Tag Archive | Windows 8

Can’t we just stay?

With the imminent approach of the end of support of Windows XP (April 2014), questions on many customers’ minds include “can’t we just stay on Windows XP?” or” Can we just pay Microsoft some money to extend my support to mitigate my risks?”  Both of these questions have been asked of me in the last two weeks.  Having just had sight of the magnitude of costs involved for extending Windows XP support, let’s explore both of those questions and the extended support costs.

The move to Windows 7 or Windows 8 away from Window XP is an emotive decision for many customers. They can often feel forced to migrate and can struggle to identify the material benefit of migration. This is certainly true in terms of pure direct cost savings against the cost of transformation.  But fiscal benefit is of course completely separate to improving the experience of users and the material improvements in functionality and supportability which Windows 7 or 8 bring.  So are Microsoft unreasonable in wanting to move on and force their customer base to migrate?

Windows XP was released in September 2001 therefore By the time Windows XP becomes end of life (EOL), it will have been a supported product for 12.5 years.  Usually Microsoft only support a product for 10 years, and they would argue (with some justification) that they’ve gone the extra mile with Windows XP support already.  The main reason Microsoft remove support of a product though is because of the costs involved in having to support so many platforms and retrofit those platforms to accommodate new products and technologies.

Microsoft release new versions of products every 3 years, (a situation caused by EA agreements and software assurance rights) and so for Microsoft to have teams that support so many platforms (currently Windows XP, Vista, 7 & 8) it inevitably becomes  commercially unviable.  I also wonder (* Car Analogy Klaxon *) how many of us drive cars even 5 years old, never mind 12 years old? Yet we might consider running our business on software and technology that was developed over 10 years ago?

If you’re a customer considering staying on Windows XP, why move?  Inevitably, the eco system around Windows XP platforms will close. Your organisation will be forced to change in time.  Software vendors (for the same reasons as Microsoft), want to call time on older, legacy versions of their products too.  Hardware vendors (and it’s already happening), will not provide drivers and downgrade rights to older versions of operating systems on newer equipment.

All that new equipment you were thinking of buying in the next year or so but downgrading to Windows XP probably won’t be able to run Windows XP.  Also, it should considered that whilst it might be possible to sweat an asset for an indefinite period of time, (until it fails) at some point support and maintenance of really old equipment actually starts to cost your business more.  Effectively you’ll be paying more for support, to stay still technologically, whilst your competition embrace modern workplace working practices.

So, you’re thinking about taking a custom support agreement (Microsoft jargon for extended support)?  Well, if you’re an enterprise organisation, you’re going to be looking at 7 figures minimum per year, (and I’ve seen a customer that’s been offered 3 year extended support for an 8 figure sum).  There will be also be additional costs for customers who  request hotfixes and security patches as well.

All good things come to an end.  Windows XP has served the business world well, but inevitably technology vendors improve and enhance their technologies based on feedback and requirements from their customers.

Whilst it might be possible to put off the inevitable for a short period, the reality is that moving from Windows XP must happen at some point in time. My recommendation to any customer would be start planning to migrate off Windows XP if you haven’t already  and consider using that contingency/extended support fund you would have used to stay on Windows XP and get on with the business of migrating.  Migrating any volume of users before the EOL date of Windows XP has to be better than none.

…..and finally, if you have to make a change, make it a good one. There are many benefits and opportunities available to your business in moving to a new platform, make sure you understand what they are and communicate them. Show your user community that this change is a positive one for the business.

The Windows 7 or 8 quandary?

With the very recent release of Windows 8, many companies that haven’t started moving to Windows 7 already will surely be asking themselves; “should I deploy Windows 7 or Windows 8”? In fact, only this last week I’ve been asked this very question twice by customers. So, assuming you’re not one of the 50% of organisations already committed to Windows 7, what should your organisation consider doing? Which is the right choice and why?

It’s no coincidence that any new version of Windows is ready and available to supply to Microsoft’s OEM channel partners in September of any given year.  Christmas will soon be upon us all, and there are presents to be bought, whether for loved ones (or ourselves!) and this gives you a good indication of who Windows 8 is primarily aimed at in this first wave of enablement.  In fact, (as warned previously), you’ll no doubt have seen the Windows 8/Surface/Windows 8 phone campaigns begin in earnest, entirely to this end, to sell to home/consumer users. Uptake in consumers drives uptake in business, a lesson that Microsoft learnt a long time ago.

With Windows XP the predominant operating system for the vast majority of the remaining 50% of companies yet to upgrade, and with Windows XP support ceasing in April 2014, that gives these customers around 16 months with which to try and get off the older platform if possible, (of course, some won’t make it in time given their organisations size and plethora of legacy applications).  A typical 2000 seat organisation for reference takes around 12 months to plan, design, test, enable and deploy Windows 7; though don’t quote me if you don’t plan and prepare well enough. (You’ve been warned).

Windows 8 clearly brings some very attractive features for enterprise, specifically of interest are the following : –

  • quicker boot up, stability and performance of the OS
  • Improved security
  • The improved search function (which is really excellent)
  • Internet Explorer 10
  • Longer support lifecycle(remember it’s 10 years from release for any MS product)
  • Windows 8 to go – allowing boot from USB drives
  • Internal application store for self service applications of your apps
  • Touch UI for touch enabled applications (such as Office 2013)

Having used Windows 8 for some time now, (on both touch optimised device, and non-touch optimised device), without doubt, Windows 8 is better with a touch experience.  Yes, the Windows Modern UI is excellent, but there are functions and features you still need a keyboard and mouse for to make the experience less irksome.  Secondly, there is a learning curve with Windows 8; things aren’t where you’re going to expect them to be or do what you expect them to do sometimes.

As an example when I gave my wife a Windows 8 device initially, she didn’t like the experience at all, yearning for the ways she’s used for as long as she’s used a PC (which is a long time….. ).  Other experienced long term users  of Windows also report much the same, (me included).  With consumer deployment well established in perhaps 12 months’ time you’ll probably not have this problem but if you’re considering going early, you’ve got to consider the learning curve and factor in additional training costs.

Finally (as this is just a blog, not a whitepaper), it’s likely your existing hardware estate of the last few years will support Windows 8 right out of the box, in fact, I doubt you’ll struggle to make it run on equipment of up to 5 years of age, these devices however won’t have touch. The early devices that have touch are going to be great, but will be improved upon, and of course, importantly will come down in price, so again, Windows 8 touch optimised kit will come with a premium on your typical laptop cost of say £500 per device, with many slates likely to be £800 and upwards initially.

Right now, it’s most likely that Windows 7 offers most organisations the best choice for their corporate desktop deployment and Windows 8 for slates, Ultrabooks and touch enabled devices.  Windows to go might also offer you some benefit for flexible/home working practices (without the cost of additional hardware supply on the company’s part).

Windows 8 offers some great technology and features, but the added time, complexity of readiness (some features) and costs involved just make it another unnecessary time delay and barrier to deploying a supported and stable platform.  For these reasons; unless you have specific scenario that would be of benefit on Windows 8, Windows 7 remains my recommended platform of choice for the vast majority of your business.

Addendum that iPad?

The only really big problem with annual leave is that at some point you have to return to work. Well, I’m back, and following 2 weeks in Florida, the resulting jetlag is the reason I’m writing this at 5am.  Still, it’s not all bad, as I’m writing this on my new Microsoft Surface RT.  So how is it? Why did I buy one? What will I use it for? And importantly, how does it compare to an iPad?

Before we begin though, let’s start of by saying that I’m not going to discuss the device/hardware and app store, let’s just leave it at ”the external reviews on hardware are all about right”, (it’s beautifully designed and executed), the touch keyboard really is very workable and usable, and far superior to any iPad keyboard, and there aren’t loads of apps yet, (come on, it’s only been out two weeks, give  it 6 months. iPad had no apps for ages either, and up scaled/stretched iPhone apps don’t really count), those that there are beautiful on the whole (think flipboard cool).

So, why did I buy one?  Well, my iPad is just over 2 years old now, and to be honest, it’s not been performing well of late. Since I moved to IOS 5, application crashes are very frequent, and I’ve found it less and less enjoyable to use. Perhaps time for a new iPad then or maybe something else? Well, I checked out Nexus 7 (and they’ve just released Nexus 10), a good product for sure but whilst in US I visited a Microsoft store and well, the rest is history. I was won over by the device after 10 minutes, add in a nice dollar/pound rate and the deal was done.

What will I use it for?  Well, it’s a consumer device, (as is iPad), and I anticipate using it for a mixture of consumer stuff, and some day work usage. When I recount what I used my iPad for, I used it for the same, email at home, and a day trip device, rather than carry a full laptop. What I didn’t use it for was any creation, (I’m not a big fan of iPad keyboard and autocorrect), so as a basic consideration  does Surface do those things well enough?

How does it cope? Surprisingly well…… Surface comes with Office 2013 installed (preview to be upgraded to full version soon), so document creation is easy. (this article was written in Word 2013, then copied into the WordPress RT App). Integration into corporate exchange by ActiveSync is faultless.  Mail and Calendaring application, (it doesn’t have outlook), are as functional as iPad versions and the calendaring function is more reliable than iPads. Integration into Office365 is really excellent, (both Lync and SharePoint document access easy in addition to email) Citrix receiver is also available, though I’ve not tried that yet.

Where Surface works really well is the new combination of Windows 8 RT and the keyboard/touch interface, you end up evolving your interaction with the device, combining the Windows 8 UI and charms and touch/keyboard options.  As an example, when using the browser if you want to move to another page, you touch into the text box and then type.  If you want to go back a page in the browser, well that’s just a sideways swipe. It works really easily and beautifully, though there is a learning curve which is much steeper than iPad.

Keyboard and kickstand make the device lap or desk friendly, stable, and very usable. The really useful piece for a corporate addendum device comes in the fact the device has some really useful helpful features.   Firstly it’s got a USB port, so you can add devices to it.   Although it doesn’t have an Ethernet port, you can add one via USB, a useful feature given most companies in the UK don’t have wall to wireless.  Secondly, when I returned home and added the device to my network, it scavenged the network, found my wireless printer, and automatically installed the drivers for me. Printing without challenges. Try and do that on an iPad.

So, what’s not so great?  Surface is most certainly not a portrait device as it sports a 16:9 ratio screen, unlike iPad’s 4:3, (think old television versus new flat panel ratios).  Designed for watching films and such. It can run in this orientation, but it feels odd. If you’re an organisation that’s invested in MDM products, it’ll be a little while till Windows RT is supported I expect.  Microsoft licensing on RT means in theory you can’t legally use it to create documents in a work environment, (silly idea, I know). Corporate integration fully is just as painful as iPad, it can’t authenticate  against AD, and you can’t just point at your CIFS file servers or SharePoint servers.  The apps catalogue is thin on business tools and whilst it supports handwriting, there’s no digital stylus to actually handwrite into OneNote or Evernote (both of those apps are available already)

Is Surface a better addendum device than an iPad, in many ways, yes!  In some ways it provides exactly the same challenges for corporate integration, though with less MDM integration options in the short-term. It’ll be my new addendum device for a while, (neither iPad or Surface RT could be your only device) and we’ll  see how it pans out, though what’s really exciting is going to be the full Surface Pro (and other Intel based devices), which will be available in Jan/Feb and will come with the same strengths as RT, and fix many of its challenges.

One thing’s for sure though.  It’s going to make for some interesting challenges for selecting the right slates/tablets in 2013 for your business.

What’s in a name?

Sometimes in the IT industry, we are prone to over complicate, confuse and bamboozle our customers.  The use of acronyms, abbreviations and silly confusing names are occupational hazards in corporate IT and it’s about to get a little additional help in the next 10 days as Microsoft release 3 versions of “Windows”, developed for 3 different technology markets/scenarios: –

  • Windows 8  (standard, Pro, enterprise)
  • Windows RT
  • Windows Phone 8

Windows 8 and RT are released for general availability on Friday October 26th, and Windows Phone 8 has an entirely different release all of its own on Monday 29th.  So, 3 products, what are they for, and what are the primary differences?

Windows 8 is what users would normally consider Windows, though as I briefly covered last week, it looks different and is developed to cover both touch, keyboard and mouse.  There are different versions depending on your specific need, but essentially, it’s your usual corporate windows, Active Directory integrated product, which runs typical X32 and X64 bit applications, and is entirely backward compatible with Windows 7.

Windows RT, (a name that has no meaning at all) is really geared as consumer market product.  It doesn’t run on Intel X32 or X64 technology, but runs on ARM technology usually found in smartphone handset technology.    It’s geared as an alternative to Android and Apples’ ubiquitous iPad tablets, and will spawn quite a lot of cheap slates no doubt.

Windows RT cannot be connected to an Active Directory, but will be shipped with Office 2013 (a version for RT), but, oddly, it’s a version which cannot be used to create corporate/commercial documents unless you have additional licence entitlement apparently.  (An interesting move, but one I can’t see people keeping too, or see how that’ll be very enforceable).   Most importantly, it cannot run traditional corporate 32bit or 64 bit applications, though you will be to use it with Citrix receiver if you have such technology available to you.

Applications for Windows RT will be downloaded from the app store, and as of writing this, there are around 6000 apps already available, (which isn’t bad considering it’s not released yet), and I hear Microsoft talking 100k apps by Xmas, which seems optimistic to me, but I guess we’ll see who’s the loser on that bet come Xmas. £10 that I’m a winner MS.

Windows Phone 8 will be a very interesting product, one which has been swathed in secrecy.  Microsoft are seemingly try to create some hype (ala Apple).  All of the features have not been released yet, and the development tools have only been released to the very top application developers to try and contain leaks of what’s in the product.

What I can tell you, is that it’s going to be a very well integrated corporate product, fixing all of its previous products shortfalls in the corporate security space.  Expect class leading mail/calendar (as has been in 7.5), with encryption and application security to surpass all.  We’ll cover more details when it’s released.  Expect some cutting edge industry leading handsets, (Nokia Lumia 920 anyone?) and it’s going to be a big push by Microsoft to attack corporate phone supply business for Microsoft houses.

What’s the most interesting thing about all these versions of Windows though is in one specific feature that’s not been widely articulated by Microsoft, and one I believe could well prove to be one of the primary drivers for (corporate) adoption.  When we consider most likely use cases for the new versions of Windows almost all are likely be used primarily on mobile devices.

The biggest challenge almost every corporate is having with mobility, (beyond the issue of wall to wall wireless internally), is getting access to corporate applications.  Sure email and calendaring is pretty easy, and most corporates have done tactical MDM implementations to help with the challenge of enabling BYO, and providing some corporate integration.  Applications access though, is not widely successful or even remotely easy to achieve right now.

Most corporate applications are X32 or X64, though of course, there are many applications that are widely used that are Web enabled.  Windows 8 and all its derivatives, all run the same common OS core code, (we call that a kernel), what this means, is that applications that are developed for your traditional desktop OS, can be quickly and easily ported down onto both RT and Windows phone 8.    What a vendor will have finally enabled, is a way of creating apps and making them easily movable across a broad spectrum of devices, a scenario that Apple hasn’t enabled or achieved across iOS and OSX and it’s entirely impossible on Android too.

Could this one specific feature be the killer feature that Microsoft needs to really provide customers with a more scalable and a better mobile integrated business?  I guess only time will tell, but it’s certainly got to be an interesting consideration for an organisation and its mobility strategy, if like most, you’ve not been developing your own iOS or Android Apps.  Will we finally move from tactical mobile solutions to a more strategic choice with a key vendor?  Microsoft is certainly hoping so.

The problem’s all about choice.

It’s a very busy time of year for those looking at technology direction and futures.  It’s European conference time, which generally means time taken out of the day job to go and spend time listening to this year’s uplift in technology from vendor X, Y and Z.   Added to that this year, we’ve got Microsoft’s (probably) largest ever uplift in technology stack, all due in the next few months.  They’ve already released Windows Server 2012, Windows 8 release’s the end of this month (as does the new phone platform), and then we’ve got new versions of Office, Exchange and SharePoint server all due around Feb 2013. It’s going to be a busy few months for sure,

What’s actually most interesting right now though is that for as long as I can remember, (and I’m old now), I can never remember a time when workplace related technology has been so in vogue and prominent.   Ten years back, the smartphone was a mere pipedream, the palm pilot and HP IPaq and other such technology existed, but you’d never consider it mainstream.  Certainly carrying one around wouldn’t been have deemed cool.  No, corporate IT was squarely about providing services to end user to do a job.  Options were pretty much limited to a desktop, or, if you were really quite important, you might get a laptop. A £2000 device at that!  A mobile phone had a mono screen, and basically you could text and do calls on it. (I think we’ve still got a few of those about still J )

Roll forwards to now, and how things have changed. Sure, the desktop and laptop exist, (though the price point has dropped considerably), we’ve added the word virtualisation into the mix (in many different forms; application, client and user to name just 3), Broadband speeds are now approaching 100Mb at home; the smartphone is everywhere, tablets too.  3G is here now, with 4G likely to be mainstream in most large cities by mid-2013, (that will provide near broadband speeds over cellular networks), and of course we’ve added the ability to provide services from outside the private network with this thing called “cloud”.    Certainly options aren’t the problem here are they? Or are they?

The problem for our customers is though is one of choice.  A bewildering array of choices presents itself to them on how they may deliver (and consume), their workplace related services, and of course, new versions of technology often stimulate questions of how and should I, (or should I even bother) uplift from our customers.  So often I go to see a customer, and their biggest challenge is trying to appreciate what this new technology means to them.   That’s where we come in; providing our customers with the pragmatic considered view.  We don’t make anything, and so our IPR and knowledge of what works best is why our customers chose to work with us. We shouldn’t be afraid of having that informed and considered view, it’s what our customers really want from us, and we’ll continue to keep doing, integrating this new tech into our proposition stack.

Look out for more news and thoughts on all these new developments over the coming months; it’s going to take some dissecting. 

Is an Ultrabook the answer?

I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting a single device to lug around the place. It needs to be light, powerful, have a great screen, look good, last for hours etc. I remember when the tablet was first muted and asked then which item(s) I already had it would replace. Having had an iPad for a while now, the answer is, it hasn’t. I still have a Smartphone (would be difficult but not impossible to use the iPad for this but you’d need big pockets and skin the thickness of Dom Joly) and my Notebook.

On occasion I take all three devices with me when I need to do some ‘proper’ work, specifically creating in addition to reviewing. When travelling overnight and especially abroad, I have left the Notebook at home a few times and this has made a very positive difference to the holdall weight but there’s always that nagging doubt…

On the face of it, the Ultrabook does appear to combine the functionality of the Notebook while coming closer to the weight and battery life of the Tablet. The new Intel Ivy Bridge processors will further improve matters in the battery life department and Windows 8 will support touch, perhaps the single biggest USP of the iPad (as well as ‘instant on’). Oh, and that screen…

I’m eagerly awaiting my first Ultrabook and although it won’t be loaded with Windows 8 when received, it will provide a strong pointer to the future. If you’ve never had an iPad then this is probably the ideal solution but if like me you have, it will be a tougher call.

Client computing has become sexy again and whether you love or hate Apple, we should all probably thank them as it’s their innovation and design that is driving the competing manufacturers to produce better products.

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