As you’ve probably heard, Microsoft new Windows RT (ARM-based) platform will be shipping soon (Microsoft’s own Surface will be the first incarnation of this), along with Windows 8 itself. And while I think Windows 8 will be a good touch platform (don’t ask me about it as a desktop/laptop OS), RT is sort of another thing entirely. Because its ARM-based, it won’t run your regular Windows apps, but instead you’ll need to download Windows 8 style apps (formerly Metro) from the Windows Store. The most interesting difference in Windows RT, however, is it’s lack of support for joining to AD domains–and therefore support for Group Policy. This of course begs two questions, one that precedes the other. First, will Windows RT actually find traction in enterprises? Second, if so, how will they manage RT devices in the absence of AD and Group Policy support?
To the first question, I think it remains to be seen. Given that RT doesn’t run standard Windows desktop apps, that counts out a large array of line-of-business applications that enterprise users would typically look for. However, one would assume that one of the first apps that will be available for RT would be a Citrix Receiver client, which could make RT a great platform for XenDesktop or XenApp environments (although at the price of the Surface, that may be an expensive proposition for what would be essentially a dumb terminal). Unlike the iPad, which came into the enterprise on the back of heavy end-user (and especially IT executive) demand, without the same array of app availability, I think RT will be slow to make it into the enterprise.
Now to the second question, if an enterprise does choose to deploy RT, how the heck will they manage it? Microsoft previously announced that the next release of Windows Intune, it’s cloud- and subscription-based systems management offering, will also support managing of Windows RT (and Windows Phone 8) devices. That’s good that they are offering such support, but it presents a couple of problems for the typical enterprise IT shop. First, it will require a completely separate (and not functionally equivalent) infrastructure and tool set to manage RT devices as compared to Windows 7 (or Windows 8, for that matter). Second, since Intune is cloud-based, it means that enterprises that are typically used to managing their Windows configurations internally, with tools like Group Policy and SCCM, must now subscribe to an external service just to manage RT. For large and especially for regulated organizations, that means lots of due diligence ahead of time to ensure that the solution meets their security and compliance requirements. Microsoft has talked about supporting RT configuration through SCCM, so for shops that use that, that will be a welcome capability. But it’s too bad that you have to purchase extra software (Intune or SCCM) just to do what you can do with in-the-box technology in Windows today (i.e. Group Policy). Hopefully Microsoft or someone will remedy that over time. Until then, if I were still an IT guy, I’d have a hard time recommending RT until some of these issues become cleaner and easier.
Of course, I didn’t even include the lack of AD support, which of course implies a lack of support for AD authentication on RT devices, and all that that implies for access to and use of corporate resources. That’s a story for another day…