I’m at TechEd this week and this IT focused show is all about Windows 8. This is kind of the war of shows this week because Apple’s developer conference is going on at the same time. As you would expect there was a bit of sniping between the two shows. Both firms are nervous, for the first time Microsoft is fighting from behind (on tablets) and the last time Apple was hit by an OS change like this (Windows 95) Apple was gutted.
Microsoft is building this out around eight key pillars, let’s go into each below:
This is the big one, like Windows 95, this is a massive UI change and people often don’t like any change let alone a massive one. In this case, the change is for this platform to embrace tablets so users don’t have to make hard choices. Those choices have to do with the current need to switch devices from laptops to tablets to desktops to get things done. The goal for this product is to eliminate this issue so that one device can do all three things. One key aspect that initially business buyers and eventually users may like is the ability to put the entire OS personalized on a large USB key and then plug that key into any PC to get your own customized and secure user experience. Finally, the live tile Windows Phone based experience is tied in so navigation is easy and updates to apps are showcased in the tiles so you don’t have to go into the app to see what is going on.
All the Apps You Want
The idea here is that you’ll have access to both legacy apps and new apps. Since we have seen the legacy apps, I’ll focus on some of the new ones unique to Windows being showcased. CW is an app from the CW network which has all things from the TV network, since that network appears to focus on targeting young women there aren’t a lot of shows on it that hit me where I live, however, given women in general have historically been under targeted by the tech market, one that does and collects key show stats and information for that demographic could be compelling to show fans. Recipe apps for drinks and food were prevalent, the benefit was to be able to rapidly find the key recipe and execute it.
While earlier versions of Windows clearly connected to the Web, this is the first version designed to be integrated with it. Xbox Music and Games, and Microsoft’s SkyDrive are integrated into the user experience. This means that the best experience with Windows 8 will be with those that have IDs with the Microsoft cloud services, the OS will run without them, but the best experiences will clearly be had by those that have signed up for these mostly free (initially) accounts.
Once you are connected things sync seamlessly between your Windows connected products including your personality. What this means is, say you have three PCs, a desktop, a laptop, and a third one you just use for vacations. They will all look the same (if they are all Windows 8) they will all have access to the same files, and your stuff will always be with you.
Get More at the Windows Store
The Windows Store mirrors and updates the experiences from the Apple and Google App stores. You probably have to see this, but finding apps and installing them is vastly simpler than it was older version of Windows. Installation times are in seconds not minutes and the new apps are touch enabled. These apps are set to a number of touchy feely kinds of requirements which include common design, speed and fluidity, scaling (from small tablet to large TV), strong sharing contracts, have good tiles, are connected and live, can roam the cloud and are consistent with Metro principles.
Overall you should see higher app consistency, far lower installation and load times, better inter-app integration and sharing, and far easier to use. For instance, the Weather App is always up and you don’t have to open to see what the weather is. Some, like mail, will wake the computer up to update themselves regularly so when you want to review your e-mail it is already updated when you take your PC out of suspend.
Re-imagined Browsing with IE10
IE10 is another big change from IE9, faster, more compatible and touch enabled, this is a big jump in the normal progression of IE versions. In short, this one aspect of Windows 8 has much more subtle changes, it looks and feels similar but it works much better.
Built for Business
TechEd is really focused on the business buyer and it is a showcase of all of Microsoft’s products. Improvements for business include security, remote management, and ease of deployment which is consistent with improvements made for earlier versions. Two things stood out that were unique. This is the first OS that was designed to be loaded from a USB key. This means you could bring in your own personal notebook to the office, insert a USB key and then reboot into the approved business version or take the USB key home and instantly have your business desktop, or if your PC fails, instantly be up on a new piece of hardware after just inserting the key. Second, is the heavily curated app model surrounding Metro apps and the ARM version of this product. Not only do these apps install and uninstall more quickly and completely they are fully curated and this curation for business apps can be taken over by the IT department based on policies.
Microsoft is attempting to create balance, more open than Apple’s store (which tends to restrict applications based on whether they compete with Apple, are political in nature, or don’t appeal to Apple sense of humor) but more controlled than Android’s store which has had a malware problem of late.
Great Experience Across All Hardware
Computex in Taiwan was awash in Windows 8 hardware from all-in-one computers, to laptops, to tablets to an increasingly impressive number of hybrids (PCs that moved between modes). There was even one all-in-one to tablet hybrid from Asus called the transformer AIO. In the end, this is likely where much of the success for this platform will have to come. People tend to get more excited about the hardware than just the OS and the proof of this will come to market in the fourth quarter.
Built on a Solid Foundation
Finally, they argue that this platform is based on Windows 7 and from a generation of Windows development. This is an IT show and IT doesn’t want new, they want tested, and the material Microsoft is presenting suggests that this platform will have been heavily tested before launch. So, while this is a new OS, it doesn’t throw out a lot of things that business buyers have grown to depend on.
At TechEd this year, Microsoft is facing not only a vastly more powerful set of competitors in Google and Apple, but buyers who have found it very difficult to change to new platforms with the iPad being big, and from Microsoft’s perspective, unfortunate exception.
Windows 8 continues to look good with negative reviews largely tied to folks that haven’t really learned this new OS. I’ve been using it for months and saw things I didn’t know existed. And there lies the risk because if folks don’t learn to use this platform properly they probably won’t like it, if they take the time they’ll likely find it to be faster and easier than the alternatives. So the big problem with Windows 8 isn’t with the product it is with us and our unwillingness to change.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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