There used to be a time when a Microsoft Windows operating system release inspired the sort of awe and excitement now reserved for the latest and greatest smartphone edition or gadget.
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?