postgrad where I did use a tablet for work. First backwards compatibility and then hardware requirements.

    I worked as an exploration and mining geologist for one of the biggest resource companies between degrees. Windows backward compatibility was a non-negotiable requirement, the software packages for data base input, resource modelling and GIS were all Windows only. These are software packages that had been developed over the last decade or two and are all huge, clunky, massively powerful and maddeningly complex. Going over the code and recompiling for another operating system just isn’t going to happen, so for my usage scenario x86 and Windows is a requirement.

    As for hardware features, we used tablets mainly as data capture devices and had docks for them back at the office so they served as our workstations for non-demanding workloads. Things that were essential; was good battery life, good WiFi reception, a stylus (imputing data onto spread sheets designed for work stations is difficult with fingers and a lot of places we used the tablets our hand were dirty, wet or covered in protective gloves so the stylus was doubly useful), a daylight readable screen and x86 windows for all the software we needed to run. Things I would have liked but could live without would be a camera with flash (taking photo’s of an underground mining face with annotations we could have added right then and there would have been a massive time saver), accurate compass, gyro, accelerometer and barometer would also have been nice and saved hauling a lot of mapping tools around all over the place. Waterproofing and touch screens that worked with wet fingers would also be nice but a good protective covers served us pretty well.

    For us tablets were great because they saved a lot of time transferring hand written field measurements to databases back at the office and we had access to maps, engineering and mine models anywhere on site that was covered by the company’s WiFi.
    Reply
  • mahck - Friday, June 21, 2013 - link

    I basically answered this in detail in my comments on the previous question but I'll do a bit more elaboration here too.

    For my organization (and I suspect this also applies to a lot of large enterprises) backwards compatibility is NOT important for a companion device but IS important for a primary computing device - these are two different tablet segments. And while I still don't see it being the norm where a typical new employee is issued a tablet instead of a PC, I think we are close to being able to do that.

    Most large organizations have made significant investments in things like CRM, ERP, BI, etc. And even if a number of these systems are primarily web-based, there always seem to be some legacy applications that rely on x86. Until an organization is able to retire its legacy apps and move to SaaS or whatever, x86 will be a requirements for many users. If it's not supported on their tablet then they will also need a PC. Of course users in smaller companies may not share these constraints. Is backwards compatibility important? That depends on which part of the tablet market you are looking at.
    Reply
  • Eric S - Monday, July 01, 2013 - link

    Existing Windows apps (not designed for tablet form factor) do not run well on any tablet, but if you need to run them there are options for the Apple iPad. You can use Citrix or a similar product to use Windows apps directly on the iPad. If it is an in-house .net app, you can port it to the iPad with Xamarin. Most of the time tablets don't need to run the same software as PCs because they are normally used for different tasks. iPads are by far the most popular tablet in the enterprise and are usually easier to manage by the IT department. Reply

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