Posts Tagged Windows 8

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! http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/en .

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 next step in productivity

When talking to customers about the advantages of “cloud” computing the story usually focuses around the cost of running their own email server vs a hosted exchange cost. The experience of not running your own IT infrastructure has its upside as well with the reduction of risk to your business with the enterprise level support you get with todays cloud providers.

The Microsoft Office 365 suite provides a great story, offering real value in a per user per month cost of Office 2010 and the “back office” products; Exchange, Sharepoint and Lync. The one story I still struggle with is the use of the Sharepoint component. Recently it proved to become easier when I linked it with a CRM deployment story, using Sharepoint as the common document repository for all customer data. This in my view is still selling the story of Sharepoint short, it doesn’t quite create a compelling reason for a customer to adopt the Sharepoint way of life. Sharepoint requires effort from the customer to set it up and architect the data it stores, more importantly it needs adoption by the end user to be a success and this part will in my opinion become easier.

The imminent release of Windows 8 excites me, not for the simple reason it is the “next version” of Windows, but the fact that it will fundamentally change the way in which people work. I believe the most important part of the Windows 8 story will be Office “wave 15” or the next version of the ubiquitous productivity suite from Microsoft. With the current version of Office 2010 (wave 14) and the release of Sharepoint 2010 we saw the introduction of Office Web Apps. This delivered an experience of Office 2010 to the browser, and for the most part it delivered. It provided users with the ability to work ad-hoc in a browser environment, if only to collaborate with others or simply for convenience the browser version of the Office apps allowed users to approach collaboration in a different way. This was much much more than a compete play against Google apps. The next version of Office will deliver the office experience to any user on any device, and by any device I’m looking at you iOS.

It would seem that the adoption of the Apple iPhone and later on the iPad was much to Microsofts dismay. In my time at Microsoft (2008 – 2011) I owned an iPhone and an iPad and was constantly frustrated with the way in which my fellow employees considered the device. Rather than just a competitor I saw it as an opportunity, another platform which Microsoft could deliver its productivity suite to. With the release of iOS 2.0 Exchange ActiveSync was licensed by Apple allowing a rich email experience on the iOS devices. This meant many  “enterprise” customers were now able to consider the iPhone as a smartphone platform and indeed it became the CEO showoff device of choice.

I predict the next version of Office 15 will become available as a fully fledged “app” available on the iOS devices, both iPad and iPhone, this isn’t hard to guess as there are already apps for the Lync and One Note clients. It will be the browser version of Office Web Apps will take the connected touch experience to the next level. This isn’t necessarily something that will be driven by iOS but more by the touch driven interface of Windows 8. The Metro interface has been hugely successful on Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8 consumer preview. I predict Microsoft will introduce the Metro interface to iOS users in the next version of Office, by way of apps or web apps. Metro offers a clean touch experience that most users today expect from their smartphones. Taking away the clutter from tool bars and re-focusing the productivity apps for touch will see end users using their devices more. Both Apple and Microsoft are making changes to offer a more simplified experience to users of their desktop operating systems, OSX and Windows respectively. Apple are approaching it gradually by introducing features from their iOS platform to their desktop operating system with changes appearing in Lion and soon to be released Mountain Lion. Microsoft on the other hand are making a much bolder statement with the Metro interface from their mobile platform being the “default” for Windows 8.

Interfaces aside the constant connection to information will be the main driver for customers to choose a cloud solution. The Sharepoint story will make more sense with the next version of Office, further enhancing the experience for the end user. Users will expect to have the same experience on any device and be able to access their data from wherever they are.

Microsoft Office "15" logo

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  • Musings…

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