Until recently, running software such as Deltek Cobra or Primavera P6 Professional on anything other than a traditional desktop or laptop computer was in the realm of science fiction. In my previous recon of tablets a year or two back, all the available tablets seemed only powerful enough to host their own proprietary Apps, and generally not on the requisite business operating systems offered by Microsoft.
The grandfather of all tablets, Apple’s iPad for example, indeed offers a staggering array of exciting apps for just about anything you care to imagine; except that is, for integrated project and eared value management. Yeah, there’s no App for that. Hardly surprising really, project management is a niche market with comparatively small revenue potential compared to most other mass-market apps you may want to invest time and big dollars developing. Not so long ago, even the PC based devices offered cut down, turn-key versions of the Windows operating system such as Windows RT, that among other restrictions didn’t allow the installation of standard business applications.
So we business application users have been waiting on the sideline for a Windows based tablet powerful enough to run OUR apps. That time is now upon us. Indeed it seems that every few weeks when I research the latest Microsoft Surface tablets out there, larger and larger specs appear.
I’ve been road testing the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet for a few weeks now and checking in the odd blog to share some of my experiences with this amazing little device. The specifications for my increasingly humble Microsoft Surface Pro model are as follows: Windows 8 Pro 64-bit operating system running on an Intel Core i5 processor with 4GB RAM and 60GB of storage. This spec cost about $500 at the time of publishing and is therefore at the comparatively low-cost end of the spectrum.
Besides the smaller storage capacity, in all other respects this is a similar specification to the laptops that we’ve been using as training machines for our P6 and Cobra students. Therefore it seemed to make sense that the Microsoft Surface Pro machines should be able to run the same software. Turns out I was right. This device has just successfully completed its duties once more as my on-the-road training PC. I just completed teaching a group of folks who have an integrated Primavera P6 and Cobra EVMS and the tablet didn’t miss a beat all week. In the following photo you can see the Surface plugged in to a projector via a VGA adapter to its mini-graphics port. That’s Deltek Cobra up there on the screen.
What continues to impress me is how fast everything runs on this tablet. The solid state drive and Windows 8 operating system have a lot to do with this. Indeed this tablet easily outperforms my more powerful Windows 7, Intel CORE i7 laptop back at the office. Also its tiny footprint makes this a very travel-friendly device.
I no longer need to lug a bulky laptop through the airport and am now able to travel with just one bag, not the usual two for a four day trip.
In fact I’m writing this section of the blog on the aircraft coming back from Denver. The person in front of me has thoughtfully reclined their seat right back, thus usurping any meaningful headroom above my pull-out table. Ugh!
However I continue to write; a feat that would not have been possible had I been using my… [Writing ironically interrupted at this point by dead Surface battery] Double-Ugh!
Later, Back at the Office:
As I was saying; writing in these cramped conditions would have been impossible using my larger 17 inch laptop. With that thing, if the passenger in front reclines their seat, I can’t open the lid high enough to see the screen, even in an extra legroom seat.
One Small Gripe
Here would be a good time to log my only real gripe about the Microsoft Surface Pro – the battery life isn’t so good. Halfway through that earlier sentence the unit just quit on me – no warning, just a sudden black screen. And with United Airlines still failing to provide any kind of power outlets in the majority of their aircraft – my blogging time was over for the rest of that flight.
Evidently I’m not the only Surface reviewer to underline this issue. Many reviews have credited this particular Surface model with about 3 hours of use on a full charge, and my experience has been similar. Now most of the time, 3 hours would be plenty because most domestic flights aren’t that long and that’s when good battery life really counts. I have to point out that, had I thought a little more about the way the Microsoft Surface behaves, I could have avoided today’s low battery experience.
It turns out that if you just use the side button to turn off the device, it will evidently turn itself back on while jostling around in your bag. I didn’t think about this when packing last night and simply clicked the side button. Thus, once I got settled in on the plane this morning and pulled the Surface out of my backpack, I could feel the unit was surprisingly hot. This told me it had been running, even with the Type Case closed. I looked at the battery indicator and it was at a rather depressing 25% – having been fully charged when it went into my bag the night before. My hindsight advice therefore, is to always fully power down the unit from the Settings menu in the Windows 8 operating system before packing the machine for travel. Nevertheless, if the battery life was generally better to start with, I’d have probably gotten away with that unfortunate oversight. To be fair, this battery issue is centered around my particular model. Newer and more powerful models boast greater battery life, which I will talk about in the summary.
Cobra to P6 Integration
Getting back to the positive stuff, my customer for this training uses both Primavera P6 and Deltek Cobra. So integration was one of the major topics of conversation in the classroom. Once again I was impressed to find that I had no difficulty setting up an ODBC data source connection to the Primavera P6 SQL Server database. This allowed for some basic integration between Primavera P6 and Cobra via the Integration Wizard. The integration was fast and clean and checked off another question I had been pondering about the tablet. Excellent – it can handle integration between the business applications – and again it’s faster than my laptop.
Another question got answered on this trip too – and accidentally I might add. When I purchased the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet, it shipped with the original Windows 8 Pro operating system. I’d been wondering whether it would be possible to upgrade it to the improved Windows 8.1. Turns out it is possible. The evening I arrived in Boulder, I had kicked off the download of the Windows 8.1 upgrade – but then thought better of it and stopped it. Had it failed – I thought – I would be without a machine all week, so I cancelled the process.
However at some point during the week, it must have completed the download and silently installed the upgrade. Maybe that is what it was up to in my bag when the battery was being drained. When I got back in to the office today and powered it up from the charger, it started wanting to reboot. I assumed it had some interim security patches to install and kept cancelling the prompt. However, when I finally allowed it to restart, it reopened with a shiny new copy of Windows 8.1 Pro running. Now that is pretty darn cool don’t you think?
I’m sold. This is now my official on-the-road computer. Apart from battery life concerns, its only other limitation for my particular model is storage capacity. However, larger capacity models are now available and are claiming improved battery life too. For example, the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 offers a larger 12” screen and up to 512GB storage, with a CORE i7 Processor and 8GB RAM, and claims a 9 hour battery life; really nice specs if you have about $2,000 to spend (Hey Boss, I hope you’re reading this :-).
Nevertheless, with a few simple adjustments one can easily manage the storage aspect with the lower cost, lower capacity models like mine. For example, I had originally installed Thunderbird to handle my email, but once this had finished downloading all my mailboxes, it had virtually wiped out all my free space. So I uninstalled Thunderbird and just handle email via the internet browser now. This freed up huge gobs of drive space. I’m running Deltek Cobra, Primavera P6 Professional, SQL Server Express and Microsoft Office 2013 and still have over 24GB of free space on there. Maybe I’ll load a couple of good movies on there for the next trip.
Looking forward now; with these kind of exciting specs becoming available in tablets, I expect it wont be long before these devices start to become common in the work place. My poor old laptop is already starting to look and sound a little clunky when juxtaposed with a tablet. While Windows 8’s lack of perceived ‘value add’ to standard business machines has thwarted its uptake, it may be reflected upon in history as Microsoft’s necessary first stumble into a new era of business computing – possibly a little ahead of it’s time. Indeed I had previously procrastinated on purchasing a tablet largely because Windows 8 was the de facto operating system offered, and my experiences with it on standard PCs had not been positive.
This is kind of sad because Windows 8 is actually a pretty darn good operating system – a fact that only becomes apparent when using it on a touchscreen device. Had it been developed to smartly install a Start menu on standard PCs and that big-buttoned Start screen on touchscreen devices, I suspect it would have been received with well deserved praise by both business and tablet consumers alike. As for the future, it is entirely likely that the combination of these new, high-powered tablets and a successful release of Windows 10 could really push business tablet computing forward with revolutionary gusto in the coming months. I guess only time will tell if I’m right about that.