Consumer vs. Enterprise Windows

It’s a different kind of pane…

I’ve been involved in software for quite some time. Not to blow my horn or anything, but I’m a methodology and process engineering expert. I specialize in identifying process disconnects within the software development life cycle; and then help organizations identify the best ways to reconnect them.

I’ve seen a lot of talk over the past few days about Microsoft Threshold, or a unified approach to Windows that would bring everything together under one development cycle for Phone, Consumer and Enterprise Windows. Today, I got a refreshing look at the other side of the coin from one of my favorite People, Mary Jo Foley.

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So…the first question on your mind has to be, “Well, that’s great, Chris.  How the heck are these two things connected?”  Good question…   Right now, except for Phone and RT – which is scheduled, to make an exit soon – all Windows development is connected.  Both consumer and enterprise versions of Windows have the same feature sets, underpinnings, back end hooks, etc.  With many hardware manufacturers concentrating more on the consumer market, keeping your enterprise product hooked to a consumer-focused, lean back device doesn’t make sense in a lean forward product line.

The needs of the [consumer]… are different than those of the enterprise. Consumers want to be current on everything, all the time, every day, out loud. The more current your security patches, virus updates and apps are, the more secure and virus free YOU are.  When it comes to keeping your personal, private data (like passwords and financials) personal and private, this is usually the best way to go.

IT professionals don’t always feel that way. While they have other security tools  available to them to insure that their networks are safe, they usually prefer static environments to rapid change.  With so much diversity in critical, operational apps from department to department, division to division, their focus is keeping the work progressing forward and not rapid OS changes. It’s easier to control the changes and insure that work gets done than to allow OS level changes into the enterprise that may conflict or create compatibility issues with business critical apps. They prefer policies and security restrictions so they may control when upgrades are applied.

From a use case perspective, this makes sense.  Consumers want all the latest and greatest features.  Professionals and people at work just want what they need to get the job done to work without having to wrestle with things.

This also makes a great deal of sense from a life cycle perspective.  Originally, both consumer and enterprise Windows were kept on the same development and feature life cycle so that people at work would be able to use the same version of Windows at home.  However, due to the implementation of Active Directory and Policy Manager, Windows at work and Windows at home have never quite felt EXACTLY the same.

Since PC use is declining in favor of a more slate-tablet form factor, and traditional computing is likely going to stick around at the office for quite some time (at least in the more conservative industries that I find myself working in – healthcare IT and State Government), splitting these user types into different Windows versions makes a lot of sense to me.  The only thing that I hope doesn’t happen is that they become so divergent that you can’t put the business form of Windows on your compatible, consumer tablet/device/PC.

According to Terry Myerson, the new head of the unified Windows team at Microsoft, the goal is to build one Windows platform that runs all compatible devices. However, that doesn’t mean “one OS to rule them all.” The UI’s may be different, the features may be different, but the underlying codebase – and more importantly, the cloud services – will be the same.

Strategically, this is very sound.  I’m going to have to reserve judgment until I see the tactical deliverable, however.  Post Windows 8.1, the picture gets fuzzy. However, between now and Spring of 2015, there should be two more Windows releases – in the Spring of 2014, there should be a Win8.1 Update 1 (or some such named animal) that will more appropriately align Windows and Windows Phone.  “Threshold,” or the next version of Windows, is the version slotted for Spring of 2015 and there’s very little that’s really known about it, its direction, etc.

At the end of the day, having this kind of desktop OS split from Microsoft isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s actually a return to a previous practice for them. Windows ME, back in 1990-blah, blah, blah was the last truly consumer version of Windows (Win95) before an updated version of Windows NT (Windows 2000, if you remember…) was released and became very popular with consumers, due in large part to is enterprise focused stability.

Do you think Microsoft returning/splitting its focus with Windows between consumers and the enterprise is a good or bad thing?  Can you support your argument?  I’d love to hear what you have to say.  Why not join me in the discussion below and tell me what you think of this interesting development.

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Business users reject Windows 8

Win8DVDMicrosoft recently launched the latest version of their Windows operating system, Windows 8, and reports say they have sold an impressive 60 million copies since the October 2012 release. However, reviews of the new product have been mixed to say the least, and the response from the business world has been particularly cynical.

With Windows 8, Microsoft aimed to accommodate the increased popularity of tablets and smartphones. The design updates may look smart, but reviewers have complained that there are many usability issues. MIT Technology Review commented that although the new interface, which Microsoft has optimistically named “Modern,” is “a pleasure to use on phones and tablets,” it “fares poorly” when used on a PC.

The news of usability problems with Windows 8 has spread quickly among business users. The criticisms have damaged Microsoft’s reputation when it comes to operating systems, which is still in recovery from the negative response to 2006’s Windows Vista. Official sales figures state that only 17% of business computers shipped in December 2012 used Windows 8.

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It seems that businesses perceive Windows 8 as an operating system targeted to the needs and desires of consumers, and therefore not a useful update for their PCs. Windows 8 is particularly designed to suit touch screen devices such as tablets and mobile phones. Touch screen is a major consumer trend, but for business users a more practical operating system is a priority. MIT Technology Review summarised: “The touch-based user interface is clearly designed for consuming information and having fun, rather than for doing serious work.”

Windows 8’s Modern interface looks markedly different to what users have come to know and expect from Windows. When the computer is switched on, the user is met with a screen comprising of different sized squares, where they once would have seen the familiar desktop layout, with various icons, wallpaper and a toolbar. The new interface is colourful and appealing for casual computer users, but for businesses where productivity and usability are key, the new look seems more of a gimmick than an innovation.

Windows 8 has received many criticisms for its functional problems, for example technology website The Verge said that its included apps were too basic, and Ars Technica stated that the interface was not intuitive, complaining about a lack of instructions. However, reviewers have also pointed out a number of positive improvements, which have been overshadowed by complains about the interface. The Verge were impressed by Windows 8’s updated Task Manager and the File History and Storage Space features.

With Windows 8, Microsoft has launched an ambitious new product, which has had some very well documented teething problems. For businesses, an operating system with such functionality issues is not a viable option, but in the long-run Microsoft’s bold move into new territory could give them an advantage over their rivals Google and Apple. For now, they will need to work hard to win back their business customers’ valuable loyalty, perhaps with updates or a separate business edition.

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