I have a reliable habit of looking at innovative electronics as a new device and thinking, “Nice! But not for me.” That’s how I reacted to the BB-8 toy – essentially a real-life version of a movie robot, minus the strong general AI. I’m glad it exists! I think I played with one in a shop for a few minutes. I don’t need one in my house. I’ve spent nearly my entire IT career steeped in Windows productivity devices – in addition to managing everything from thin clients to tablets to laptops to desktops to blade servers, I personally owned four separate Windows Phones (RIP!). However, as web apps and Software-as-a-Service spent the intervening years dramatically expanding their capabilities, it is the rare device that inspires even a BB-8 level of dismissive enthusiasm from me. The latest specific iteration of a phone or tablet seems less important than ever since they all do essentially the same thing these days. That was my starting point for the Surface Duo, a new flagship device from Microsoft that Aaron and Brad spent a solid 10 minutes of this month’s Enterprise Dish podcast (embedded below) trying to devise an intended use case for.
Innovative electronics have a place
I can try as well! I tick a few of its intended boxes – I’m heavily connected with Office 365 and the Android app store. I am constantly snapping applications or windows to one side or corner of the screen as I work. Brad and Aaron did think of a few people who might want one – point-of-sale/shop/manufacturing floor/construction site/real estate/flight attendant all seem like plausible candidates. But they seem plausible to me because…I know they are, because I’ve seen plenty of other devices fill the same niche over the years, with varying degrees of precision. I recall a period of several years when Delta flight attendants exclusively used Nokia Lumia (Windows Phone) devices for in-flight purchases – between pours of restaurant-priced cabernet, I may have suggested to one attendant that he point the device out the window every once in a while, because the Lumia 820 (one of my four Windows Phones), had an insanely good rear-facing camera for what they were using it for. As for the Surface Duo (as well as the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold, now on its second generation), even if I expect it’ll be replaced by something similar-looking in a couple of years, there probably is a place for a $1,400+ foldable device the size of a grocery store paperback, even if I’d personally prefer a laptop or desktop with multiple screens for serious work. I’ll refer you to Marques Brownlee‘s excellent review of the Surface Duo for more thoughts on that, as he gets into greater detail on the conceptual similarity between these two approaches that might make this foldable form factor something to keep an eye on once the technology matures a bit.
Windows 10 offline PC maintenance
Switching gears, Brad and Aaron tackled a user question – an interesting one from a device and productivity standpoint. User Michael asks whether Aaron has any recommendations for the offline maintenance of Windows 10 hardware, other than just walking around with USB sticks, as they’re doing today. Michael, whose industry goes unidentified, implied in his question that he meant pristinely offline – air gapped and not physically connected to any network, not even a closed (offline and separated) network where a WSUS Server could be stocked with update packages and used as a go-between. Aaron correctly notes that USB sticks (or other removable media) are about your only option for that specific scenario, but there is a second option, and that is not to update in-place at all. This approach is a bit more expensive, but it can result in faster turnaround. And it requires you to treat your production floor devices as dismissively as I treated every modern productivity device above: as a standardized, redundant, and replaceable object. Assuming the computers will have a standard software load and a common set of peripherals connected (as may be a common case in high-security environments with specialized equipment), then the simplest answer for how to service these systems offline may be…don’t. Build out and maintain an updated image in a virtual environment, and when a system needs to be updated, reimage another unit of the same device, and simply swap it out. This means reduced downtime for the production environment, and a known-good device to fall back on, in the event that a Windows Update or software update breaks needed functionality.