Friday, September 23, 2011

Windows 8 thoughts

I frequently watch the Twit.TV video podcasts and one of my favorites is Windows Weekly. It was on this podcast that I discovered the Microsoft Build conference held in Anaheim Ca. last week and with it the availability of the Windows Developer Preview (Windows 8).

I downloaded the 5.1GB full development package, followed the directions for setting up a bootable USB drive and then found that I had to find a compatible version of bootsect to let it complete the process. I downloaded and attempted to create the bootable USB on a 32Bit Windows XP pro system so the process of creating the 64Bit bootable USB drive took this extra step.

What I found once installation was done was an OS that at first blush was more about the user interface than any great leap forward in OS design. If you have two monitors as I do the system will automatically configure itself to display a familar desktop environment on one screen and a series of "tiles" on the other which open a number of programs and system utilities when clicked.

In this permutation of Windows you figure out fairly quickly that the familiar desktop is merely another application. In fact it shows up as another "tile" in the so-called "Metro" interface.
The look of Winows 8 closely mimics the UI of Windows Phone and as I understand it that's by design. This new version of windows is designed to be uniform across platforms from the lowliest IPAD competitor to full featured PC's.

It's a common fact that notebook pc's have surpassed desktop pc's in sales and a portion of those are pc tablets designed for touch sensitive applications. Windows 8 is a "touch first" experience with traditional mouse and keyboard controls available but not obvious.

It's been mentioned elsewhere in the blogosphere so I won't dwell on the next point but it needs to be mentioned nonetheless. Up till now Windows was an unimpressive tablet interface. Touch was eschewed in favor of a stylus to control many functions of Windows. That's great for handwriting recognition but can get tedious if you're just trying to move around the interface.

Conversely, Windows 8 is all about swipes and drags and taps with nary a stylus in sight. Anyone familiar with newer smartphones like the IPhone, or Android phones will feel right at home with navigation. Windows 8 has been designed to work on small tablets as well based on ARM processors.

Thus we finally have a Microsoft entry into the IPAD and Android based consumer tablet wars.
That's great for a consumer device but what about a business pc?

I've heard that there will be a business version of the OS that is more focused on the desktop and less on the "tiles". On the other hand i've also heard that the only change to the OS will be improved or at least more obvious keyboard and mouse shortcuts to navigate through the UI.

Microsoft wants developers to move toward designing for the Metro interface and leave the desktop for legacy application compatibility. Unfortunately this wreaks of another push to do things "The Microsoft Way".

To expect a business customer to conform to an OS interface designed to be a consumer offering is more of the same old, "My way or the Highway" thinking from the past.

I put it right up there with the reliance on Powershell in Exchange 2007 and 2010 and the horrible filesystem organization in Vista and above. In both cases Microsoft was attempting to force a change in user behavior for it's own rather then the customer's benefit.

I still find no great innovation in Server 2008 (outside of better 64 bit compatibility) that would force a move off a well functioning server 2003 deployment. If Windows 8 Server offers little more than a more annoying interface what's the impetus to upgrade?
Management functions tend to get less intuitive with every iteration of Windows Server. Windows 8 and it's Server counterpart (also recently released to MSDN subscibers) continue this trend. What works great on a consumer device isn't necessarily going to be ideal in a business environment.

Another thought comes to mind. If I deploy a version of Windows 8 to my desktop clients that has a deprecated Metro interface then I'm basically left with a shaky Windows 7 installation. In that case it's pointless to do the upgrade.

I heard last week that support for Windows XP Service pack 3 has been extended for another 3 years (approx.) That means there's still enough of a user base to merit Microsoft continuing the support of it. That also means that Microsoft trying to be all things to all platforms may not be the best approach to bring those holdouts on board. Reliability and performance will always trump a pretty interface.
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