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.
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.