But how much does a generation of technology users enthralled by mobile gadgets, social networks and cloud applications delivered via a Web browser (usually not Internet Explorer) really care about something like Windows 8, which will get its official debut at what is likely to be a splashy New York press conference scheduled for Oct. 25.
I was invited to the launch (which made me feel like I matter, thank you!), but I already have other plans that day that I’m not inclined to change. But that invitation inspired me to do a little more reading and thinking about what’s coming, especially because I’ve grown increasingly skeptical about how much desktop operating systems matter in the cloud era and I really didn’t care all that much about the Windows 7 release.
Disclosure, I use a Macintosh notebook computer myself, although it is nearly three years old now and, no, I haven’t upgraded to the latest Apple OS release. Because I don’t feel like it’s necessary yet.
Then, I realized that the reason Windows 8 will be a really important release for Microsoft has less to do with enabling any one “desktop” experience and more to do with helping people better manage and secure and synchronize all the information they manage across all their different computing gadgets — be they smartphones, tablet computers, notebooks, thin clients and, yes, even a good old personal computer.
To do this, Microsoft is taking a big gamble with radical changes to the Windows 8 interface that will make it look more like a tablet than like it has looked in the past.
The so-called Metro-style user interface, which includes big buttons and eliminates the familiar Windows desktop is bound to freak out many long-time Windows users — at least those who have never used any sort of smartphone, like the Apple iPhone or any of the Android-based devices. Or those who abhor tablet computer touch screens. Interface changes are a tricky, tricky thing no matter how much better they are. That alone, may convince some bigger companies to wait or simply proceed with existing plans to move forward with the aforementioned Windows 7.
That is, if they don’t care all that much about supporting mobile devices — especially those being brought into their organizations under a bring your own device (BYOD) policy.
The reason that Windows 8 will be really important for Microsoft, and for its channel, is because it “completes” the push that the company is making to better support non-traditional computing devices and to deliver its productivity and business applications via the cloud.
A new analysis by Gartner calls this a new era for Microsoft. “Windows 8 is not your normal low or even high impact major release of the OS,” said Steve Kleynhans, research vice president at Gartner. “It’s the start of a new era for Microsoft — the RT era — which follows the NT era, which began in 1993 and is just now starting to fade out. Microsoft eras seem to run about 20 years, so the technology underlying Windows 8 will last a long, long time.”
Whether or not Microsoft has got the timing right remains to be seen, but make no mistake — Windows 8 will be hugely relevant for any solution provider struggling with how to support its customers in an increasingly BYOD, mobile and cloud world. It will mean huge changes for how they support and manage infrastructure on behalf of SMBs — and it is likely to create usability headaches as people grapple with the new interface.
Then again, this is the sort of environment in which the smartest technology solution providers have always thrived. Is your organization up to the challenge?
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The first thing to understand is that Microsoft has developed these tablets entirely in house and plans to bring them to market as Microsoft hardware. These aren’t reference platforms that will be built and distributed by the usual OEMs. Therefore, it is likely that they will reach customers through the same channels as the Microsoft Mouse and LifeCam products, and with a lot of options for where to buy, customers will need a good reason to spend their dollar with you.
So, what will customers want, and how can resellers protect their best interest? Recent history tells us that executives will buy the tablets for personal and business use and expect it to integrate with their internal systems. The good news is that the Intel-based version of Surface runs the full Windows 8 operating system, with all of the standard enterprise management tools that Windows 8 brings and all the ability to run a huge range of software. Sounds perfect, right? The problem is that the expected ship date for this device is 90 days after Windows 8 ships. And it’s unlikely that the executive will wait for three months, and instead will buy the ARM model which is due out around the same time that Windows 8 ships. But the ARM tablet will run Windows RT, which will not neatly fit in with their corporate IT environment.
Windows RT is Microsoft’s plan to compete with Apple IOS and Android tablets. It uses a low power CPU to get long battery life (we hope Microsoft delivers an all-day battery life) from a thin and light tablet. In fact, the Windows RT Surface device is only 9 mm thick — about the same as the lid of my laptop, sexy right? But, it’s not that sexy when you consider that Windows RT cannot take part in Active Directory nor can it run software that hasn’t been written specifically for Windows RT.
It looks like the tool to manage a corporate fleet of Windows RT devices is Windows Intune, which is a cloud based device management product with a subscription pricing model. So, plan ahead and get your technical staff trained up on Intune ahead of demand from the IT teams who will be dealing with a bunch of Windows RT devices. Now is also the time to make sure your developers understand developing Metro applications, since Windows RT will only allow Metro applications to be installed.
The Windows RT tablet will ship with an edition of Office and a mail client that supports ActiveSync, so using it with corporate systems shouldn’t be too hard. One hopes it will also include the document viewer that is in the main Windows 8 preview, so pdf documents and images are viewable without additional software. There is likely to be a lag between the device shipping and hundreds of applications appearing in the application Market, so strong built in applications will be important.
One thing that was noticeably missing from the Surface launch was OEM partners. It looks likely that OEMs won’t be on the podium on launch day, Microsoft may be trying to hold all the parts in the way that Apple does. This play will probably only cover Windows RT since there are plenty of partners who can and have engineered x86 based tablets. I wouldn’t be very surprised to see no OEM Windows RT tablets, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see an ASUS Transformer Prime that is re-engineered and renamed to be a Windows RT device. Either way this does open up the field of tablets and we have interesting times ahead.
Alastair Cooke is a freelance trainer, consultant and blogger specializing in server and desktop virtualization. Known in Australia and New Zealand for the APAC virtualization podcast and regional community events, Cooke was awarded VMware’s vExpert status for his 2010 efforts. Follow him on Twitter @DemitasseNZ.]]>
Here are some specific details on the new customers satisfaction survey process, from a related blog I posted last Friday. I’ll be interviewing some Microsoft partners about customer satisfaction metrics after the New Year. (I know many of you are trying to close out your books, so I’ll lay low on extraneous interviews until January.)
Hang in there, everyone, only 10 days until this wretched year is behind us!]]>