Microsoft recently released the Release Preview of Windows 8 on their way to a final release later in the year. This new reimagining of Windows is the most radical change to Windows in a long time. There has been a lot of talk about the new design, some good and some bad. I recently delivered session at Windows Dev Camps and I have attended many local sessions on Windows 8. The biggest complaint I heard was that Windows 8 is not enterprise ready. In this post I am going to show how I believe Windows 8 is enterprise ready.
Where is my Start Button?
The first thing that users noticed is the Metro design. Once you are logged in you are taken to the new start screen. This screen displays a list of tiles that seem to be alive with data. This provides the user with potentially important information at a glance, without launching any applications. The usefulness of the information is up to the developer as they control the content of their tiles. This new start screen puts the user in control by allowing the user to select which applications get pinned to the screen. The start screen experience has been optimized for touch but can easily be used with a keyboard and mouse. In fact all you have to do is just start typing.
Another complaint I hear is why can’t I boot to the desktop? At the time of GA most applications will be Win32 especially enterprise applications. Most users will be spending a majority of their time working with desktop applications. It should be a reasonable request to launch into the desktop mode. My guess is that Microsoft is trying to emphasize the Metro environment and want users to get used to working from the start screen. As of this post Microsoft has said that they no intension of enabling any settings to allow user to boot to the desktop. Though a minor inconvenience (having to click the desktop tile), it should not be a barrier to migration.
On the subject of the desktop, another complaint I hear is that the start button has been removed. I can’t believe how attached people have come to that button. It was surprising to me. I personally haven’t relied on the onscreen start button in years. I always use the keyboard start button, which still works by the way. In fact most of the keyboard shortcuts that you are used to in Windows today, work in Windows 8. Here is a good list of new Windows 8 shortcuts that you will want to learn. There have been hacks that have re-enabled start button and the classic start menu. Microsoft has said that they will be removing this capability in a future release of Windows 8, so users should not rely on it being there in the future. But the muscle memory should remain. If the user moves the mouse to where the start button should be they will get a thumbnail of the start screen. All they have to do then is click.
Metro Applications are not Enterprise Applications.
There have also been complaints that Metro applications are not enterprise applications. How can you say that when no enterprise applications have been written? It is true that on day one when Windows 8 releases, there will be very few enterprise applications available. It is up to us developers to come up with these applications. The thing to remember is that not all enterprise applications are going to make good Metro applications. It may make sense to piece out different sections of an enterprise application. Just a Microsoft reimagined Windows; we have to reimagine our enterprise applications.
There are going to be challenges in developing enterprise Metro applications. The first hurdle to overcome is the sandbox runtime environment. Metro applications are isolated from system resources and other applications when they are running. There is no ADO like libraries in WinRT so there are no direct connections to enterprise data stores. Metro applications are rich immersive experiences that place content before chrome. Metro applications can’t access applications running on the desktop.
So how do we overcome these challenges? We have to look at our applications differently. Components that are going to make good Metro applications are, ones that do a discrete set of functionality. Large monolithic enterprise applications, which are heavy on data entry, are not going to make good Metro applications. If part of the data entry is data entry is conducted in the field, especially if that data is collect on paper today, you have an autonomous piece of functionality that would make a great Metro application. That data can then be up loaded to the “cloud” and the heavy lifting can still be accomplished using a desktop application.
This is just one example of how an enterprise application can be reimagined to take advantage of the different form factors that Windows 8 will ship on.
New Form Factors Coming
Windows 8 is designed to run on different form factors from a 10” tablet up to an 82” touch screen that can register up to 100 touch points. Many of the device manufacturers are starting to announce their initial Windows 8 lineups. Here are a few that I find interesting:
- Acer 27-inch Aspire 7600U and 23-inch 5600U swiveling Windows 8 all-in-ones
- Acer Aspire S7 Windows 8 touchscreen Ultrabook
- Asus Taichi: a dual-display Windows 8 laptop / tablet hybrid
These new form factors are shipping with a lot of different capabilities that open the door to may new possibilities when it comes to developing enterprise applications.
Windows 8 is the most prolific change of Windows to date. A reimagining of the operating system is leading to a reimagining of enterprise applications. There will also be a learning curve to get become more productive in this new environment. I have been running Windows 8 on a touch enabled laptop since the Developer Preview and have grown to like it. IT organizations supporting Windows will have to adjust to supporting this reimagining.
Where Microsoft has been lacking is in focusing on the enterprise story. The need to do a better job conveying what organizations can expect. How does ActiveDirectory play with Windows8? Can I use my infrastructure to host roaming profiles instead of SkyDrive? And many other questions. I believe that there is a wealth of potential it is just going to take some work to get there but in the end I believe that we will be in a better place because of the change. The possibilities are endless so go out and reimagine your enterprise to take advantage of the last technologies out there.
My issues it that’s just too plain frustrating to use with a mouse;
I have major worries about Win8 with corp clients, most of mine do not have laptops let alone ‘clever’ hybrid mobile devices.
The thing to keep in mind is that the workforce that is coming up expects to have these rich user experiences that span devices. My three year old daughter can navigate around an iPad almost better than me. One of the problems I see is that most enterprise software has been around for a while and is usually engrained in an environment. Older user (ones that did not grow up with a computer in their hand) is used to “Battleship Grey” user interfaces. There is going to be a learning curve for users and a learning curve for developers. Microsoft has reimagined Windows now it is our turn to reimagine what an enterprise application can, taking advantage of the technology available.
I love that Win8 machine can be used as a desktop or a tablet. The ipad is a great travel device but, IMO, next to useless for most day-to-day apps. So the thought I can take my ‘screen’ onto the train, watch a training seminar, play some games, read books, etc is great. Then once I’ve lugged it to work I dock it and off I go on my 1600×1200 monitor with a zillion windows open. Brilliant. But, by forcing Metro on to my 1600×1200 non touch screen my experience is a nightmare. Give me the choice, detect the device, make it a preference I don’t care…just accept the two different scenarios are..different. If not, just create MS iOSDroid for ARM and make win7 the last desktop OS. I do see your argument for a new UI (http://pauliom.com/2012/03/03/i-hate-windows-8-or-do-i/) but MS need to face reality…they can’t do a Apple.
Microsoft can’t please everyone. The new Metro UI is going to take some time to get used to. Like I said I have been running it on a laptop for a while and after while I was used to it. The Metro start screen faded to the background after a while. It seems the hardware vendors seem to be on board and eventually larger touch screens will be the norm. When that happens then I see the Metro start screen really screaming. If there are enough complaints them maybe settings such as “Launch in Desktop” will make their way in but I doubt it. Microsoft seems driven to make Metro the start experience.
I don’t think that making tablet software and making Win 7 the last OS makes sense. What I am interested in hearing is the Enterprise scenarios (ActiveDirectory, Domain Roaming, etc.) from Microsoft. These are built into Windows. So out of the box you should be getting all that Enterprise goodness out of the box. I think that IT organizations are going to love the fact that they can control/lockdown a tablet in the same manner as desktop…because it is a desktop!
I am also interested in seeing how the next version of Office embraces Metro. If they have both Metro and Desktop versions I can see Metro apps really taking off. So there is real promise around Windows 8 in the Enterprise. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft responds to all the calls to revert to the old start menu, return the start button, and start in desktop mode.
How can you be shocked that there’s such a reliance on the start menu? Thats absurd. The start menu IS what defines a MS operating system. The point was to clean up the desktop. Why would you want it cluttered up with files, folders, and shortcuts? I work in IT, and after showing it around to some coworkers (who were not IT pros) the initial response was “hey this looks cool.” Once those same individuals tried to start actually using the OS, it quickly turned to irritation and frustration. Win 8 is cumbersome, convoluted, and confusing. Ive never liked Apple but if this is where MS is heading, Apple might have a new fan….that or Linux….I am open to either at this point.
I am not shock that there is such a reliance on the start menu. There will be a learning curve no doubt but just about everything you can do in the start menu you can do in the start screen. The biggest challenge is going to be to IT organizations that have to field support calls. There will be a lot of them early on. But in order to innovate things have to change, time will tell if this innovative change will stick. I can understand why Microsoft wants to change and not provide a means to display the old functionality. I have two reasons why they wouldn’t. One they want to claim high adoption rate, and two they to get away from supporting legacy. There is going to be a lot push back and it will be interesting to watch how Microsoft reacts.
Change is sometimes needed. Take the iPhone for instance. When it came out, the user experience was excellent. In six versions of iOS, that experience have had minor incremental changes. The UI is starting to feel dated. In fact I saw a cartoon showed the iPhone UI side by side with Windows 3.1 and there was not much different. I am starting to hear this from a lot of iPhone users. Could the reason Apple does not want to shake things up be because they fear reprisal from the large user base? As the user base gets younger and younger, I think that you will see more change. These kids today grow up with these devices in hand and as such their expectations are going to drive innovation. Only time will tell if these changes will succeed but if Windows 8 was just a minor improvement over Windows 7 then everyone would be complaining that they are not being innovative.