Something strange happened on the way to Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona today -- that is, in the wee hours before Microsoft's expected announcement and release of its Windows 8 Consumer Preview beta OS.
A few hours before Windows chief Steve Sinofsky was set to go on stage at 8 a.m. ET, 3 p.m. Barca time, Microsoft quietly posted an unusual document detailing features and a product version name that took enterprise by surprise.
The doc is a PDF called Windows 8 Consumer Preview Product Guide for Business Version 1.0 -- posted at 3 a.m. ET with nary a mention at the big press conference later in the morning US time. The document, at this writing, is still up, further obscuring the matter.
It details a number of features Microsoft has never highlighted in high profile demos since its September release of Windows 8 Developer Preview. In fact, most of the features aren't in the release, suggesting a server version for enterprise is in the works.
Whether the document details a separate and second version of Windows 8 targeting IT at a different price point or just an as yet officially unannounced or unpromoted feature set is unclear, too. I'm still awaiting comment from Microsoft. I'm betting on the former, as you'll see below.
What is evident, though, is that Microsoft is planning a number of features for a Windows 8 release that helps IT better manage consumerization, personal devices, encryption, remote updates and virtualization.
The features include: HyperV client integration, improvements to the Windows PowerShell, better web standards compliance (HTML5, CSS3 and SVG), an Internet Explorer 10 desktop update that implies a mobile release is at the ready, the return of IE support for legacy ActiveX controls, SkyDrive integration "for small business" and a number of other features.
As eager techies download the 32-bit and 64-bit ISOs of Windows 8 Consumer Preview now available, it will be interesting to see how many of these features are already baked in and how soon Microsoft begins owning up to them.
Of the significant features in the doc, Sinofksy did mention HTML5 and an enterprise-targeted feature, Windows to Go, which allows the OS to boot from external drives, flash drives, etc.
But Microsoft waited until the last few minutes of the 70-minute press conference to mention anything enterprise. Execs briskly said enterprise details around Windows 8 will be available at the CEbIT computer tradeshow coming up in Germany.
Yet hunt around now and you'll find a link to Remote Server Administration Tools for Windows 8 Consumer Preview, which Microsoft online says "enables IT administrators to manage roles and features that are installed on computers that are running Windows Server "8″ Beta from a remote computer that is running Windows 8 Consumer Preview." Hmm.Also on Microsoft's site is a link for Remote Tools for Visual Studio 11 Beta, which it describes as "intended for computers that don't have Visual Studio so that you can debug, test, and profile apps that are executing on them ... "
The wholesale integration of SkyDrive into Windows 8 was highlighted in a recent blog post by Microsoft group program managers Mike Torres and Omar Shahine more than a week ago. There was even a video.
But no explicit mention came today about that in the press conference either. In fact, the press conference was beset by strangeness. It didn't appear on the live feed at the MWC site, as did other keynotes, it began 30 minutes late and CEO Steve Ballmer never hit the stage, as many expected he would.
Moreover, the event was largely a rehash of what Microsoft has shown before.
So for IT, the meat of today's announcement lies quietly in that PDF. Time for some detective work.
What do those features mean to IT? Anthony Pruitt, an IT help desk manager at SOI in Charlotte, NC, shared the doc and interpreted what he thought it meant to IT at aNewDomain.net two hours before the official MS rollout. (Disclosure: I contribute to the site and edited that story).
The most exciting feature of them all, Pruitt told me after the announcement, was the integration of Microsoft's HyperV client, a Windows Server 2008 compatible tool. Microsoft never mentioned HyperV or virtualization of any kind at today's announcement.
"It'll be built in both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Consumer Preview for business," Pruitt said after he studied the document. "That means you no longer have to run a third-party product like Fusion or Virtual Box to run virtual machines. From the looks of it, this would also allow IT to build server clusters at a fraction of the cost. I can't wait to see this work.
"Having a virtual machine manager built-in will make IT managers smile," Pruitt added. "And it will really make CIOs smile when it comes to the bottom line. A lot of money is saved when you don't have to purchase as much hardware and you instead are able to rely on virtual servers."
Jeremy Lesniak, founder and CTO at Vermont Computing in Randolph, VT, expressed initial surprise at a "second" version of Windows 8. "News of this surprised me, but maybe it shouldn't. I have never seen Microsoft produce a single version of Windows to (sell) to both businesses and consumers. It always (appears) addicted to having different price points for different markets."
Addicted or not, what is clear is that Microsoft execs weren't ready or willing at the Barcelona MWC 2012 announcement today to mention the bulk of enterprise-targeted features. But it slipped them out online with no warning or promotion just hours before.
I'd love to know what you think of the various features mentioned in the doc, particularly those that seem to duplicate what Microsoft already accomplishes in Active Directory. For instance, Windows Powershell, described in the doc as a scripting environment allowing IT to secure access for users logging in from outside the domain, appears to dupe what AD offers, said Pruitt.
And its Direct Access feature mentioned is akin to RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) -- which speaks directly to the heart of the consumerization of IT. Conspiracy theory, disorganization or, just, bureaucracy? Only the shadow knows. And the shadow is in Barcelona.
Gina Smith is a NYT best-selling author of iWOZ, the biography of Steve Wozniak. She is a vet tech journalist and chief of the geek tech site, aNewDomain.net.