Like a great many others, I've been watching the Windows 8 development process to see where Microsoft decides to take things on the desktop. It's well-known that Microsoft needs to do something radical to battle Apple on the consumer front and Google on the smartphone front. At the same time, the company needs to update the Windows desktop operating system in ways that enable the company to remain relevant in business.
No Start menu
I've seen companies do some really dumb things in my time in the IT field, but this one really takes the case. In fact, I'd classify it in the "really, really stupid" category. As is evidenced in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Microsoft has pulled the Start button off the legacy interface, adding massive complexity to any rollout that might take place with Windows 8 in the corporate environment.
When the company overhauled Office with the Office 2007 release, I was generally supportive and saw value in the direction. This time, however, Microsoft is forcing a directional change that is going to be really bad for the company. Corporate users will shun a move away from the rock solid Windows 7 platform with such radical - and seemingly unnecessary - changes to what has been a relatively consistent interface.
It's obvious that Microsoft wants to take on Apple with the addition of the Metro UI to the operating system; the UI has been a success in Windows Phone 7. It's also obvious that, with Windows 8, Microsoft intends to provide a significant consumer focus and extend the Windows family across all device form factors, from phones, to tablets to PCs and maybe more. However, I fail to understand why that means that an extremely familiar experience needs to be completed removed.
Massive training need
The transition from Windows 2000 to Windows XP to Windows Vista to Windows 7 has required some end-user training, but not much; each successive version of Windows was evolutionary making it relatively simple to upgrade.
Remembering that the primary business of most businesses in not technology, this has been a good trend; companies want to focus on their business, not on constant training due to Windows upgrades.
When Windows 8 is released, I predict an end to this semi-seamless upgrade process, which will force business to either skip Windows 8 or provide significant training for users, thus turning more than necessary attention to the mechanics of the business rather than on the business itself.
A common experience across all form factors is a laudable goal. However, there is further evidence that Microsoft is eschewing businesses in favor of the consumer with Windows 8. The current rumor is that ARM-based Windows 8 systems will be unable to join Active Directory domains.
First of all, it's not revolutionary that Microsoft is extending Windows support beyond the Intel- and AMD-dominated x86 world; for those that have been in IT for a while will remember that the original Windows NT ran on a variety of other platforms, including Alpha, MIPS and PowerPC.
What is revolutionary is Microsoft's inability or unwillingness to allow ARM-based devices to join Active Directory domains. This means that companies facing pending BYOD initiatives won't get any relief from Microsoft, either. All of the tools that you use to manage your current corporate Windows environment will be 100% ineffective with many Windows 8 devices.
I do believe that, via BYOD initiatives, companies will have to provide some support for Windows 8 devices, but it appears as if Windows 8 will do nothing to incentivize companies to adopt the product.
Apple owns the tablet space
It's apparent that Apple currently owns most of the tablet space. Although there are contenders out there, the iPad is still the tablet to rule them all. This is obviously the market that Microsoft is targeting with Windows 8. Microsoft's work toward providing a common user experience across all form factors is a response to Apple's dominance. The phrase "post-PC era," which I believe to be an overstated reality, is one that Microsoft is clearly taking to heart.
Given this mobile and touch focus that Microsoft is emphasizing in Windows 8, the corporate desktop seems to be an afterthought.
(See also Is Windows 8 dissing PCs?)
Today's PCs are so powerful that companies don't necessarily have to upgrade hardware to move to newer versions of Windows. Heck, Windows 7 treats hardware much better than Windows Vista did! With Windows 8, in order to take advantage of what Microsoft considers compelling functionality - primarily, the touch interface - companies will be forced to upgrade hardware components. The vast majority of monitors on people's desktops today are not touch-enabled.
I'm not clear on what the business benefit is for businesses to throw away what may be working display devices in favor of touch screens. Maybe, over time, it will become clear as to what business benefits are wrought from touch-enabled displays.
It's certain that big changes are coming to Windows 8, but it's also clear that the benefits to business are very unclear. Based on what we've seen from the consumer preview and previous preview releases, there appear to be many decisions that have been made that may make it undesirable to partake when the product is ultimately released.
Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.