I had to chuckle this afternoon when I read Ed Bott’s latest Operating Systems piece. It’s entitled “How to skip Windows 8 and continue using Windows 7.” In it he makes the very essential observation that MS doesn’t retire its old OSes as soon as new ones come out. He also tells an amusing story about his experiences in a Kentucky coffee shop to make this point: “If you don’t want to upgrade, just don’t upgrade.” Then he points out that the end-of-support-date for Windows 7 SP1 is January 14, 2020 (that’s 7 years and 5 months from now). He also observes that retailers will be able to sell a boxed version of Windows 7 until October 25, 2013 (or longer) and that OEMs can sell systems with Windows 7 pre-installed until a year after that (October 25, 2014, and also perhaps longer). And finally, he points out that Windows licenses usually confer downgrade rights, so that you are within your rights to replace Windows 8 Pro with a copy of Windows 7 Professional, should you so choose. Bottom line: Windows 7 isn’t going to disappear when Windows 8 ships, and plenty of buyers will happily continue to buy and use systems with the older OS installed.
I’m still waiting to understand more good reasons to upgrade to Windows 8, and continue to believe that “later, rather than sooner” will be the timing for many business users who don’t have compelling needs to put tablets or other touch devices into their employees’ hands. By the same token, I’ll be very curious to see if a new generation of touch-enabled mobile devices springs up to replace the durable Psion and other touch- and pen-based devices that some meter-readers, the UPS guy, and countless other mobile workers carry with them on their daily rounds of data acquisition, service or package delivery, and so forth and so on. Maybe the embedded systems buyers will actually lead the charge to the new OS, simply because it speaks to value propositions that they already know and love?
On the other hand, I’ve found many things about Windows 8 to be worth an upgrade — at least as far as I’m concerned:
1. I’ve been using touch long enough now that it’s starting to feel natural and unforced. In fact, I find myself reaching out to touch screens now that lack touch capability, just because I’m used to interacting with my systems in that way.
2. I’ve also learned to appreciate Windows 8’s improved Task Manager and its nice touches to the Windows Explorer interface (especially more and better data about ongoing file copies, the Quick Access Toolbar, better right-click menus, and context-sensitive tool tabs).
3. The ability to synch my notebook and desktop using the login to the same Windows Live ID is great — as long as you set files up so that they’re easy to share across platforms. I expect this will become a widely-used feature for users who bounce between or among multiple Windows platforms. So far, I don’t see it reaching far enough to create a clamor for Windows 8 smartphones, but I could always be wrong (or somebody will write a killer app that brings Android and iOS devices under this umbrella).
4. A sleeker, speedier Windows: Faster boot-up and shutdown, faster app loading and execution, manageable memory footprint, incredibly SSD-friendly. There’s probably more to say here, but I haven’t found or learned it yet. I can’t wait until Mark Russinovich and his colleagues get around to another update to their Windows Internals book, so I can improve my understanding of the inner workings of this new OS (but alas, it probably won’t be out for at least another 18 months, if history is any guide).
I think for a lot of consumer- and enthusiast-grade users, these factors and more will propel a certain level of Windows 8 adoption when it hits the streets in October 2012. Whether that’s enough to justify Microsoft’s hopes and analysts expectations’ that Windows 8 sales will help Microsoft’s earnings trend upward is still an uncertain guess, as far as I’m concerned. All I can say on this subject is “We’ll see…”
MS hasn’t yet made any announcements, but the rumors are flying thick and fast right now that RTM is “in its final hours of compiling and completing Windows 8.” Winbeta.org goes on to speculate that official ISOs may appear sometime between July 30 (next Monday) and August 6 (the following Monday), with custom images on their way to OEMs possibly as early as this weekend. That means leaks could show up very soon on BitTorrent and other unofficial download channels, with more official (and safe and reliable) ISOs to follow in early August. Another rumor source — Windows8Beta.com — confirms that a new build (8523) is currently in the making, but indicates that the RTM to OEMs is still about a week away, and is confirmed by WinUnleaked.info which closely tracks Windows 8 builds and their contents.
I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in and what’s out of the RTM version, and hope to get a chance to install a copy before mid-August. In particular, I’m expecting to see the Windows Sidebar and Gadgets gone, gone, gone. I’m also wondering if various tips and tweaks will still remain to restore glass effects to the desktop, or if MS will lock things down to make them opaque and tile-oriented as for the Metro style UI. I’m probably most curious to see what apps will make it into the final release, and what kinds of tricks MS and partners will have up their sleeves — and in the Store — for users to (buy and) download for the Metro side of the OS.
One a more mundane note, I’m very curious to learn how the big notebook makers — particularly Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, Asus, Samsung, Sony, and MSI, among others — will proactively work to provide drivers and update/management tools to permit owners of existing Windows 7 systems to upgrade to Windows 8 should they wish to do so. I have observed in my testing of notebook and desktop systems since last February that, by and large, interoperability of Windows 7 drivers with Windows 8 is pretty good, probably approaching a 90% on this metric: “If it works for Windows 7, it will also work for Windows 8.” But the same is NOT true for vendor-supplied update, backup, system analysis, and other management tools. Thus, for example, while I can get some parts of the Lenovo ThinkPad Advantage toolbox to run on my Windows 8 X220 Tablet, I can’t use the modules for Rescue and Recovery (backup functions), Update (scan the machine and download newer drivers where available), and so forth to work on that machine. Same thing holds true for HP Advisor and HP Help and Support on my Pavilion dv6t.
Clearly, the OEMs will have a lot of work to do to get new machines ready for Windows 8. But, like many people who already own Windows 8-capable notebook or desktop PCs, I’m equally concerned to see how much and what kind of work they will do to ease the transition from Windows 7 to Windows 8 on machines already out there in the marketplace. Obviously, with sufficient perseverance and effort, I’ve been able to figure things out on my own. But it’s always nice to have a good backup from your vendor, and I just can’t help wondering what the fate of my half-dozen notebooks will be, if I try to bring more of them into the Windows 8 world. As the proud owner of an HP Dragon (HDX9203KW) — an expensive and powerful desktop replacement luggable PC that HP never updated from Vista to Windows 7 — I’m hoping that OEMs will decide to smooth the transition, rather than abandoning their installed bases and concentrating only on new equipment.
October 26 is just over three months away as I write this blog, and that’s when Windows 8 will become available to the general public — and to enterprises, corporations, government arms and agencies, and other big buyers of desktop tools and technologies. The question is: Will enterprises jump on Windows 8 with any enthusiasm or alacrity?
As always when a new Windows version hits, I have to submit that as far as big institutional users of any stripe are concerned the initial attitude will be “Wait and see.” In many instances, conventional wisdom has dictated that the wait be no less than the interval up to and something past the release of a first service pack for a new Windows OS (usually about a year or so in the making). If the first service pack is a real doozy, or serious problems surface in its wake, many will wait for the NEXT service pack to see if it fares any better. Thus, for example, Windows XP uptake in the business sector didn’t really get going until 2-3 years after it was released, and it’s just this year (almost three years after its release date in October, 2009) that Windows 7 finally resides on about half of all enterprise desktops. Needless to say, Windows Vista never came close to hitting such a mark!
That’s why my blog is entited “How Long Will Enterprises Wait on Windows 8?” where a true, but comical answer is “Until Windows 9 comes along.” In his recent blog on “Microsoft’s Windows 8 enterprise prospects…” Larry Dignan opines that “A Windows 7 to Windows 10 scenario six years from now isn’t out of the question.” Given a three-year development cycle for major Windows versions following Windows 7 and Windows 8 on that kind of schedule, and increasingly long lifecycles for corporate PCs thanks to a chronically dismal “slow growth” economic outlook, I can’t disagree with him, not even one little bit.
My best guess is that some small percentage of enterprises — probably less than 20% if Windows 7 patterns hold true — will adopt Windows 8 in the next 2-3 years (and I mean they’ll start deploying no sooner than two years from GA in October 2012). Perhaps another 10-15% might get on the bandwagon by the time Windows 9 comes along. But my gut feel is that Windows 8 is regarded as sufficiently controversial and in such real need of expensive new touch hardware that many enterprises will elect to wait and see long enough so that they can do likewise for Windows 9 when it comes along in another 39 months or so. Then, I’ll have a whole new calculus to consider: stay tuned, but please: don’t hold your breath!
Listening to NPR this morning, I heard the news that the company is reporting its first-ever quarterly loss in 26 years in business. The loss of six cents per share stems from MS’s decision to write off $6.2 B from its unhappy acquisition of online advertising service aQuantive, which failed to deliver income, or make inroads against Google’s enormously successful AdWords. According to this Associated Press story, ad revenues account for only four percent of Microsoft’s overall revenue, and most of its sales still come from the Office Suite, and Windows desktop and server operating systems. Without the write-down, earnings per share were $0.73, four cents per share higher than the same quarter in 2011. This would have beat analysts’ expectations of $0.62 per share by a pretty hefty $0.11 (about 15 percent, in fact).
What really caught my interest was the offhand remark near the end of the story that MS executives expect similar or better results for the next quarter, owing at least in part to an uptick in revenues expected following the general availability (GA) date for Windows 8 on October 26, 2012 with Windows Server 2012 to follow sometime shortly thereafter (there isn’t much of 2012 left once October comes and goes). I’m interested and a little baffled to learn that MS is expecting the Windows 8 release to help with revenues and earnings, given that the company won’t forecast sales for its new Surface tablet, and that customer reaction to Windows 8 has been mixed at best, and tepid or worse from business users.
I guess there’s a lot hanging on the upcoming OS releases: more than I had thought and perhaps more than MS has a right to expect. Recent coverage of MS sales and business activity has regularly cited that buyers are holding off PC purchases in anticipation of Windows 8, so presumably this means a bump in sales is forecast once new PCs with Windows 8 pre-installed become available upon GA release of the product. My personal best guess is that some brave souls will be hardy enough to buy Windows 8 PCs, but that a great many — especially business buyers — will continue to order units with the popular, stable, and well-understood Windows 7 pre-installed instead.
At any rate, we don’t have too long to wait to find out which set of expectations will be met, and which ones dashed. GA date (10/26/2012) is only 14 weeks away as I write this blog. That’s just 90 days out from today. Stay tuned for more news and musings on the upcoming Windows 8 release right here.
OK, so now it’s official. Tons of sources (see this Google search) confirm the General Availability (GA) date for Windows 8 as October 26, 2012, thanks to remarks from the company’s annual sales meeting according to a Brandon LeBlanc post to Blogging Windows yesterday (“Windows 8 will be available on…“). Now that we know, what does this mean?
1. It means that the OEM Release to Manufacturing (RTM) date is probably still some time this week or next.
2. It means that, to all intents and purposes, whatever we see for RTM and early customer release (to enterprise customers, and then through TechNet and MSDN, all of which usually occur before GA) is the final, final, final version for Windows 8.
3. It means that MS stole a few days back for pre-holiday Windows 8 PC and OS sales (I’d started to think they’d hold it until Monday, 10/29/2012, or Tuesday, 10/30/2012, so they could keep it in October but give themselves as much time as possible).
My best guess is that we’ll see RTM some time next week, if it doesn’t drop tomorrow, and that copies will start filtering out to the bold and unabashed shortly thereafter. I’m going to wait until the MSDN release hits, unless MS offers me “early access” to the official bits. I did the BitTorrent thing for Windows 7, and personally experienced (without ill effect, thank goodness) the pervasive presence of malware in such packages before the official bits become available. “No thanks!” says I.
I’m also convinced that Windows Gadgets will be gone, gone, gone when the RTM/GA bits become available. I blogged about this on Monday, but Woody Leonhard has since written a very good piece on this subject for the latest Windows Secrets newsletter. It’s entitled “Kill those Vista and Win7 gadgets now!” and is definitely worth a read.
Last week, I blogged on my site to report that a pair of security researchers plan to unveil majority security flaws in the Windows Sidebar and Gadgets interface at the upcoming Black Hat convention, DEFCON, to be held in Las Vegas from July 21-26 at Caesars Palace (see Goodbye Gadgets, Goodbye to read the original). It seems that there are major security holes that can be exploited to create malicious gadgets quite easily. It’s even possible that existing gadgets can be subverted to confer the same rights and privileges to an attacker as enjoyed by the current logged-in user. And because so many users log in with admin privileges, that means the doors fly wide open for savvy attackers to do whatever they like on systems where gadgets grant them a foothold.
Some of my favorite gadgets I still keep running on Windows 7.
In the wake of this disclosure, Microsoft has indicated it will NOT include support for gadgets in the upcoming RTM and GA versions of Windows 8. It has also issues a security advisory — Vulnerabilities in Gadgets could allow remote code execution — that permits users to turn off the sidebar and gadgets in both Windows Vista and Windows 7 as well. This advisory includes two Microsoft FixIt tools named 50906 and 50907. Because MS doesn’t tell you what they do, I’ll add that 50906 turns the Sidebar and gadgets off, while 50907 turns them back on. In my blog, I opined that as long as users take all gadgets off their desktops, I’m not sure it’s absolutely necessary to disable gadget support and the sidebar entirely. In my case on Windows 7, given my own pretty good local security regime, I’m not worried too much about leaving my favorite gadgets up and running on my Windows 7 machines inside my double firewalled network (boundary firewall, plus individual firewalls on all client machines). Nevertheless, I’ll be keeping an eye out on the results of the DEFCON demo and presentation to see if my current lack of fear and trepidation remains justified once I better understand the nature of the threat(s) and vulnerabilities involved.
In the meantime, you might also find it interesting to read the chatter on this subject on the Windows EightForums, in a thread entitled “Microsoft urges death of Windows gadgets as researchers plan disclosur[e]…” You’ll find many of my thoughts and musings echoed and amplified there, and some occasionally hilarious conspiracy theories about what Microsoft is doing, how and why Win8 sucks, and various factors no doubt contributing to the end of civilization as we know it. But interesting to read nevertheless.
For myself, I’m waiting to learn more when the DEFCON disclosures are made. Should be interesting to understand how dire the security issues might be, and to ponder the question of why MS wishes to kills the sidebar and gadgets rather than to correct and repair their security deficiencies.
This title block from Blogging Windows says it all:
The blog in question is from the Communications Leader for the Windows 8 team, and the spokesperson for the group’s blogging activities, Brandon LeBlanc. He says “If your PC is running Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 you will qualify to download an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for just $39.99 in 131 markets” (that means 131 different countries, and in 37 languages, too). Better yet, this offer also includes the ability to “add Windows Media Center for free through the ‘add features’ option within Windows 8 Pro after your upgrade.” A packaged version of the upgrade on DVD will also be available while this promotion remains ongoing (from the GA date through January 31, 2013) for $70, and buyers who want an install DVD can buy one for $15 direct from MS.
But wait, there’s more: according to the answers.microsoft.com forums on July 6, 2012, the answer to the question “Are Windows 8 Release Preview users eligible for the $40 upgrade to Windows 8 Pro promotion?” is “Yes,” as long as they own an underlying license for XP, Vista, or Windows 7 for the machine running Windows 8 RP. That said, you won’t be able to migrate apps and will generally do a mostly clean reinstall, as with other earlier transitions from Developer Preview to Customer Preview to Release Preview. Still a pretty good deal, though — at least for those brave enough to move to the GA release of Windows 8 when it finally arrives.
Apparently, there’s been a worldwide conference for Microsoft partners in Toronto recently, because ZDNet Windows maven Mary Jo Foley reported on July 9, that “Windows 8 is on track to be released to manufacturing the first week of August, and to be generally available by late October 2012.” That means that all the planets should be in alignment some time just before Halloween (I’m guessing maybe Monday, October 29, or Tuesday, October 30) for the latest and greatest version of Windows to be on its way out to the world, in download, media, and pre-installed form on vendor PCs, notebooks, and tablets.
At the same Toronto event, MS Corporate VP of Windows Tami Reller (the same source for the GA date for Windows 8) also announced that Microsoft has now sold over 630 million Windows licenses so far (not clear if that ends with the end of June, or includes the first week of July). Windows 7 shipped October 22, 2009, so by my reckoning, 45 months have elapsed since then (not counting July, but counting October as a full month, so it’s a wash). That works out to exactly 14 million copies of Windows 7 for every month over that entire interval. That’s a pretty staggering number, when you stop to think about the magnitude of copies, dollars, and deployment effort this all means. In his story on these numbers, Paul Thurrott also reported that “The current Windows version  is installed on over half of all enterprise desktops, Microsoft says.”
What with Windows 8 getting ready to hit, and business users only halfway through Windows 7 migration (most from XP rather than the universally reviled Vista OS), methinks this argues very strongly for at least 3 years before Windows 8 starts making its way into enterprise operations in any numbers — if early user experience doesn’t nix the deal, and lead to a “second Vista” phenomenon. I’m going to be watching closely for news of corporate adoptions, and talking to OEMs about what they’re installing on big corporate orders after the GA data comes and goes, and makes Windows 8 at least a possible contender for business use.
My best guess is that “wait and see” will be the order of the day for some time to come, and that even traditional pioneers such as various branches of the military, Expedia, Continental Airlines, and BMW (all of whom jumped all over Windows 7 within 6-12 months of GA in very big ways) may hang back a bit longer than usual to see what gives with Windows 8. At the same time, they can gauge the enthusiast and SOHO response to the new OS, and learn from the experiences reported by those other, more tolerant network segments. But I’m guessing that for Windows 8, the uptake cycle will be more delayed than usual, in part because of Windows 7’s excellent stability and good overall reputation, and in part because of fear and loathing inspired by Windows 8’s touch-centric Metro GUI, a perceived higher-than-normal learning curve for users, and the unknowns always inherent in adopting a new but pervasive business platform.
Regular ComputerWorld Windows Guy and market observer Preston Gralla got me thinking this morning with his article entitled “Early warning signs point to a Windows 8 apathetic launch.” He makes some very interesting observations based on recent reports from Net Applications about the differences between Windows 7 and 8 uptake during their respective beta test periods. Seems that “at the same stage of development, Windows 7 had four times the market share of Windows 8” he notes, observing that only 0.2% of Windows PCs tallied by Net Applications were using Windows 8 about 4 months before GA release (June, 2012), as compared to 0.8% of PCs using Windows 7 in June, 2009 ahead of its GA date of October 22, 2009.
But that’s not what makes his article so interesting. He opines that with Windows 8 targeting tablet use as a primary goal of its UI design and operation, consumers aren’t as likely to buy into the new OS as they are likely to buy an iPad or some kind of Android tablet. This makes an awful lot of sense to me, and may indeed be a reasonable interpretation for the relative differences between Windows 7 and Windows 8 beta uptake. He also observes, quite rightly, that the sublime awfulness of Vista made Windows users a lot more interesting in some alternative, or any alternative to that OS, whereas users’ primarily positive attitudes toward Windows 7 also help to diminish interest in Windows 8.
I’d add a few more factors to this mix as well. When Windows 7 came out, businesses were facing the end of the life-cycle for their aging fleets of Windows XP desktops and notebooks, and were able to start migrating (a phenomenon that’s still underway, and by no means finished) to Windows 7 with more relief than trepidation. Recent reductions in the costs for RAM and processors (even with the spike in hard disk prices prompted by the floods in Thailand last year) have made buying new machines a powerful value proposition in the last two years as well, which has perforce meant many machines shipped out with Windows 7 pre-installed. Business users recognize that adopting Windows 8 means adopting the Metro UI and training users to be productive in a thoroughly recast Windows environment, so they’re hanging back from the upcoming OS as well.
It’s going to be a long, slow road to Windows 8 adoption. And the jury’s still out as to whether or not Windows 8 will be a blip like Vista or a home-run like Windows XP and 7. It will be interesting to watch and wait, to see how the market reacts when they must choose between a PC or a tablet with Windows 8 pre-installed. I’m guessing many, many buyers will opt for conventional desktop and notebook PCs with Windows 7 instead, for some time to come.
Like many of my professional colleagues who research and write about Windows, I’m an MSDN subscriber. Thanks to some great gigs in the past three years I’ve actually upped my ante to around $1,600 a year for the MSDN Premium-level subscription so as to gain access to developer tools as well as MS Office, and the usual collection of desktop and server operating systems. Late last week, Ed Bott served notice through a blog post entitled “To fight piracy, Microsoft tightens MSDN and TechNet terms again,” where he lays out the following changes to these programs that are bound to have a chilling effect on subscriptions for folks like himself and me:
- Fewer license keys: For MSDN subscribers, the number of product keys for client software (including Windows OSes) and MS Office drop from 10 to 5 for current versions, 3 for older versions. TechNet subscribers still get 3 keys per version.
- Fewer keys per day: For both MSDN and TechNet subscribers the total number of keys one can claim daily drops from over 50 to 10. This is intended to curb pirates who have been milking subscriptions to sell illegal OS and application copies as quickly as possible.
- Fewer products: Today, subscribers can grab any version of MS Office plus standalone programs in the Office suite (that is, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and so forth). Under the new regime, only full suites will be available, and older versions of software gone (no more Office 97 or Windows 98, for example).
- No more perpetual software rights: TechNet users lose perpetual license rights to software they download. Today’s subscribers can continue to use software even after an active TechNet subscription lapses. Under the new regime, when the subscription goes, so do the rights to use the software obtained while that subscription was still in effect.
There are some mitigating circumstances, however, that should ease potential pain to legitimate subscribers to these programs. Any valid product key can be activated multiple times, so three to five keys actually cover dozens of installations. Legitimate subscribers can also ask for additional keys, and MS indicates it should be able to honor such requests in three business days. Should make life more interesting for TechNet subscribers, and more miserable for would be pirates. Arrrrrrrrr!