Ethernet Is Done. It’s Time To Get Serious About Wireless.

Did you happen to see the PR on the Microsoft Surface Pro 3?

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Evidently, there is a killer among us. A laptop killer. Laptops have Ethernet ports. If Microsoft’s new $800 assassin kills the laptop, it also kills the laptop’s Ethernet port. Goodbye, Ethernet, we hardly knew ye. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.

As I look around at the many computing devices I have in my immediate vicinity, I see other models that have already started chipping away at the TRADITIONAL laptop’s tenure, like these:

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For the record, that’s an iPad, a Chromebook, a Nexus 7, and a MacBook Air. Nary a one of them has an Ethernet port…

This is where some of you are thinking “Lee, you’re daft. Microsoft is touting the Surface Pro 3 as a laptop killer, not an Ethernet killer”. And though you’re right on that point, there is a nuance here that should be appreciated. 

There’s a certain significance to Microsoft trying to “kill” laptops with it’s new tablet (of course, you need to buy the add-on keyboard if you want to actually put bullets in the gun that will do the killing, in this case). Why? Well, because for the last several computing millennia, Microsoft has gotten fat off of it’s operating systems running on… wait for it…laptops! With the messaging that accompanies the Surface 3, MS is saying “we now commit our client access future to the tablet.” And tablets don’t have Ethernet adapters.

Right now, the client access world (forget about game consoles and the whole IoT malarkey for now, we’re talking “people clients” here) features:

  • Smartphones
  • Tablets
  • Laptops
  • Desktops
  • Thin clients

And not much else. Though desktops and thin clients typically are connected via Ethernet, they certainly don’t have to be as there are a range of wireless adapter options in this space. And if Microsoft fulfills its (rather silly) prophecy of making laptops extinct, the list of devices that come with stock Ethernet capabilities shrinks even further. To me, when I add a keyboard to a Surface 3, it just became a laptop again. But now it’s like the Chromebook and MacBook Air; a laptop with no Ethernet.

None of this rises to the level of epiphany, I realize. At the same time, Microsoft’s message that it’s willing to contribute to the erosion of Ethernet by killing off a class of device that ships with Ethernet adapters in favor of another class that doesn’t is worth holding up to the light and contemplating. For many of us, Ethernet switches have already become glorified VLAN-capable power blocks for our wireless access points. And I personally can’t recall the last time I’ve plugged a laptop into the wall to get on the network.

History will show that The Age of Mobility and The Age of Ethernet For Access absolutely had to have had overlap as technology evolves. But it’s interesting that Microsoft is beating a drum pretty loudly that leads further away from the wire and deeper into wireless.

Whether the Surface Pro 3 sells well or not is almost irrelevant, in my mind. It’s the message that comes with it that means our WLAN environments just got that much more important to network users. This should resonate with network designers, helpdesks, and bean counters alike. 

Interesting times…

 

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