You’ve read a whole lot of negative press about Windows 8.  Adoption is slow, even for people who are normally early adopters and many organizations are still forging ahead with mass Windows 7 deployments.  Windows 7 has proven to be an excellent operating system on which business can be done, so organizations are making the move.

As someone who’s been steeped in Windows 8 for quite some time, I can say with certainty that the new user experience takes some getting used to.  This is coming from someone that just loves to deploy beta software and loves the Ribbon that was introduced in Office 2007.  That said, once you get the hang of it, the new interface becomes much more usable and over time, I expect that I’ll come to like it.

That said, Windows 8 does bring a lot to the enterprise.  It’s truly a shame that so much time will be spent retraining users on the basics rather than focusing them on the new features that are included in the operating system.  From a training aspect, there are five big items that I think deserve coverage in any training program, in order of importance.

Start Screen

It’s probably obvious that the biggest training need will revolve around the elimination of the Start Menu in favor of the touch-friendly Start Screen.  Personally, I’m still befuddled as to what would have prevented Microsoft from leaving the Start Menu in place on the Desktop application, but it’s apparent that the Menu as we knew it is gone.

You may have had clear user documentation that instructed people to go to Start > All Programs > app.  You may find it necessary to provide users with some overall instruction on using the new Start Screen.  The Start Screen does actually provide just about everything that was offered on the Start Menu, even a search function.  To use it, you simply start typing the name of the app you want to run and Windows starts narrowing down your choices.

That said, the search function and many other items aren’t quite as intuitive as one would like, so focus here first in your user training so that users can immediately start using their systems.  If you users simply can’t get past the lack of a Start Menu, there are a number of Start Menu replacements available that you can consider deploying.

Difference experiences between tablets and PCs

Another area that I believe will cause some confusion for users is the differences between Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT, the ARM-based variant that will power money lower cost tablets, including Microsoft’s own Surface tablet (the Surface Pro will run the full Windows 8).

I do see a relatively bright future for Windows 8-based tablets, in both the RT and the x86 categories, particularly as Microsoft works to beef up the ecosystem.  When you look at Apple and the iPad, it’s a certainty that the iPad is a fantastic device, but it would be not much better than a brick without the ecosystem around it.

However, I do see user education being necessary to address such issues as:

  • Why won’t Quicken run on my Windows RT-based tablet?
  • Why won’t web sites that require add-ins run in my Windows RT-based tablet?
  • Why can’t I “side load” apps onto my Windows RT-based tablet?

In other words, there needs to be a clear understanding about the differences between a consumer product and an enterprise product, such as the Surface Pro, which will include the full Windows 8 experience.

To me, the RT-based tablet is like an iPad… it’s a great device, but not really “enterprise worthy” even if it can handle a lot of enterprise tasks.  That’s where x86-based tablets will have the enterprise advantage.

The Shut Down conundrum

Because I’m ashamed to admit it, I’m not going to divulge how long it took me to figure out how to shut down my Windows 8 machine once I got it going.  But this is a fact of life for many people and it goes right along with some of the challenges that come from the elimination of the Start Menu.

But it also goes beyond that.  I don’t think that Microsoft made shutting down a machine somewhat difficult just to make users angry.  Perhaps it’s time to rethink the situations that lead users to shut down their machines.

  • When people go home at the end of the day, they turn off their computers.
  • When mobile users are done, many of them shut down their computers.

But when you look at modern devices, how often are they truly shut down?  I never shut down my MacBook Pro.  I just close the lid and expect it to resume when I come back… and it always does.  Resumption has been an issue in some versions of Windows for some devices in the past, though, so perhaps that’s why we have users shutting down laptops rather than just closing the lid (although many do just close the lid).

Now, when you look at the tablet market, how many people shut them down when they’re done for a session?  Not me.  On my iPad, I just tap the button that turns off the display and I set the device aside.  When I come back, it wakes up and greets me right where I left off. That’s the kind of experience that I think that Microsoft wants to bring to Windows 8.  That set-it-and-forget-it experience that tablet users enjoy.

So, here are some options:

  • Train users about when and how to shut down their Windows 8 devices and use the built-in method to do so.
  • Add a shut down item to the desktop to make it easier for users to shut down.
  • Train users to simply lock their computers and create Group Policies that control when machines hibernate.

Closing apps

For traditional apps, this isn’t a problem.   There are window controls just as there have been in previous versions of Windows.

However, for what Microsoft used to call Metro-based apps and now refers to as native apps, there are no obvious window management techniques.

However, while it’s not even remotely intuitive, to close a Windows 8 native app, you tap and drag or click and drag from the top middle of the application windows and drag down the screen until the app disappears.  Or, you can use the Alt+F4 keyboard shortcut.

That said, this is another interesting design decision by Microsoft, akin to what I discussed about shutting down.   When you think about it, how often do you force quit apps on your iPhone or iPad?  Probably not all that often and iOS has pretty decent scheduling to make sure that apps get what they need to operate.

The same goes for WinRT (not to be confused with Windows RT, which is an edition of Windows), which stands for Windows RunTime and is the container in which Window s8 native apps operate.  When WinRT detects that an app needs more resources, it will automatically suspend other apps to free up those resources.  Users do not need to necessarily intervene to take action.

Honestly, the only time I force quit apps on my iPhone is when I’m done using an app that has Location Services on all the time, such as a GPS app.  Location Services kills the battery, so I kill the app proactively, but that’s about the only time I intervene in how apps operate on my iPhone.

So, this is another situation where simply telling the user how to close an app may not be enough.  There needs to be some context around when an app does and does not need to be shut down.  Traditional Windows apps till require users to shut them down to free up resources since these apps run outside the WinRT container, but WinRT-based apps have some additional smarts, which makes sense given Windows 8’s multi-device nature.

The new stuff

And now, with users fully retrained on some of the basics, you can forge ahead and train users on how to use some of Windows 8’s great new features.  As you might expect, comprehensive discussion of how to use those features is beyond the scope of this particular article, but I wanted to make sure that no one loses the fact that Windows 8 does have some great new enterprise features, such as:

  • Windows To Go.
  • Improved and simplified DirectAccess.
  • Enhanced BranchCache.
  • Client side Hyper-V for testing

Although Windows 8 will require some user retraining, don’t miss out on ways that the new stuff can help your company!