Posts Tagged Microsoft Windows

Is Apple the perfect Windows 8 partner?

I sent my dad shopping for a new laptop the other day and discovered something that I didn’t expect. We are less than two months away from the launch of Windows 8, despite this there are no notebooks currently on offer that give a Windows 8 specific hardware experience. The local computer store stocked a large range of notebooks of all sizes and capabilities, however the only mention of Windows 8 was the discounted upgrade on offer if you purchased a Windows 7 equipped machine today.

His previous notebook was an Acer Ultra-Portable, a 14″ machine with an optical drive, it was light and portable. The obvious replacement would have to be a Ultrabook of some description. After some time looking through the range of Ultrabooks available from the usual suspects; Acer, Sony, Samsung etc it wasn’t surprising that he ended up in the price range of Apple MacBooks. The purchase became obvious and dad became the proud owner of his first Mac. Having been a Windows user for years and not being one for change I went ahead and installed Boot Camp using the default Apple Boot Camp installer. The process was painless and a short while later he was up and running with Windows 7 just as he was with his old notebook. With one important difference…. the trackpad, it was awesome! The feel and accuracy of the track pad, coupled with the drivers supplied by Apple made the experience vastly improved over any other trackpad I had used in the past.

Apple MacBook Windows 7 Office 365 trackpad touch

Windows 7 and Apple’s MacBook Pro… the perfect match!

And then came the realisation, with Windows 8 on the horizon there is yet to be a defining hardware experience for the use of what was known as “Metro”, the tiled interface of Windows 8. Did Apple just fill that void? With the multi-touch trackpad giving accuracy and a high quality experience with Windows 7…. the Windows 8 experience stands to be one of the best, lending itself to a gesture based interaction, and a plus… without the awkward touch interaction of a screen that is at 45 degrees or so to your keyboard… the trackpad on the MacBook could be the best Windows 8 experience so far!

Upon its release I will be introducing dad to Windows 8, he already uses an iPad and is used to the app-centric world of iOS, Windows 8 may well be a step in the right direction for him.


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Windows Phone 8 omelette?

Microsoft had always maintained backward compatibility with most of their products. Compatibility has been one of the main reasons Windows has seen such great success, specifically backwards compatibility to systems such as MS-DOS. Even today you can get to a DOS prompt (command prompt) from Windows 7, this hasn’t changed for years and from a functionality point of view this is a bonus. The announcement of the new Windows Phone 8 (and previously Windows RT on which Windows Phone 8 is based) flew in the face of tradition for Microsoft, it “broke” the compatibility of the applications and their ability to run on the new platform. This has been a typically non-Microsoft way to act but something that the industry isn’t totally unfamiliar with.

Apple have, on more than one occasion, launched a platform that is incompatible with anything that had come before. I refer to the release of its new operating system, OSX (acquired in part from their purchase of NEXT Computing in the late 90’s), OSX broke everything that was written for OS9 and had to come with an OS9 “classic mode” to address those applications that weren’t re-written for the new operating system. This had an impact on performance and some cornerstone Mac apps like QuarkXpress didn’t get full OSX compatible versions for over a year after its release. This fundamental change in operating system architecture came at a cost, but for a long term strategic gain in performance and overall technology roadmap. The change was mitigated again with the change made by Apple of their processor supplier from IBM to Intel in 2006, a decision shrouded in secrecy but one that again was part of a longer term view. “Backwards compatibility” was provided for Power PC apps by way of the rosetta engine and subsequently “universal” code that eased the transition.

It would almost seem that Microsoft have taken a leaf out of Apples book and decided that to make the perfect omelette you need to break a few eggs first. Windows Phone 8 will share the same core as Windows RT and Windows 8, giving developers a common platform. This will no doubt annoy those who have recently purchased a Windows Phone 7 device, rendering it end of life despite it being a “current” model. An update is imminent for Windows Phone 7 owners to the new Windows Phone 8 start screen, and that is the extent of it, no other Windows Phone 8 features will be available on current Windows Phone 7 handsets even after the 7.8 update, its all purely cosmetic.

Personally I think the steps made by Microsoft are necessary and given their history of providing backwards compatibility, I think the change is refreshing, offering better long term architecture of their Windows framework allowing commonality across devices. Windows 8, RT and Windows Phone 8 are all scheduled for launch later this year (Post October 2012 timeframe), expect to see Office 15 soon after, on all devices! The Customer Preview of Office 2013 was announced today, firming up my previous predictions and also merging the cloud with the Office experience… a tasty Spanish omelette even!

download it here! .

Office 2013 Logo Office 15 Logo

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Microsoft previews Office 15 tiles

A screenshot started doing the rounds today of the launchpad for Office 15. It also included the new Office 15 logo which has had a Metro makeover. As mentioned a couple of weeks ago Microsoft now intends to release Office 15 with its soon to be launched Surface tablet, along with support for the RT or ARM based version of Windows 8.

Microsoft Office 15 on Surface

Office 15 running on Surface

Observing the screenshot above (which is not a lot to go on I know) you could come to the conclusion that Office 15 exists within a “sub menu” of metro. A nested app experience that in my opinion lends itself to iOS deployment. It makes sense, if Microsoft have re-designed Office from the ground up for Windows RT it makes sense that there is a version available for iOS as well. I have no doubt that the Windows 8 experience of Office 15 will be the best experience of any platform, but Microsoft must acknowledge that there are other hounds snapping at its heels thanks to Google’s recent purchase of Quick Office for iOS and some 400 Million Customers.

Tight integration with Microsoft’s expanding cloud services, Skydrive for consumers and Office 365 for business and education, is the name of the game. It’s in Microsoft’s best interest to break down the barriers to adopting its cloud services and it shouldn’t matter what device is used. Note the lack of Office 365 or Sharepoint tiles in the screenshot above, but I have no doubt this will be included in future “leaks”.

Microsoft needs to simplify the current 2010 experience, Metro is an excuse to do so, allowing for a completely different design language to be used when addressing one of their biggest revenue sources.

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It’s hip to be square!

Bill Gates and a Tablet PC in 2002

Today Microsoft pulled one out of the bag. Something that has long been predicted but never executed upon. They have announced a Tablet PC named “Surface” and will release it later this year in time for Windows 8. Microsoft have been talking about slate or tablet PC’s for years now, and to be honest had more intent around tablet computing than Apple ever did. On more than one occasion in the early part of the 2000’s Steve Jobs was quoted to say that Apple had no interest in Tablet computing especially given the Newton was a flop. Microsoft on the other hand dabbled with pen based computing in Windows XP and improved on the technology over time although it remained an after thought. It wasn’t until Windows 8 came along that Microsoft became touch focused. The Windows 8 interface (Metro) is built on the strengths of Windows Phone 7 and created an entirely different way of interacting with the Windows operating system and its apps.

Personally I like the Metro interface and so it would seem do other people. Recently I have noticed more and more interfaces seem to “fall in line” with the Metro mantra… clean sharp lines with a minimalist approach to delivering information. Hey even the recently refreshed Gmail interface lends itself to a metro-esque experience! Having recently installed Windows 8 (both server and client) Release Preview the Metro experience permeates through to every aspect of the operating system, from the installation to the device management. Metro is more than an interface for touch computing its a sharper, smarter way of doing things.

This sharpness will deliver a better user experience in my opinion, removing noise from day-to-day tasks, giving users a more focused interface to work with. This sharpness has been carried through to the Surface tablet released today, with sharp lines it delivers on Microsoft’s vision of the future. If the edgy new TV spot by Microsoft is anything to go by… I am looking forward to it!

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The case for local cloud

I became a systems engineer for an IT firm back in the early 1990’s, back in the good old days when re-installing Windows was a regular piece of advice you would give to your customers in order to solve a software crash. Back in those days it was not uncommon to turn up to a customers site to find software that was installed incorrectly or misconfigured, worse still there was little or no documentation to assist you with restoring the server that had just crashed. Not to mention a tape “backup” that was of little or no value due to lost incremental backup tapes, cumbersome offsite storage or worse still a series of unsuccessful backup jobs leaving the customer with no restorable data.

Those kind of situations were of a regular occurrence and cost customers lots and lots of money. To prevent such catastrophes a customer would be asked to deploy resilient servers with redundant hardware and big capacity backup tapes. More often than not the customer would purchase part of the required solution but not be able to justify the “best practice” solution. Cutting corners was a recipe for disaster but at the end of the day it was what most small businesses in New Zealand could afford.

Technology didn’t come cheap back then, and today at the top end of the market it still isn’t cheap. Resilient server hardware still costs, even though I can buy a 2TB hard drive for under NZ$200 it’s not the same as a high performance RAID system that can cost 5 times as much for the same capacity. Lucky for us that cloud computing has started to take off, companies are now able to access a “best practice” deployment of their favorite software running on the resilient hardware we could only dream of in the 1990’s.

The software companies of today are very different to what they were in the 1990’s, they recognize the fact that their software may be installed incorrectly and cause a customer a great deal of pain. What used to be a few wizards used in the setup process has now become an entire suite of tools focused on management and monitoring. Microsoft is one of the players in the market that provides cloud solutions based on the software they have sold to their customers for many years, allowing them to not only provide the best experience of their software to their customers but also to their partners, IT firms, who also have the ability to run the software in a “best practice” environment. All of the tools Microsoft uses in their data centers in Singapore are now used by partners in New Zealand to run their hosted environments, providing a resilient and efficient service.

Microsoft’s hosted offering is price competitive and, as an economy of scale, it will only get cheaper. Recently Microsoft announced a 20% drop in the pricing of their Office 365 suite. So why would I chose to use a local partner to host my email, CRM or line of business software?

Local cloud providers matter, there are many reasons why you would choose a local cloud provider over a larger provider such as Microsoft or Google. It shouldn’t come down to cost of the subscription alone, there are other important factors to consider when working with a cloud provider.


New Zealand is a very small island in a big ocean and as a result our connectivity to the world is somewhat limited. This will change over time with other connections coming online soon however at this point in time there is only the Southern Cross Cable connecting New Zealand businesses to the internet. This will obviously result in some latency and moreover additional cost depending on the plan you have with your ISP. Local providers are usually connected into the local loop via high speed fiber: think latency of around 10 – 30ms compared to Singapore of around 180ms (what I have seen on a GOOD day). This isn’t a problem for 80% of most businesses and their requirements, such as email, however when you are dealing with applications such as CRM with integration into custom line of business applications the latency starts to have a negative impact on the end user experience. The advice I have is to run a trial of the software you intend to run before you purchase, something all cloud providers offer at no cost.

Size matters

When you think of a local cloud provider don’t be surprised to know that there has been and will continue to be significant investment in large data centers in New Zealand. Over the past 3 years I know of more than three Class 3 data centers that have opened up in New Zealand, these data centers are bigger than a football field and are utilized by your local cloud providers. The photo above shows the inside of one of these data centers just north of Auckland’s CBD. They are built using the same guidelines that Microsoft and Google use and are usually helped along by the various hardware vendors; HP, EMC, Dell etc.

Bespoke solutions

Most providers of cloud solutions are able to keep costs low because they do not provide any level of customization for the solution. To most small businesses this will not matter however when integration to an existing on premise solution is required or better yet that solution is to be pulled into a hosted environment a local cloud provider is the only sensible option to choose. Recently I worked with to host a customers CRM solution. The solution required a level of customization that OneNet was able to provide in-house allowing for tighter integration to their line of business applications. Furthermore the location of the OneNet servers gave the end users a snappy response when using CRM from within their Outlook client, this was a client requirement in a heavy use scenario.

Throat to choke

Local providers have one benefit as well that the likes of Microsoft and Google will never be able to provide, and that is a local “throat to choke”. Don’t get me wrong, the support I have had from Microsoft whenever I have had “challenges” with aspects of BPOS or Office 365 has been first class, however 100% of the time I am talking with someone in a call-center overseas. With local cloud providers, they are just that, LOCAL. If I have an issue with the cloud service or I want some customization I am able to visit local premises or have a representative visit me. As mentioned before this doesn’t matter to 80% of businesses but for those who seek comfort for knowing their service is coming from somewhere local its a deal maker.

Cloud isn’t just a product or a price point, to me it is a responsible way to provide computing capacity to businesses. Good riddance to the all night recovery processes to restore a crashed server and hello to reliable applications!

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