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Microsoft’s Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2: What they offer for businesses

On Monday, Microsoft unveiled its new Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 slates, and in addition to the beefed-up hardware specs and other more consumer-tailored improvements, the new line of tablets also includes updated business capabilities of which IT pros should take note.

Cyril Belikoff, director of Surface at Microsoft, gave an overview of these new and updated features in an interview. One of the main business advancements, he noted, is the inclusion of the Outlook client in Surface 2. Surface 2 is preloaded with Microsoft Office 2013 RT — including Outlook 2013 RT.

Surface 2 now also supports third-party VPN clients. The previous-generation Surface RT only supported Microsoft's native VPN client.

The revamped tablets also have better Mobile Device Management (MDM) support. Before, with RT in particular, the main way for IT to control the device was through Microsoft's own Windows Intune – a cloud-based mobile device and client solution. Belikoff said that Microsoft worked with MDM partners such as Mobile Iron to build better mobile device management support within the tablets, including Remote Wipe.

"MobileIron has been working with Microsoft on supporting the full range of next-generation Windows devices," MobileIron's Ojas Rege, vice president of strategy, said in a statement. "Our support includes core features like Remote Wipe plus several other configuration and security capabilities which Microsoft will announce over time."

"The reason for the partnership is that tablets are a core part of BYOD programs and our customers want to use MobileIron as their central console to manage their entire multi-OS mix of devices and apps," he continued. "Microsoft has been a strong partner and is providing us the operating system hooks we need to build a strong security and management solution for Windows 8.1 devices like the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2."

A big complaint about Surface RT from the IT community, meanwhile, was its inability to join a Windows domain. Microsoft offers Workplace Join for RT, which allows these tablets to access corporate shares and other company resources via a user's login credentials. Workplace Join accesses pieces of Active Directory, giving IT more control over these devices.

While the Surface 2 and Pro 2 do not include next-generation Wi-Fi, 802.11ac, Belikoff said that increased bus speed in the tablets' architecture means faster throughput with the Wi-Fi stack, which results in "two times the increase in browsing."

Microsoft is touting the Surface Pro 2 as a laptop replacement due to features such as longer battery life, low-powered SSDs, storage improvements, and the availability of a lightweight docking station. The docking station has a Gigabit Ethernet port, several USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports, as well as video and audio inputs and outputs.

The Surface Pro 2 supports virtualised environments in the same way as any Windows 8.1 desktop client, but the Surface 2 also has virtualisation features including support for Citrix.

Microsoft has also expanded its channel program. Beginning next month, the Surface channel program will extend to the complete set of resellers in all 29 markets. Organisations can purchase Surface through resellers who customise the tablets with value-added services.

For more on Microsoft’s new tablets, see our closer look at Microsoft’s Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2.