The Future of Windows 8

by Dmitry Kirsanov 17. September 2012 05:00

Windows 8 logoIs Windows 8 a new Windows Vista?

During last few days the first thing that comes to my mind every morning, is this question.

The few months before and after the release of Windows 8 is the period of unique opportunity, just like it happens with other new or fundamentally changed products. The amount of efforts you put during such period of time always pays more than the same amount of effort at a later time.

This year, Microsoft is publishing a whole range of new (very) expensive fundamental products. Windows 8, Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012, Office 2013, Visual Studio 11 with Team Foundation Server 11 and more. Some of these products don’t bring any significant opportunity, as user interface is the only change that affects most of it’s users. For example – Office 2013. It’s nice, it should work better, but there’s no real reason to upgrade.

However, Windows 8 is different. As Microsoft rightfully says, it was reimagined, and the problem is – they are not lying and it’s not a buzzword (yet). The changes they made to the very principles of how applications work – not just the looks, but even the life cycle of application – make it harder for the market to swallow.

If you remember the introduction of Windows Vista, then you know that most users didn’t accept the changed Start menu and resorted to the old, “classic” look of it, sometimes for a few years. Now, when the “new” look of the start menu became a standard and a habit for everyone, Microsoft changed it even more radically – now it’s the full screen grid of tiles. The new (“Metro”) applications are now full-screen and only one application can work at a time, with others being suspended or terminated 5 seconds after they loose focus. Also, new applications may exchange data with each other, so you could fetch Facebook profiles to your application from the installed official client.

Microsoft says, that the new operating system is designed for touch, and you “get keyboard and mouse for free”. But do we?

The Fear

Microsoft is afraid, that’s for sure, that the new operating system will repeat the fate of notorious Windows Vista. That is the reason of the avalanche of new applications, sharing the same UI concept – flat monochromic design, whether or not it adds to usability. Having more than one application with the same UI paradigm should help to embrace the new concept.

Microsoft is also putting enormous efforts into promoting the migration to new operating system, by assigning it’s own consulting workforce to help software development companies (partners, of course) with their pilot projects that would only work in Windows 8. Not a hard goal to achieve, taking into account that native Metro apps will only work in Windows 8 and Server 2012 (which shares the kernel of Windows 8, of course). So, if your company is going to create a line of business application, you may have a chance to get real microserfs to work on it, at least for a couple of weeks. Moreover, in that couple of weeks they will ensure you’ll have something working, with Wow-effect big enough to sign a contract to switch all of your machines to Windows 8.

The Pros and Cons of Windows 8

When you switched to Windows 7 from Windows XP, you didn’t have to go through a long learning curve. And if you had Windows Vista, the change was barely noticeable at all (I am talking about perception, not performance). Switching to Windows 8 from any of them will require training, if you want to make sure your people are using it effectively. It’s not the case, if your employees are working with one or two line of business applications and don’t have to work with many features of the OS. In all other cases, though, you’ll have to choose whether you’ll pay once for training or always for lost effectiveness.

Observing people new to Windows 8 (and almost all people fall into that category these days), I noticed that most people don’t have the power to reimagine the way the system could work. They are trying to use old tricks and habits instead of finding and developing new ones. So at first glance, Windows 8 experience might be even less pleasant than trying Windows Vista.

However, it depends from the hardware. You will notice one thing – when you’ll be introduced to Windows 8 by someone who is willing to profit on it, it will be presented using the best touch-screen device available. Either Samsung Slate (which is heavy cr*p, comparing to iPad, but you can navigate the Metro with it) or some touch-screen LED monitor. Some new devices will be introduced in October 2012, so don’t rush for $1500 Slate now.

The same is when you’ll need to introduce your customers to Windows 8 – it is highly advised by Microsoft to use the latest and greatest hardware for presentations.

And here we come to the first real problem of Windows 8, which is not a defect, but just a consequence of all the changes is the operating system. As they reimagined the OS, you’ll have to reimagine the way you work with it. If your application will have touch elements, how easy it will be to switch to the keyboard? Will you still have to use the mouse, or will resort to using metro apps only? Look at the ergonomics of your particular environment and see whether you want to give Microsoft time to reimagine things further, to embrace them in Windows 9. Well, the point is – the upgrading process is not an easy ride this time, and you’ll have to work to make it happen.

However, when you’ll start counting money you are about to gain or loose on implementing Windows 8, consider the following:

  • New applications are suspended or terminated when inactive. Old applications are not affected. However, the suspended applications will not consume any CPU or hard drive, making them more energy efficient. And energy means money. I guess.
  • We don’t know what is the expected life time of touch-screen devices. As you remember, the SSD drives were proclaimed invincible, until it turned out they are becoming slower with time and some implementations, like Kingston 64Gb, have implementation problems. The problem of early adoption of new technology may cost you more than you would gain. Besides, people tend to not give up their keyboard and mouse even if they have touch-screen, even if we are talking about the tablet. So create the small adoption group and see how it goes, before deploying solution company-wide.

Training

Train your system administrators first. Windows Server 2012 has more changes that Windows Server 2008 had comparing to Windows Server 2003. Having previous experience always helps, but it doesn’t substitute the learning of new tricks. Not this time.

The same goes for developers – learning the WinRT and developing applications for Windows 8 might take the same amount of effort as learning the .NET from scratch. Consider your developer to spend at least 15 days in intensive training before assigning any Windows 8 related task to him. Or take the responsibility for defects and slow performance.

End users might need some training as well, if they are working with more than one line of business application. For example, your tech support personnel, office workers, accountants and similar specialists will benefit from training, delivered by either someone from your staff or the training company. I suppose this factor alone may boost the training business, and that means more hype about Windows 8 than ever before. And more holy wars, of course.

Corporate

It appears, that Microsoft considers the corporate features, such as joining the domain, to be the key reasons to adopt Windows 8. For example, the reason why Windows 8 powered tablet is better than iPad is because you can join it do the domain (unless you have ARM processor, of course, in which case you can’t join Windows 8 to the domain) and control the contents of the mobile device. For example, system administrator may delete all information on mobile device using Microsoft System Center or even Lync.

This, at least how some specialists see it, could solve the BYOD (or Bring Your Own Device) problem – when employees are bringing their own devices and use them to connect to the corporate resources. E-mail, intranet pages, documents – corporations would love to take control over it. However, unlike Microsoft itself, most companies do not supply hardware, like phones, tablets and notebooks, to their employees, and that gives people a choice. Which, as you know, is usually given to either Apple or Android.

So, personally I don’t believe that Microsoft could solve the BYOD problem or even give the sufficient solution. Definitely not with Windows 8.

Windows Phone

All Microsoft employees are using Windows Phone devices. It’s not because they love how it works, but because otherwise they couldn’t be so sure about their career. Seriously, what would you expect from your boss, if you openly use the rival product? As the result, we hear a lot of BS about Android and iPhone from Microsoft employees, but it’s not because they are evil. They simply have no idea.

For example, a Microsoft employee told me, that Android phones are insecure, because you can install applications from outside the Market. He was very surprised to learn that by default you can’t. Actually, seems like that’s all they know about the competitors – a bunch of myths. And it doesn’t help to promote their own system.

Currently, by my observation, any IT company is ruled by Android devices (namely Samsung and HTC) among specialists, iPhones among management and wannabees, and one or two Windows Phone devices among self-proclaimed Microsoft guru.

Anyway, I don’t expect companies to restrict using of phones to Windows Mobile devices just because they are more manageable. In fact, I don’t think anyone would bother to manage mobile phones even if all of them would belong to the company and have Windows Phone installed – usually, if you have a specialist in either SCCM  or Lync, you are not going to waste his time on this. But what do I know.

Applications

Another thing that doesn’t add to the popularity of either Windows Phone (comparing to Android or iPhone) or Windows 8 (comparing to Windows 7) – is the lack of specific applications. Sure, anything that you can run on Windows 7 you can run on Windows 8 – that’s an official guarantee by Microsoft. But it’s only metro applications that you couldn’t run on Windows 7. So, instead of upgrading to Windows 8 now, you could just avoid having metro apps in your inventory.

Some corporations have just completed the transition from Windows XP to Windows 7. So Windows 7 is quite new for them and is an asset that didn’t return it’s investment yet. So we will have really large companies not switching to Windows 8 no matter how irresistible it would be. I mean – even more irresistible than it is now. And this means – there will be no top applications that would switch to metro-only, but completely new “line of business” application could happen to be developed that way. There could be perfectly valid reasons to develop new software for metro, except for money.

Applications assortment is a good reason to switch to another version or even another operating system, but so far there are no advancements towards Metro.

Resume

In my opinion, it’s time to begin (unless you’ve started it right after the Developer Edition of Windows 8 was released) to learn the new operating system and it’s user interface, formerly known as Metro, but whether or not you’ll get a chance to successfully adopt the new technologies until the release of Windows 9, is still a big question.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Month List