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Apple iPad 3 din won't drown out business' Windows 8 interest

New iPad review

Just the thought of a Windows 8 tablet is enough to keep some IT pros from buying into iPad 3's before they have the chance to test drive the Microsoft-based devices, experts say.

Despite the clamor surrounding iPad 3's arrival, the management and flexibility of Windows 8 will delay a tablet decision until the new Windows operating system is paired with hardware later this year or early next year, says Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research.

New iPad review

"Buyers will wait on Windows 8 -- not necessarily for Windows 8 -- but they really want to see it and evaluate it," Gottheil says. "They're also checking out Android."

While businesses with urgent needs for tablets will likely choose iPads in the short term, IT pros will want to evaluate Windows 8 for its management, integration into Microsoft shops and presumed better security, he says. Plus, Microsoft knows how to work with enterprises. "Apple isn't the easiest company in the world to deal with if you're an IT purchaser," he says.

Windows 8, whose Metro style environment relies on touch and boldly colored tiles rather than icons, presents a distinct alternative to iPads from the perspective of user interface. Because it is deployable on x86 machines as well as on ARM tablets, the operating system could create a common feel among corporate devices. Metro style is modeled after the look of Windows Phone, so the commonality extends even further.

The downside for Microsoft is that while iPads are on their third generation, Windows 8 has just been released as a consumer preview, with Windows 8 devices expected late this year and speculation that Windows on ARM tablets will arrive in 2013.

Meanwhile, iPad 3's likely won't create a rush among corporate IT buyers unless they have a specific need for the touted high-definition Retinal display screens. "They'll look and say, 'How important is high resolution?' and, 'When will Windows 8 vendors catch up if it is important?'" says Gottheil.

Windows 8's support for multiple devices -- desktops, laptops, ultrabooks, tablets -- is appealing because businesses may have a need for all or some of these. What form of mobile device to choose will be driven by what individual workers require, but unifying the different hardware with a common operating system will attract IT decision makers, he says.

Hardware vendors that plan to support Windows 8 and develop mobile devices specifically for the operating system are excited because they see a large market among businesses, says Rhonda Alexander, an analyst with IHS. Particularly attractive is that all these devices will support Microsoft Office, something that many businesses rely on.

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While rumors swirl that Microsoft is developing Office for iOS devices, whether that will actually happen is uncertain. If Office were available on iPads, that would address a significant business need, she says.

Alexander urges caution and making comparisons based on actual devices when they become available. "Until you have a product in hand whatever anybody knows is speculation," she says.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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