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.
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