Despite some early stumbles, Microsoft's decision to enter the PC hardware market appears to be paying off.
The Redmond, Wash. technology giant trails just behind Apple in the business PC laptop and desktop market, according to a Spiceworks survey of nearly 1,000 IT professionals in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Three of percent of organizations use Microsoft-branded PC compared to the four percent that use Apple Macs.
"Since jumping into the hardware market with its Surface line, Microsoft has had success making inroads into the tablet and 2-in-1 market," Peter Tsai, senior technology analyst at Spiceworks, told eWEEK. "Many IT pros praised the hardware's sleek design, powerful specs in a highly-portable package, and ability to run Windows, which allows employees to be productive while giving IT departments management flexibility."
The Surface Pro, for example, offers corporate IT buyers a blend of premium packaging and powerful processors. Add long-lasting battery life to the equation and business travelers can legitimately get work done on a cross-country or trans-Atlantic flight.
For Microsoft's hardware ambitions, it also helps that the company is branching out beyond the 2-in-1 form factor. "In the last couple of years, Microsoft has expanded its Surface lineup to include sleek and powerful laptops and all-in-one desktops, providing more options for IT departments that liked Surface tablets and 2-in-1s, but didn't think they were a good fit for all users," Tsai noted.
In 2015, the company unveiled its first-ever laptop, the Surface Book. Challenging Apple's MacBook Pro, the device features a detachable, touch- and stylus-enabled tablet with a graphical power boost provided by an optional discrete GPU (graphical processing unit) subsystem from Nvidia.
To court creative professionals, Microsoft last year launched the high-end Surface Studio all-in-one PC with a high-resolution 28-inch display that folds down to provide users with a drafting table-like experience when they put their Surface Pen stylus to the screen. This spring, in an education-themed media event in New York City, the company took the wraps off the Surface Laptop.
For technology executives who are well served by Microsoft's software and cloud services offerings, entrusting their PC hardware needs to the company isn't much of a stretch. "And with the success of Windows 10 and Microsoft Azure, perhaps more IT departments are now willing to give Microsoft hardware a try," concluded Tsai.
Microsoft is well positioned to capitalize on the momentum, for the near future at least. Over the next 12 months, 15 percent of organizations plan to increase their investments in Microsoft Surface PCs compared to 8 percent for Apple laptops and PCs.
Of course, Microsoft has quite a lot of ground to cover before it can catch up to market leaders Dell and Hewlett Packard (HP).
Dell currently commands nearly half (47 percent) of the business PC market, according to the Spiceworks study. HP ranks second with 21 percent and Lenovo comes in third with 14 percent followed by Apple. Over the next 12 months, organizations plan to increase their spending on Dell and HP PCs by 25 percent and 17 percent, respectively.