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3/27/2013
11:52 AM
Kevin Casey
Kevin Casey
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Tell Me Again: Why Rush Into Windows 8?

Windows Blue might signal a bold new future for touch computing, but it doesn't exactly inspire a quick upgrade to Windows 8 for traditional users like me.

6 Reasons To Want Windows 8 Ultrabooks
6 Reasons To Want Windows 8 Ultrabooks
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It's like the old saying goes: Nothing generates excitement quite like leaked screenshots of a vaguely named future Windows release published to a Polish tech website.

What's that? That's not a saying? Oh. Nonetheless, there was a minor Internet riot last weekend over leaked information about Microsoft's Windows Blue, the upcoming release of -- well, no one outside of Redmond really knows. It's not really a service pack and it's not really Windows 9, seems to be the general opinion. It's ... it's... I'm not quite sure what it is, so I asked Forrester senior analyst David Johnson for his take.

"Microsoft is on a journey here toward a newer OS and interaction model, and this leak shows us a little bit more about how that's going to go," Johnson said in an email. "Microsoft clearly wants touch to be a rich, primary way for people to interact with the Windows environment in the future."

No doubt, Microsoft appears to be doubling down on the touch-centric nature of the Windows 8 family, and Windows Blue -- also known as "Build 9364" -- is the next leg of a bigger-picture journey. Microsoft said as much on Wednesday in a blog post acknowledging Blue's existence. "This continuous development cycle is the new normal across Microsoft -- we’ll tune everyday experiences as well as introduce bold, connected and exciting new scenarios," wrote corporate communications VP Frank X. Shaw.

[ Ride along on one user's test drive of a Windows 8 portable. Read Windows 8 Convertible: My 3-Month Test Drive. ]

The nagging question: Why should I join the ride any time soon when Windows 7 already gets me where I need to go? (In the spirit of the travel metaphor, I should probably note that I drive a much-loved 2002 Honda Civic and have no plans to trade it in. That somehow seems relevant here.)

There are some exciting possibilities in the apparent future of Windows. There's also the distinct possibility that "PC people" -- those of us who still get our work done on laptops and desktops, me included, are definitely on the outs. That was among my key reasons for not making plans to upgrade to Windows 8. Windows Blue, while perhaps signifying a brave new world for Microsoft, underscores this issue rather than alleviates it.

"The most interesting thing for me is that Microsoft appears to be taking more steps to position the traditional Windows desktop as just an app in a new interface framework," Forrester's Johnson said. (It should be noted that Johnson shared his insights prior to Microsoft's blog post acknowledging Blue.) He sees upside for IT departments in that shift, because it could help companies ease some of the security and management headaches they deal with in their Windows desktop environments. Those issues arise in part from the Windows kernel, APIs, app layers and other under-the-hood parts of the traditional desktop environment, according to Johnson. He noted that those headaches aren't Microsoft's fault; "rather, it's a natural state of a maturing platform like Windows," he said.

"If Microsoft can create a continuum of new Windows releases and accompanying capabilities ([such as] development environments and productivity apps) that gradually lead everyone off the legacy Windows desktop toward a new model, they may be able to fully compartmentalize the traditional Windows desktop and all of the challenges that go with it over time," Johnson said. "We're a long way from that possibility right now, but I think it's one outcome worth watching for."

What's missing from the early looks at Blue, according to Johnson, are clear indications of how it will help organizations relieve the burdens of managing their PC environments. "The operational costs for organizations are way too high, and the complexity is increasing," Johnson said. "The solution needs to be not better management tools, but getting rid of the need for them to begin with. This is what I'm looking for most in Microsoft's future releases."

But, hey: Back to me. What do I get out of this deal? I'm sort of kidding with that question -- but sort of not. I suspect countless end users will ask some version of the same question because the future of Windows might not best suit their day-to-day jobs. Call it "old school," "legacy," "short-sighted" -- the adjectives don't really matter. What does matter: If you were treading cautiously with Windows 8 for reasons similar to mine -- in short, it doesn't seem to suit your everyday needs as well as previous versions do -- the Windows Blue leak is probably not going to make you pick up the pace. Yes, there's still a desktop mode, but why should desktop users rush to adopt an OS that prioritizes a touch interface that doesn't best serve their business needs or hardware choices?

Windows Blue might be Microsoft's next significant step toward revamping the traditional Windows desktop experience. But there's a lot of a work to be done before touch wins over the PC workforce.

"To do that, they know that people need to find value and convenience in the Windows 8 interface to make it a more natural home for their working lives," Johnson said. "Everything in the leak showcases how they plan to do that in the short term but it's all interface and usability stuff. They're great steps but it's not yet enough to hit the tipping point and create overwhelming demand."

That could be a roadblock for small and midsize businesses (SMBs), in particular.

“Most SMBs will not replace their IT hardware or software unless what they have is no longer fit-for-purpose," said Analysys Mason analyst Patrick Rusby in an email to InformationWeek. "Windows 7 has proven to be a very popular operating system with SMBs and larger enterprises alike, and I suspect it will remain so until it becomes clear what Windows 8 or Windows Blue actually has to offer.”

In the meantime, I'll follow Microsoft's journey from a safe distance.

InformationWeek is conducting a survey on IT spending priorities. Take the InformationWeek 2013 IT Spending Priorities Survey today. Survey ends March 29.

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ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
3/28/2013 | 7:31:58 PM
re: Tell Me Again: Why Rush Into Windows 8?
The flip side of its touch-focused effort isn't very appealing, though -- that Microsoft sits back and takes care of its content mouse-and-keyboard users and, if touch storms the desktop, we all say "they failed to anticipate the touch movement." If only some embrace touch, and if people do cling to Win7 -- might Microsoft have a nicely segmented market for two operating systems, or at least two interfaces?
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
3/28/2013 | 6:12:24 PM
re: Tell Me Again: Why Rush Into Windows 8?
The article got me to thinking about UI changes over the years. I go back to Win 2 and Solaris 4 windowing UIs, and 80x24 greenscreens before that, and in general, I think the single biggest GUI breakthrough that comes to mind is the *combination* of the Start Button and Taskbar (or equivalents in other OSes). That combination allows multitaskers to easily get to their running and non-running programs very quickly in a way that's easy to understand. It adds minimal value to folks who struggle to run one app at a time and whose highest use of a computer is watching videos on YouTube, but frankly, I don't want a UI that woks best for the lowest common denominator.

It seems to me that the key is to have a UI that is easy enough for non-morons to work with minimal training but powerful enough to keep high-end users happy. The Win95-Win7 UI meets those goals. There is also a vast pool of folks who already know how to work it and don't need any retraining. I fail to see how a UI that requires me to buy new hardware to use it and then learn a bunch of non-intuitive and ill-documented gestures meets that set of requirements.

As anyone who's even slightly familiar with Unix/Linux knows, there's no necessary hard link between the UI and the OS; if you don't like KDE, you can switch to Gnome. Unless a device is so crippled that it can't support a normal UI (no keyboard or mouse, for instance), there's no reason no to have a familiar and generally acknowledged superior interface available.

The M$ decisions to do away with the Start button and focus on touch was clearly not based on what users wanted. While it might be seen by some as a push to move folks to a newer, better interface, I'm not buying it. The new UI is all about change, and making folks feel a need to upgrade. It is exactly analogous to the widely hated Tool Ribbon. My prediction is that the new UI will just encourage a large segment of the user base to cling bitterly to their Win7, just as we've clung to Office 2003 (and switched to Openoffice.org). My computers are not consumer devices whose primary goal is to be cool and entertain; they are business tools and I'm not going to switch and go through all the lost productivity of retraining for the sake of being compliant with the Micro$oft's marketing plans.
Anonomouser
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Anonomouser,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/28/2013 | 8:49:05 AM
re: Tell Me Again: Why Rush Into Windows 8?
Using Win7 is like going into another room and wondering "now what was it I was going to do here?". There's always some usability issue that pops up and interferes with what I want to do, and by the time I figure it out I forgot why I sat down at the computer in the first place. Win8 and it's automatic updates changing the interface all the time is going to make this feeling the new Microsoft Windows "user experience".
SMB Kevin
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SMB Kevin,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/27/2013 | 10:08:22 PM
re: Tell Me Again: Why Rush Into Windows 8?
I'm planning to spend a couple of weeks with a new touch model soon, so will perhaps have a better answer(s) for you soon. But in meantime it seems like apps are one of the key areas here. I don't think calculators and alarm clocks are going to get it done. As GBarrington196 notes, what about Adobe or Word? How does touch make those better on a laptop or desktop (versus a tablet or smartphone, where touch is a given)?

And what about all of those "legacy" and/or home-grown applications that businesses run? When you talk to folks at companies with a lot riding on these kinds of applications, there's usually plenty of complexity or outright pain involved, sometimes just in getting from XP to Windows 7. And now we're already talking about Windows Blue and the "death of the desktop." (I'm in the camp that thinks reports of the desktop's demise are exaggerated.)

-Kevin C.
InformationWeek.com
GBARRINGTON196
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GBARRINGTON196,
User Rank: Strategist
3/27/2013 | 9:09:14 PM
re: Tell Me Again: Why Rush Into Windows 8?
It isn't the touch capabilities that will "win people over", it is an improvement in productivity that wins people over. How does touch make Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop better? (For that matter, how can they even be USABLE with touch?) Shoot! How does touch make Microsoft Word better? Look at all the applications that we use EVERYDAY that simply have no inherent touch . . .um. . .touchpoints. Aren't you Brave New Worlders kinda sorta ignoring all of them?

I've been around the block once too often with technology to just accept that Microsoft, or Google, or Information Week, for that matter, has my best interest at heart.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
3/27/2013 | 6:02:08 PM
re: Tell Me Again: Why Rush Into Windows 8?
"But there's a lot of a work to be done before touch wins over the PC workforce."

Kevin, do you have any thoughts on what touch capabilities would win over "PC people"?

Put another way: What could Microsoft leak regarding touch that would impress you?

Laurianne McLaughlin
InformationWeek
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