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Microsoft gets a big plug, but not without some vicious rumors as well

Delta Air Lines, Inc. (DAL), the world's largest airline in terms of passenger traffic in 2012, gave Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) a big boost when it announced that it would be buying all of its pilots new Surface 2 tablets, which run Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8.1 RT operating system.

I. An Enterprise Win For Microsoft, Windows 8.1

A press release by Microsoft describes:

Device rollout to pilots flying the Boeing 757 and Boeing 767 fleets will start later this year and all Delta cockpits are projected to be paperless by the end of 2014. 

Delta's flight operations SVP, Capt. Steve Dickson, remarks:

Delta's electronic flight bag running on Surface 2 continues the technological strides Delta has been making to give our crews the best tools to keep them flying safely and efficiently.  This intuitive device puts key information at their fingertips right when they need it. By eliminating paper, we'll reduce clutter and minimize time spent looking for flight information allowing our pilots the opportunity for greater situational awareness in the air and on the ground.

The move comes in the wake of shift in how wireless devices on aircraft are perceived.  The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has found in recent studies that the weak wireless signals in narrow bands of wireless spectrum used by mobile devices were not capable of interfering with airplane electronics as previously suspected.  This has in turn allowed both pilots -- and potentially even passengers -- to use wireless devices like consumer tablets during takeoff and landing.

Delta Surface 2

In the wake of those developments most major airlines have replaced or are eyeing replacing their "old school" pen and paper flight logs with tablets loaded with custom flight logging apps.  Traditionally an airline had carried up to 45 pounds of paper for flight logs, charts, and manuals.  This massive accumulation of paper not only burned fuel by adding to the flight weight, but also led to occasional errors and time-consuming searches by pilots.

Surface 2

The switch from its current 38-pound paper flight bags to the more modern Surface 2 flight bags is expected to save Delta 1.2 million gallons of fuel annually, while also cutting the airline's paper consumption by 7.5 million sheets.

II. Pilots are Reportedly Disgruntled, Employee Accusations Mount

American Airlines (owned by AMR Corp. (OTC:AAMRQ)), the world's fourth largest commercial airline, adopted Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) iPads for flight-logging purposes and has been rolling out the tablets over its fleet, ever since December 2011.

The pickup of the Microsoft tablets by an even larger fleet is perhaps the biggest enterprise win for Surface yet.  Delta reportedly aims for "full deployment" by the end of 2014, which would likely mean one Surface 2 for every one of its 11,000 active pilots.

Delta is paying Microsoft around $5.5M USD for the tablets, which will retail for $449 USD on the consumer market when they launch on Oct. 22.  Reports indicate this expense should be more than worth it -- eliminating paper flight logs will save around $13M USD per year.

Surface 2

Even better for Microsoft, Delta has also been giving its 19,000 flight attendants Windows Phone by Microsoft subsidiary Nokia, which used Microsoft Dynamics to track customer in-flight purchases.  The Nokia Lumia 820 began rolling out to flight attendants in August, according to Delta.

III. Pilots Lobbied for iPad (Reportedly), Complain That Delta is "in bed with Microsoft”

The first-generation Surface has proven a major market dud, even if it did receive generally neutral-to-favorable reviews and earn some respectful nods for its slick design cues.  After taking a $900M USD charge (loss) on unsold first-generation Surface tablets, Microsoft has been dumping them off on the market at bargain-bin prices, even giving them away for free as part of its "Bing for Schools" program that's ostensibly supposed to drive search engine traffic towards Microsoft's Bing.

While Surface sales -- as a whole -- have struggled, sales of Microsoft's Windows RT have been especially bad as consumers have forsook the ARM-powered Microsoft devices due to their lack of compatibility with legacy x86 Windows software.  The new deal could provide a boost to the struggling Windows 8.1 RT platform and vindicate Microsoft's decision to cling to poor-selling ARM devices.

But given this lukewarm consumer reception, it's perhaps not surprising to see some employees speaking out against the deal.  One disgruntled Delta pilot reportedly accused Delta's administration of being "in bed with [Microsoft]", according to Apple Insider.  He said, "We fought hard for iPad."

The Apple Insider piece in a roundabout way seems to allege that Microsoft agreed to route its corporate flights through Delta as a kickback to sweeten the deal, and heavily wooed Delta's information technology department staff.

Pilots reportedly wanted an Apple iPad.

As for the specs of the Surface 2 versus its current-generation Apple competition (the fourth generation iPad), the Surface 2 looks good in most categories, except trailing slightly in screen resolution).

The Surface 2 features a lower resolution display than the current fourth generation iPad (1920x1080 vs. 2048x1536).  The devices have comparable physical storage capacity (up to 128 GB), although Microsoft's Windows recovery partition consumes several additional gigabytes cutting the usable storage space.  However, the Surface 2 features more memory (2 GB vs. 1 GB for the current iPad).  Both devices weigh approximately the same, while the Surface 2 is slightly thinner (8.9 mm vs. 9.4 mm for the iPad).  
The Surface 2 packs a faster Tegra 4 processor from NVIDIA.

Both tablets use chips that license ARM Holdings Plc's (LON:ARM) instruction set.  The Surface 2's NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) system-on-a-chip appears to enjoy a healthy lead over the Apple chip in compute-heavy applications, and a narrower lead over its competitor in graphics-bound applications.  Apple's proprietary A6X 1.4 GHz dual-core chip was blown away (499 milliseconds to finish for Tegra 4 vs. 865 ms for the iPad) by the NVIDIA Tegra 4 in early Javascript Sunspider benchmarks, a compute-heavy application, while earning a narrower win in GLBenchmark 2.5, a graphics-heavy benchmark (57 frames-per-second, versus 51 fps for the iPad 4).

Sources: Microsoft, Delta, Apple Insider

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RE: Gutsy move
By Labotomizer on 10/1/2013 5:34:47 PM , Rating: 2
It would have come down to a couple of things.

1 - Surface 2 is cheaper and has a physical keyboard that doesn't need to be charge separately.
2 - Integration with existing Microsoft environment.
3 - Less expensive to build applications for since WinRT is supposedly the easiest of the programming environments.
4 - If MS agreed to route corporate flights through Delta it offsets the cost even further for them as I'm sure MS has a rather large travel budget.

As for being gutsy? Blindly choosing what is most popular for no other reason than popularity to build your IT infrastructure is far more gutsy, and stupid, if you ask me.

Also, most Android tablets, especially the Nexus 10, are too easy to root and difficult to lock down. Plus central management.

RE: Gutsy move
By sprockkets on 10/1/2013 6:22:23 PM , Rating: 2
Also, most Android tablets, especially the Nexus 10, are too easy to root and difficult to lock down. Plus central management.

Central management can be performed by Google Apps.

Rooting a device on a lot of remote management platforms can cause a lot of red flags to be raised.

However, apple's solution is pretty good, if not the best tablet solution. Microsoft's can be good, except RT devices cannot use it!

RE: Gutsy move
By Labotomizer on 10/1/2013 8:11:22 PM , Rating: 2
Intune plugs right into SCOM and allows full management of RT. So, it does. And SCOM is better than anything that Apple or Google has to offer. So there is that.

RE: Gutsy move
By sprockkets on 10/1/2013 8:55:01 PM , Rating: 2
Sounds good but Apple's solution is also fairly comprehensive as well.

Also some posted on the Ars discussion about this that Mobile Iron also works to protect against those that root their devices.

RE: Gutsy move
By sprockkets on 10/1/2013 9:00:18 PM , Rating: 2
oh yeah, and Intune isn't free apparently. a cloud solution? NO thanks!

RE: Gutsy move
By Motoman on 10/1/2013 10:00:38 PM , Rating: 2's an airline. EVERYTHING's in the cloud.

RE: Gutsy move
By Jammrock on 10/1/2013 10:35:34 PM , Rating: 3
Surface 2 will run Windows 8.1 RT which has Workplace Join. This allows a device to live in both the personal space and the work place at the same time through a pseudo-domain join. This feature does not require InTune or any System Center application as far as I know.

Search: technet windows 8.1 rt workplace join

Workplace Join

A Windows 8 PC was either domain joined or not. If it was a member of the domain, the user could access corporate resources (if permissioned) and IT could control the PC through group policy and other mechanisms. This feature allows a middle ground between all or nothing access, allowing a user to work on the device of their choice and still have access to corporate resources With Workplace Join, IT administrators now have the ability to offer finer-grained control to corporate resources. If a user registers their device, IT can grant some access while still enforcing some governance parameters on the device.

Usual disclosure: Microsoft Employee ... lover of all technology :)

RE: Gutsy move
By opy on 10/1/2013 10:42:24 PM , Rating: 2
3 - Less expensive to build applications for since WinRT is supposedly the easiest of the programming environments.

Say this over and over again. Time from thought to deployment is crucial especially when bugs are raised.

RE: Gutsy move
By piroroadkill on 10/2/2013 10:44:07 AM , Rating: 2
Even cheap ass tablets can be managed by Meraki. I don't think you know what you mean.

RE: Gutsy move
By flybefree on 10/4/2013 12:29:02 PM , Rating: 2
The keyboard is completely useless. In the cockpit, there is nowhere to prop up the body of the tablet, and no good surface to support the keyboard to type on. Plus, there is relatively little need to type - probably on average less than 100 characters per flight.

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