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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  • andrewaggb - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    I'm not interested in another tablet without backwards compatibility.

    I have an ipad 2 and didn't think backwards compatibility was going to be an issue. But I'm pretty disappointed in the ipad overall. I find it more or less useless and at this point it's just a youtube player for my kids and a facebook reader for my wife.

    The lack of flash actually sucks for me in a big way. I also still find a fair number of websites that don't work right on the ipad. I've recently had problems adding/authorizing users with logmein or using travelocity (as some examples). And most of the apps are half-featured, eg Vidyo's video conferencing app can join a meeting but doesn't have all the presenter/organizer functionality, xprotect (video surveillance) can log in a view, but can't change any settings. Lots of stuff like that.

    If it had backwards compatibility I could make those things work when necessary. As it is now I can't ever just take the ipad because I have low confidence I won't run into a situation where it won't be able to finish.

    Windows 8 x86 is really the only choice I think I'll be satisfied with. But the current atom sucks and I wasn't totally satisfied with the first gen i series offerings. So I'm hoping to see some good stuff soon.

    I'd like the tablet apps to get better but we aren't even close to being there today.
  • A5 - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    I won't ever be able to use tablets at this job due to what we do, but being able to natively edit MS Office documents would be critical.

    I don't think Xilinx ISE is getting ported to iOS any time soon, so this discussion is purely academic for me.
  • tech6 - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    For those that rely on legacy apps, it is an important consideration but for me it is not. All I need is Office compatible productivity apps, good email and a full feature browser. Reply
  • Sushisamurai - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    What a complex answer to such a simple question. In our private clinics, we've always been wary of upgrading our computer systems that have no backwards compatibility (take the transition from XP to Vista, horrible). With that being said, the transition, based on the OS and it's developers, can be a lot smoother. We unfortunately use a lot of custom software, and development for it on newer OS's take longer, as well, due to their complexity, we would lose valuable time and money lost in the transition to a new system. Not to mention a layer(s) of redundancy (and new license purchases), as our previous system was working, and the staff was trained to use it, and the IT guys are dealing with a familiar system. We wouldn't mind switching to a new OS with no backwards compatibility so long as its a perfect world switch, with no hassles or bugs, with similar interfaces to the old software with enough benefits to justify the cost - in a perfect world. In an imperfect world, given the choice between two systems of similar price, one with no compatibility, vs one with, we would always choose with. Mind you, we would factor in the costs of switching with the no compatibility solution, ergo, new systems usually lose out if they have no compatibility Reply
  • Sushisamurai - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Mind you, as new standards come out, previous companies will develop software for those new standards/solutions to stay competitive, however, every new rendition is not always bug free - we've far too often run into issues where the new software can do some things better, but some things don't work as well as previous versions or were excluded, adding more 'work' / inefficiencies, or just outright not compatible with our current system. Reply
  • MrSpadge - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    Job: university, electrical engineering department

    What we're using in the offices is Microsoft Office, Matlab, AutoCAD, Origin, Labview, Ansoft HFSS, Phoenix OptoDesigner, some larger programs I forgot and a bunch of smaller tools. If tablets are to be taken seriously here we need backwards compatibility. Sure, we already run heavy-hitters on simulation servers.. but setting up and maintaining significantly more of this would be some serious effort for questionable gain. And would make us depend much more on the network and data availabilty to the users. Sure, "the cloud" is a solution to this problem.. but not exactly plug & play yet (again more work to set up and maintain this, server and user side).

    It's easier if tablets are just ment as special purpose devices (note taking, etc.). But then they'll always just play the 2nd fiddle to the workstations and users don't like to transition between devices (unless this was completely painless.. all open pdfs and stuff transferred to the other device).
  • MonkeyPaw - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    I use an XPS 10 as both my work and personal tablet. For work, I mainly use it to do webmail and view Office files, largely spreadsheets. We also have maps on PDF, and the Reader app does the trick there. For my work use, RT gets the job done.

    For personal use, it's mainly browsing and email. I won't begrudge anyone who wants to game--and I do, but I usually do that on a console, if I can even find the time. I had an Android tab, which was good for most things, but I found that I rarely played those FAODs, and the document viewers all sucked in comparison to Office 2013.

    Top off the fact that I got this XPS10 for $230 open box, and I'm more than happy with RT, and that's BEFORE the 8.1 update (which includes Outlook RT for free, btw).
  • domboy - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    To me, the question isn't so much a matter of backwards compatibility with Windows x86, which I do this is important, but more with the artificial restrictions placed on some of the tablet the OS options available. Windows RT and iOS are locked down, Windows 8 and Android (and soon more linux distros) are more open with what you can do with them. Yes I do find some backwards compatibility very useful, and for me this is why Windows RT without the desktop app restriction is so much more useful. Things like putty can be quickly and easily recompiled, some .NET 4 apps can run unmodified on ARM (KeePass2 for example). This enables some backwards compatibility in a sense. But unless Microsoft re-thinks this boneheaded decision, I think Windows 8 on x86 is going to end up being the tablet of choice for Windows users, maybe even win some existing android or apple tablet owners. I'm not sure about Andriod vs. Ubuntu touch etc, but all three of those can be molded to the users preferences much more easily (though with Android you still have to root it). If you don't care for the applications in the official app store, you can download and install your own, or get an alternate application downloader (Steam for example). You can't do this with iOS or RT in their official state. Reply
  • domboy - Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - link

    In defense of Windows RT I should mention that Microsoft did get some things right. Mostly notable are Office RT and enabling Flash in IE 10. While technically not backwards compatibility in and of themselves, they would have been considered backwards compatibility issues if they had not been included. It's hard to imagine a Windows OS which cannot run Office. And having flash enables backwards compatibility with the web in a way. Reply
  • altintx - Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - link

    It's not important. Just plain not.

    Use the tablet primarily to augment things the desktop does poorly. Pandora on tablet is far better than any other UI I've found. Calendar on iPad better than our groupware software. Use it for testing webapps on a mobile screen. Use it for flowcharting and prototyping, again, because those apps are better than my desktop options. And use it at meetings.

    Meetings are the only situation where I'm disconnected. There, iPad beats a laptop because of the decreased weight and increased batter life. Typing is not awesome. But the overall benefits trump that. (The relatively small amount of note-taking I do is probably also a factor).

    I've tried using iPad to code, like several other commenters have mentioned, and it falls flat in that capacity. To make that work, it'd need a keyboard, and a physically bigger screen, and multitasking, and a half dozen things like that which stop it from being a tablet. So I can use it, it helps, but I have no illusions about it replacing my desktop.

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