The Pomp and Circumstance of Windows 9

It won’t be as big a deal as you might think, if all goes as planned.

win9

Microsoft is truly experiencing some monumental growing pains. Over the past seven years, its produced three version OS revisions – Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8. Two of the three releases – or 66% of their Windows related releases – were train wrecks. Thankfully, Office, though struggling to remain relevant with so many different and available free alternatives on the internet, hasn’t been as big of a problem.

Windows on the other hand… yeah. Microsoft will be happy to be past once of their more recent and much bigger OS mistakes. With their next release of Windows, currently known as Threshold, Microsoft is going to take a much different approach. Hopefully, they’ll be able to wash the stigma of Windows 8 away when Threshold makes its initial, public debut at the end of September – beginning of October 2014 with its Developer or Public Preview (whatever they decide to call the release).

According to Larry Dignan, Windows Threshold has a few key, critical points it needs to accomplish

– Microsoft needs to allow Windows 8 to die. The Vista analogies are really starting to be problematic
– Windows needs to find a way to be more touch centric
– Windows needs to find a better way to incorporate its ecosystem into its core functionality
– Windows needs to find a better way to incorporate faster releases into is development methodology
– Windows need to find a better way to be cloud focused

Obviously, Microsoft is hoping to find a better way to do all of these things with Threshold than with Windows 8; but as I said its not just Windows 8 that they need to live down, its much of what has happened with Windows since the release of Windows Vista in 2007, nearly 8 years from the initial introduction of Threshold. In this way, they can (hopefully and) finally leave Windows 8 behind.

While Windows has been touch capable since the original introduction of the TabletPC in 2000, the operating system hasn’t been really touch-centric at all. With the introduction of the iPad in 2010, Apple changed the way people interacted with their computers. Keyboards and mice are no longer required. Your finger is now your mouse, and an on-screen keyboard is great for short typing tasks. However, Windows really needs to change the way users interact with their computers. Right now, while you CAN use your finger to point and click, Windows isn’t optimized for touch, and its main method of interaction is not touch based (and that’s the biggest reason why Windows 8 is an Enterprise non-starter…). Until Windows is finger friendly, its going to have a problem in the consumer market where touch is becoming more mainstream.

One of the biggest problems Windows currently has is that its ecosystem is full of holes. Microsoft tried to lock it down with the implementation of Windows RT and the Windows Store; but as RT is a huge non-starter, I don’t see how Microsoft plans to fill them if the solution has anything to do with RT, but that’s another story.

Microsoft still has to figure out what to do with media – music, movies, TV – related content and how to bring that into both their mobile app and desktop app stores. Until they crack this nut, there’s going to be a huge problem with content sales in the Microsoft ecosystem. Currently, its very disjointed and very problematic. Whatever they do, they need to make sure that the store is unified and has content for both Windows Phone and Desktop Windows.

Microsoft’s development methodology and release schedule is also a concern at this time. They need to figure out how to provide more rapid releases; but they need to do it in a way where speed isn’t the only thing that people should see coming out of a new release schedule. Microsoft has to provide meaningful updates, features and patches quickly, in the same manner as Apple and many of the Linux distributions do.

There are rumors about Microsoft doing away with Patch Tuesday. While this may be a good thing – Microsoft needs to change the way the public views Windows and Windows Update – its got to be implemented the right way. Quicker is not necessarily better. Microsoft needs to figure out a way to eliminate security holes and other high ranking bugs internally, before they get out to the public.

To this end, they’re remaking the way they do testing. As this is an area of expertise for me, I’m interested in what they do and how they do it. Whatever their solution is, it needs to inspire a renewed sense of confidence in not only Windows and the rest of Microsoft’s products, but with the way Microsoft does business; and ultimately, in Microsoft itself.

Finally, Windows, and ultimately Microsoft, needs to find a way to be more cloud focused. Having a cloud based storage tool – Microsoft OneDrive – isn’t enough. Windows is local storage based and has been since 1990 blah, blah, blah. They need to figure out a way to be more cloud focused with their apps as well as with the data. Simply putting the data in a Dropbox-like cloud-based drive isn’t enough to make either Windows, Office, or any other Microsoft app, cloud focused. Cloud focused does not mean remote vs. local storage.

Microsoft has to provide a way to create and provide cloud based services that either don’t exist on the traditional Windows side of the world, or they need to provide new ones that replace their traditional products and services. Office 365 is a start, but its not the end of the story.

In the end, the results that Microsoft hopes to see and get from all of this is a de-emphasis of Windows – and every other Microsoft product, including Office – and a reemphasis on Microsoft as a company, service producer and cloud-based solution provider. To that end, you’ll notice that the next version of Windows as a product will be surrounded by less pomp and circumstance than previous versions; and that will be a very good thing. If there’s one thing that Satya Nadella knows, it’s the cloud. He’s been living in it for quite a few years at Microsoft. Hopefully, this new strategy will help Microsoft turn a corner and get its groove back.

What do you think? How should Microsoft handle the release of the next version of Windows? Should it be as cloud focused as I’m saying it should be? Is the status quo for Microsoft good enough? Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area, below and give me your thoughts on all of this? I’d love to hear from you.

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…Now with less suckage…

I have it on good authority that Windows 8.1 Update doesn’t suck…

Windows8.1

About 18 months ago, I wrote a column for InformationWeek’s BYTE on the state of Windows 8 and its UI at the time. Unfortunately, BYTE is no more. You can’t even find any REAL reference to the project on InformationWeek at this point, though if you know the right search criteria, you can still find many of the articles from most, if not all of its contributors (see the example above…); and in many cases, they may still be relevant today.

Recently, my good friend and former BYTE Editorial Director, Larry Seltzer wrote a piece on how Windows 8.1 doesn’t suck, and it was recently published on ZDNet. He made a couple big points in the article. You can read it if you want to, (it’s a good read and well worth the time) but I’ve summarized them here and added some of my own commentary.

1. Windows 8.1 with Update, is now usable
I’ve got a lot of experience with Windows 8. I’ve been using it since it’s very early days in 2011 when the Developer Preview came out. I had it installed on a touch netbook at the time; and it was a damned mess with both interfaces conflicting with one another, making use of your Windows 8.x device very difficult. It got better with 8.1. It’s gotten better still with Windows 8.1 Update. In fact, you can now use Windows 8.1 on a desktop machine without wanting to rip your hair out. The experience is nearly tolerable. By the time Threshold gets here (Windows 8.2, Windows 9, or whatever they brand it as), it should be just as desktop friendly as Windows 7, in my opinion. (Which I think is the best version of Windows ever, but that’s a discussion for another day).

2. Start Menu Replacements have a limited shelf life with Threshold on the way
This is where Larry and I [may] disagree. I say may, because there’s still one huge wild card left to be played – Windows Threshold. No one knows what it’s going to look like. No one knows exactly when it’s supposed to be released. Microsoft is playing with its release schedule, and while we know there’s supposed to be a release in Q1/Early Q2 of calendar 2015, we don’t know if that’s going to be Threshold or just another “incremental” update. The full Start Menu is supposed to appear in Windows Threshold; and until it’s revealed, it’s impossible to say if it will be positively or negatively reviewed.

Start button/menu apps like Start8 offer as true a Windows 7-like experience as you can get on Windows 8. It’s more about the Start Menu than the button with Start8; and while Windows 8.x may now allow for a more desktop friendly (or Windows 7-like) experience, depending on how the new/revived Start Menu in the NEXT version of Windows is implemented, some users may still want apps like Start8. So I don’t agree with him when he says that Start Menu/button apps are living on borrowed time.

While I think they may not be as popular as they were before Threshold, some users may still prefer them (or at least the one they’ve been using). It all depends on the great unknown – the next version of Windows. Currently, no one knows what that looks like…

3. Windows 8.x is a branding Nightmare
Larry is dead on here. I think just about everyone in the Windows community, outside of Microsoft, that is, will agree. Windows 8.x branding is a worse leper than Windows Vista was. Microsoft needs to get themselves off of Windows 8.x as soon as they can and get to the next version of Windows.

If Microsoft wants to keep the MetroUI/ModernUI look and feel, they will need to draw the line in the sand and make Mobile Windows only for Windows Phone and for their tablets (don’t’ you really want to say Windows Tablet..? I know I do). That will leave MetroUI/ModernUI for the Windows RT/ Windows Surface/2, non-legacy-desktop capable tablets, and leave Windows #.x for their compatible tablets/ultrabooks, laptops and desktops (which, quite honestly, is what they should have done in the first place…)

Anyway you cut it, Microsoft needs to leave the Windows 8.x brand in the past and move on to something – nearly anything – else. If they don’t, they’re going to continue to have sales and revenue issues, going forward.

So, all things being equal at this point, it’s true – Windows 8.1 Update really doesn’t suck. I got it the first day that it was made available to everyone and I’ve been very pleased with what it’s been able to provide.

It seems that Microsoft is listening to the feedback of its customers. It seems as though, under its new leadership from Satya Nadella, Microsoft is getting its act together and is beginning to find its way back to the beaten path. Though many will say that “taking the road less travelled” provides you with a more robust journey, I think that journey has proved to be nothing more than a “bust” for Microsoft up to this point. Getting themselves back to a more traditional version of Windows for their legacy desktop users now insures that their enterprise business is no longer in as risky a position as it used to be.

What do you think? Do you use Windows 8? Have you upgraded to Windows 8.1? Have you upgraded to Microsoft Windows 8.1 Update? Do you use a Start Menu replacement app on top of Windows 8? Is Microsoft getting back on track with its recent releases? Are you more satisfied with Windows 8.1 Update than with previous versions of Windows?

The comments section is just below, and I really would appreciate your thoughts. I know that others would appreciate them as well, as there’s a great deal of opinion on this; and I’d really like to know what you have to say on the whole subject. Please join me in the discussion below and tell me what you think.

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Microsoft Wants You…

To help it kill Windows XP as part of the XP Army

winaccess denied2014-02-07 marks 60 days until support for Windows XP will officially die. After that, its malware defs only until that finally craps out sometime next year. After  2014-04-08, everyone running XP will be a target for hackers everywhere.

Oh, goody.

So, what’s a techie to do?   Easy… help Microsoft prevent the PC apocalypse by getting friends and family everywhere to upgrade to a different version of Windows – preferably Windows 8.x – ASAP.

Effectively, as suggested by Microsoft’s Brandon LeBlanc, you need to find a PC buddy, and if they’re running XP, get them to upgrade or help them purchase a new PC.

Wait… What?!

Don’t get me wrong. I am all about helping friends and loved ones. I really am…but when most people are so poor, they can’t afford to pay attention, let alone help someone pay for a new PC.   What’s more upsetting, is that neither Microsoft nor LeBlanc are offering any kind of price breaks on either Windows 7 or Windows 8.x or on new hardware.   While no one at Microsoft actually came out and said, “give your friends and family money so they can upgrade their rig,” the point was clearly taken.   They want everyone moving to Windows 8.x ASAP.

While Windows 8 was dirt cheap for a   while after its initial release on October 2012, it jacked the price back up to $120 bucks for the consumer version and $200 bucks for the enterprise version.   Microsoft also killed Windows 7 during this time, so you have no choice but to move to Windows 8.x at this point, whether you want to or not, whether you like it or not.

Everyone – from OEM’s, to security experts to tech enthusiasts, experts and journalists as well as the consumer community – has been pushing Microsoft to offer a (permanently) affordable SKU of Windows 8.x.   If they want the world off of XP, they need to make it super easy and silly not up upgrade immediately.

If this whole thing isn’t a stick in the eye from Microsoft, I really don’t know what is. While I don’t have any PC’s that run XP, either in physical or VM form, at home or at work, I know many people still do.   Its likely the 3rd  party development community will continue to support XP for a while until all of their customers upgrade, which may or may not happen any time soon.

I think the biggest scenario I’m afraid of, is someone who paid, like, $2500 for their XP computer, who refuses to upgrade, because their determined to get their money’s worth, and they get a huge virus that empties their bank accounts and files a civil suite against the Redmond software company; or worse yet, replace the consumer with a bank (many ATM’s run on Windows XP), and have the same thing happen. That could get ugly.

What do you think? Are you still using Windows XP?   Does anyone in your family? Will you buy an upgrade to the OS, or will you buy a new computer, if you upgrade at all?   I’d love to hear what you think of this situation, as well as what might happen  61 days from now in the comments section below.

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HP Applying OS Pressure

HP’s “Back by Popular Demand” Promotion confirms – Windows 8 really does suck.

Untitled

I heard this while listening to episode 926 of TNT, “Get Adam Curry on the Phone.” My initial response was that this was a huge problem for Microsoft. HP is not only offering a current PC i.e., not refurbished and not a clearance item with Windows 7 on it, but it’s doing so at a $150 discount.

HP is offering the HP Pavilion 15t-n200 Notebook PC with Windows 7. It has  a 4th generation Intel Core i5-4200U Processor and is priced $599.  This is huge for both consumers and the enterprise, as many users have really struggled with Windows 8. Many enterprises are still using Windows XP and their IT departments are more inclined to refresh those aging endpoints with Windows 7 rather than Windows 8.  The Windows 8 UI is totally different from Windows XP and the learning curve is steep.

Many organizations aren’t willing to take the productivity hit associated with the new desktop OS. That coupled with the fact that many critical, proprietary and other traditional enterprise apps have not been fully vetted or optimized for Windows 8 makes them an unlikely candidate for the touch-centric OS.  Add in the absence of a Start Button and a more traditional Start Menu and you begin to clearly see the hot mess that Windows 8.x has created for itself.

I think the biggest issue here is that Microsoft is having to compete against itself with much older products.  Windows 8 has less than a 10% market share of all Windows PC’s worldwide, and they’re under a great deal of pressure to:

1.Make Windows 8.x work – Microsoft has a long row to hoe, here. Their Windows 8.1 Update 1, or Windows 8.2,whatever they’re going to call it, has a large bill to pay. It needs to right more wrongs than Windows 8.1 did gain more confidence, more user satisfaction than it currently enjoys and it really doesn’t have a lot of time to do that with.

2.Distance themselves as quickly and as far as they can from Windows 8.x. Microsoft can’t make Windows 9 get here quick enough.  While its next OS, code named Threshold is currently scheduled for a Spring 2015 release, for Microsoft, this next year is going to crawl.

Microsoft’s PC market is losing a lot of ground to the tablet market, especially the Android tablet market. Not only are Android tablets cheap , many decent models can be had for between $250 to $450.  Microsoft’s tablet offerings, Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro are much more expensive, and Windows RT doesn’t have the ecosystem of apps and content that Android has, yet another area where Microsoft seems to be seriously struggling.

HP’s move to bypass Windows 8.x and instead offer the outdated Windows 7 is a slap in the face for Microsoft. It’s clearly a challenge.  Microsoft clearly needs to do better with Windows 8.1+ and Windows 9. It needs to make serious advances with its tablet offerings, and either change, enhance or open its mobile ecosystem to insure that it attracts users, or its going to have some serious relevance issues in the next 5-7 years. It can ill afford a third Vista, let alone two…

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Windows 8 Part 1 – Repeating Windows 7 Success

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview (or Beta) is due out on 29-Feb-12 at Mobile World Congress. While it may be strategically important to Microsoft, consumers may not thing so.

I’ve been part of nearly every Windows Technical Beta Team since Windows 95. I’m used to being one of Microsoft’s go-to external testers. I also was part of their Windows 7 Launch, as I was chosen in 2009 to host a Windows 7 Launch Party at my home. I covered the event for a local paper as well, and spun off into a print column for them called, “Technically Speaking.” At the time of its release, Windows 7 was the right operating system for Microsoft’s ailing desktop operating system business – It provided enough of a reason to compel enterprise users to move away from Windows XP, and wasn’t the consumer-worrying, performance deprived, hardware consuming mess that Windows Vista was.

With the release of Windows 8, Microsoft is hoping to address two big issues.

1. Repeat the Windows 7 success
2. Address the tablet trend

In this two part series, we’re going to look at both of these issues and try to make sense of it all.

Windows 7 vs. Windows 8 – Repeat the Success

There are a couple basic reasons why Windows 7 was so successful, and both of them are operating system related. Interestingly enough, both reasons have nothing do to with Windows 7.

Windows 7 wasn’t Windows XP

Windows 7 owes a lot of its past and current success to Windows XP. WinXP was released over 11 years ago. It stuck around in the enterprise for so long because it was solid. Even though it still has a number security issues, it’s still a huge player in the enterprise space because of XP’s longevity and familiarity with IT support staff. Simply put, they’ve been working with it for so long, they’re familiar with the pain it causes, know where the problems are, and know how to deal with them.

However, its time has come and gone. Many companies that are still running the aged OS are in the process of phasing it out of the enterprise and are making in the process of drafting or implementing approved Windows 7 migration plans. IT support staff members feel confident that their users will be able to effectively make the transition without too many use or support issues. It’s enough like XP that users will be able to make a smooth transition, and improved enough that the support issues encountered with XP have been successfully and effectively addressed. Microsoft had also clearly made its plans for sun setting the OS widely known.

Simply put, Windows 7 was a success because the need for an XP replacement was clear. XP needed a replacement and the enterprise and consumer public was more than ready for it.

Windows 7 Clearly was NOT Windows Vista

One of the biggest reasons why Windows 7 was such a success was that it clearly was NOT Windows Vista. While Vista may have introduced a new interface, desktop theme and new technology, it unfortunately came with a lot of problems.

Microsoft moved everything. Windows XP users moving to Vista had a huge problem using the OS. Many of the features and functions that they were used to going to in location X were now located in location Z (location “Y” would have made sense, but MS seemed to randomly move things to new locations that only THEY understood the reasoning behind…).

Vista was late to market. The OS, originally code named Longhorn, was well over 7 years late being released. Worse yet, it was riddled with performance issues. Correcting them was easy and after SP1 was released, it actually wasn’t a bad OS.

Its problems were marketing in and PR-based. Windows 7 didn’t have a hard time being a success. In fact, based on Vista’s bad PR and XP’s overly long longevity, Windows 7 couldn’t have been much else other than a success. Microsoft did what it needed to do to address some interface and user experience issues, further improved the underlying performance and put some marketing money behind the release. The result was instant success.

Come back next time, and we’ll address some items in the Windows 8 Developer’s Preview and what’s supposed to be happening with the Consumer Preview to address the increasing popularity of tablets at both home and at work.

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