My phone setup was very easy, since all of my contact and calendar data is already stored online using services like Office 365 and Google Apps. I was able to setup all of my accounts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, two Google accounts, Windows Live, Microsoft Office 365, and a new XBox Music subscription) in approximately 15 minutes. The startup wizard guided me through adding all of my accounts, requiring only usernames and passwords to configure all but one of my accounts, and seamlessly transitioned me from my Android phone to Windows Phone 8.
One common argument used against Windows Mobile is that it lacks software. The selection in the Windows Phone App Store is more limited than the broad selection available in Apple’s App Store and on Google Play. The Windows Phone 8 platform has many of the top iPhone and Android apps, and requires some services to be accessed using a web browser instead of a native application. While services like Pinterest, Google and Pandora do not have free Windows Phone apps, there are third party apps available at minimal cost.
Windows RT: Microsoft Surface RT
Windows RT is a special version of Windows 8 launched in late 2012 which runs on ARM processors that are normally used in consumer electronics devices like DVD players, smart phones, and printers. Although Windows RT looks identical to Windows 8, it requires all software to be purchased from the Windows Store and cannot be a centrally administered “member” of many business networks (e.g. a domain).
The Microsoft Surface RT (32 GB $499, 64GB $599) is a well-designed, attractive piece of hardware. The device is light, yet sturdy, with a bright high-resolution screen, and has an acceptable battery life for most users. There are expansion ports supporting USB, HDMI, and VGA connections (some require purchasing an adapter), support for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as other accessories like keyboards and mice.
The best feature of Windows RT is the included versions of Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft PowerPoint. The Microsoft Office experience is as good for routine document and spreadsheets as the full version running on Windows 8, and is superior to anything which runs natively on an iPad. The integration with business networks (e.g. SharePoint, network file shares) and personal cloud storage services like SkyDrive is excellent.
Files are stored in the same file format (XLSX, DOCX, PPTX) as the desktop version of the application. Documents printed almost identically under Windows RT as they did in Windows 8 to four of the five printers attached to my network.
The selection of software currently available for this new operating system is very limited, and lacked a number of key applications needed by CPAs at the time of this writing, including a credible PDF editing tool. I could access almost everything I needed online using the included Internet Explorer 10 browser and the remote desktop application.
Microsoft has made a huge step forward with Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 to extend its computing ecosystem with new Microsoft operating systems for smartphones and tablets. Windows Phone 8 is strong enough that my non-technical wife and I independently selected the HTC 8X as our personal cell phones. Accounting professionals should evaluate Windows Phone 8 alongside Apple iOS and Google Android when they renew their smartphone contract.
I am more guarded with Windows RT, and believe that it will take a number of months for the software catalog to add many of the needed solutions. It is clear that Microsoft has changed its approach to provide more compelling mobile devices, and only time (and sales) will determine the long-term success of these platforms.