London School of Business and Finance favours Surface RT for 'familiar application framework' in bespoke development

By Peter Gothard
18 Feb 2014 View Comments
Microsoft Surface Pro 2

London School of Business and Finance's St Patrick's College has invested in several hundred Microsoft Surface 2 machines, with an eventual hope to make a unit available for every student.

The machines are currently being offered as an incentive to second year students, in order to ensure they attend classes and study hard.

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The need for Office 2013 led the college's choice of devices, CIO Vicente Fraser, chief information officer at London School of Business & Finance, told Computing.

"We looked across many devices and we needed Office 2013 - which was not available on any other tablet," said Fraser.

"This has enabled us to give students a device where they can easily edit the documents they need for their course. At the same time, the Surface offered strong Office 365 integration which we use heavily at St Patrick's College."

Despite the "considerable discount" Microsoft was offering with the Surface 2 machines - which are powered by ARM chips and use the Windows RT platform - Fraser says there was still a tendering process when deciding which mobile devices to adopt.

"We looked across numerous offerings including the iPad and various Android tablets, but the Surface 2 had the best mix of future [proofing] that was ideal for our students' needs," said Fraser.

"Another advantage is that our development team is very familiar with the application framework behind Windows 8 and RT giving us a head-start on giving bespoke apps."

Fraser is unfazed by the reputation Windows RT has garnered as an arguably inflexible build of Windows, unable to work with Win32-based legacy applications from older versions of Windows, and instead relying on an app store format which is still proving slow off the ground with many developers.

When offered a toss-up between legacy support and the ability to use popular Microsoft solutions such as Office and Lync, however, Fraser believes there is no contest.

"We don't have any requirements for Win32 compatibility and so this was not a consideration for us," he said.

"On the other hand, the availability of both Office and Lync did help a great deal to integrate with our current services on campus."

Fraser said that plans for the RT platform and accompanying Microsoft hardware in the college doesn't stop at Microsoft solutions either, with a "large amount of third-party apps from different developers" being brought into the mix in order to supply a daily use case for the hardware.

But the college refused to tell Computing exactly how many machines are rolling out, and what was paid for them, drawing a lens again on the actual value of a Surface RT machine.

While Microsoft began running a number of student discount schemes for its older, original Surface RT stock last year, education-based wholesale deals for Surface 2 have not been officially announced.

The college also refused to comment on the growing rumour that Microsoft may be preparing to discontinue Windows RT as a platform, after VP of devices Julie Larson-Green's now-infamous "We are not going to have three [operating systems]" comments from November 2013.

Such rumours were also potentially backed up last week when Microsoft's GM of platform strategy, Tim O'Brien, told Computing that while "ARM is part of the strategy" for the Windows platform going forward, he had "no insight to share on futures" pertaining specifically to Windows RT.

Microsoft suffered a $0.9bn writedown on its Surface RT inventory in mid-2013, prompting its special deals for the education sector, but sales figures for Surface 2 have not yet emerged.

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