November 02, 2012, 9:01 PM — I've been using the Surface RT tablet for a week now, and so far I have found a lot to like about it. In many ways, it is a more functional mobile productivity device out of the box than the iPad or other tablets. However, it has a distinct Achilles heel that will render it useless for many: VPN.
The Surface RT has a solid, comfortable feel. The kickstand, combined with a touch or type case turn the tablet essentially into an ultrabook of sorts. There's definitely something to be said for having a mobile device that provides an experience consistent with Windows 8 on a desktop, and that comes with the familiar Office apps built in.
Microsoft has woven access to cloud-based file storage into Windows 8 and Windows RT using its own SkyDrive service, and Box has taken the initiative to develop its own Windows RT app. Access to cloud data makes it easy to transition from desktop to mobile device without losing productivity. I can start a document at my desk, and pick up where I left off to finish the job while I'm on the go.
Once you reach the point where the document, spreadsheet, presentation, or other file is complete, and you need to connect to a company network to upload or share it, though, things get sticky. For me, the fatal flaw of the Surface RT--or Windows RT as a mobile platform--is that it can't connect to the VPN network.
Windows RT does have basic VPN capabilities built-in. You can go into the Network and Internet settings of the Control Panel app in Desktop mode and add a VPN connection. Once you create the connection, it appears in the list of networks to connect to if you swipe from the right to open the Charms bar and tap the network settings. The built-in VPN functionality seems limited, though, and is incapable of connecting with the popular Cisco AnyConnect VPN technology.
A Microsoft spokesperson explained that it's up to Cisco to develop the necessary AnyConnect app for Windows RT. Cisco claims that the Windows 8 SDK does not make APIs available that it requires to do so, though. It's unclear whether Cisco can, in fact, develop a Windows RT app for AnyConnect, or what the timeline might be if it does so.
The Office apps on the Surface RT are of little use if the resulting files can't be transferred to where they need to be. Cisco has developed AnyConnect apps for iOS and Android, so the iPad and Android tablets have an advantage over the Surface RT when it comes to connecting to a Cisco AnyConnect VPN.