Guest post from Mark Reynolds, Business Manager for Schools South.

2 weeks ago, I was presenting to a group of Headteachers in Cambridge. They had asked me to go in and tell them about Windows8, before deciding whether to roll out a large batch of iPads. At the end of the presentation, they asked the usual question people ask when you’ve shown them something cool, which is; “How Much?”. I said that I could not answer that and that they’d need to wait and see what our OEM partners like Samsung, Dell, Toshiba, RM or Viglen came up with – because, I said (and I can still see these words hanging in the air) “Microsoft doesn’t make hardware”.

Then, on literally the next working day, came the breaking news from LA, that Steve Ballmer (our CEO) had just announced that  Microsoft are releasing our own devices for Windows 8, and they’re called “Surface”. When the emails came in from the Cambridge Heads, asking “why didn’t you tell us this on Friday?” – I could honestly say to them that I didn’t know. This highlighted two things for me: a) I am clearly not high enough up the food chain at Microsoft to get told the important stuff, and b) the world of IT moves pretty fast. One week we don’t make tablet PC’s, the next week – we do.

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So, whilst we all wait to get our hands on a Surface, I thought I would share some key reasons why its vital for schools to understand all their options before launching into a large scale tablet rollout. The question I’ll try to answer is – Why Wait for Windows 8?

First up, here are the facts about our timescales:

  • The official release date for Windows 8 has not yet been announced
  • We have not seen all of the exciting new hardware that our OEM partners are going to release for Windows 8
  • We can’t tell you exactly when our own Surface tablets will be released, or indeed – how much they will cost
  • You will almost certainly NOT be able buy and deploy Windows 8 tablets ready for the new term in September

Secondly, here are some facts about the most common tablet device schools are looking at deploying this summer, the iPad. Instead of me writing these and being accused of iPad bashing, I asked Paul Newman from the Girls Day School Trust for his view. Paul said:

The GDST has bought over 200 iPads due to a demand from the schools to use them. We have spent over 3 months with a senior architect working full time on integrating them into our infrastructure. Conclusions are:

  • They are a consumer device
  • They can only be used on a 1:1 basis
  • They cannot be audited to control who is doing what
  • They do not integrate with our infrastructure

Windows 8 solves all of our problems; we will certainly be deploying these in place of the iPad and have asked schools who can to wait until Windows 8 is available.”

Can you really afford to do both?

One key thing which all Schools should think carefully about when considering Tablet PCs, is what can they really be used for? Whilst iPads make a great consumption device, you would not want to write an essay on one – and, last time I checked – both students and teachers often have to type more than 100 words, or design a PowerPoint, or use an application which is simply no good on a small screen. So that means, if you give people iPads, you will have to give them a second device too! This could mean upgrading or extending your existing Windows Network – or, in the case of teachers specifically – buying them all an iPad AND a laptop. I’ve not been to many schools recently who can afford to buy their teachers both.

“They are cool” is not enough reason to roll them out

If you are the Head Teacher, and you just want one, then just buy one. Use it to show your elevated status at SMT meetings, to view your email and calendar, to take notes, and to browse the web on the sofa. Do NOT think that it can somehow magically transform your Schools IT provision overnight – or, more importantly, raise attainment.

I have spoken to countless schools and academies who have invested in the iPad and found them to be a “square peg in a round hole”. One of those is James Penny from the Harris Federation. James is absolutely not “anti-Apple” – in fact, he delights in producing his MacBook Air every time he comes to Microsoft – but even with their excellent technical team, cannot integrate iPads into their school networks in the way they need to:

“Ipads are a delightful consumer device, but therein lies the challenge! Managing several hundred of them in a large secondary school so that pupils can access their stored work, most of which is done in Microsoft Office, is not what they were designed to do. Moving to scale in a secure way has many hurdles. The new surface device with Windows 8 combines the now expected touch interaction with the enterprise scale management and security that schools have come to expect. We can’t wait!”

So, enough about iPads (for now) - how is Windows 8 different?

  • Windows 8 will give schools a no-compromise tablet, that allows both great app experiences and full productivity – play Angry Birds on the Sofa, then run a SIMS report
  • It will be managed on school networks just like your current Windows PCs are. You’ll log on with your normal school account, and all your Windows 7 software will work on Windows 8
  • When you save your work, it will be stored on the server and you won’t need to find a “fudge” like emailing things to yourself
  • Schools with a Microsoft EES licensing subscription will be covered for the upgrade when it is released
  • The Microsoft OEM community such as Samsung, Dell, Toshiba, Sony, RM, Viglen etc, will all have exciting new Windows 8 devices on the market soon
  • Microsoft have just announced an exciting new PC platform which has been designed and manufactured by Microsoft – which is huge news for us, and, we hope, for you too…

What can you tell me about Surface?

What we know so far, is that there will be two models in the Surface family – Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro.  We don’t have a release date yet but to keep up to date with information please visit www.surface.com.  There is a very cool launch video which you can see here

Don’t Jump Too Soon

We know this is a hard thing to ask – but we really believe that schools will be better off waiting to see what Windows8 will deliver, before making any big jumps on Tablet computing. We also know that many will, or have already jumped – and think that in a years’ time, there will be a lot of Head teachers who commissioned very expensive “experiments” which have simply not worked.

A final thought, from the coal face

Mark Compton-James is the IT Director for ARK Schools. When I asked him for his view, he summed it up brilliantly, with his usual brand of straight talking and pragmatism – based on many years working in School IT;

��Apple don’t make or sell technology – they brand a lifestyle and then sell the accessories to it. They make no bones about it. As a business they have far more in common with Tommy Hilfiger or Gap that they do with Microsoft, Oracle or any of the other big IT hitters. Nothing wrong with that but a lot of schools don’t get it. So they buy these highly priced, beautifully designed lifestyle devices built to consume content. Now these devices don’t lend themselves to integrating into a school network where IT security, sustainability and compatibility are real issues. Schools end up shoe-horning the device onto the network and using it in the same way they would a PC. This reduces functionality, increases support costs and irritates users - a heady cocktail. If only some clever people could come up with a platform that provides the usability of an iPad and a functionality of a PC on the same device? Oh hang on … they already have. Windows 8.”

The best way to keep up to date with Windows 8, and anything else from the Microsoft Schools team is on Twitter or on our Schools Blog. There is also a set of slides about Windows 8 here.

The full deck can also be viewed/downloaded below.