Well, Microsoft have finally made their announcement: the new version of Windows is on its way! What does it mean to business users?
What’s in the Name?
It’s happened many times before: a company has used a version number that’s not strictly sequential. Usually there’s a good reason, even if that reason is commercial rather than technical. Famously the database program dBase was initially released as dBase II because nobody liked to buy version one software.
What’s behind Microsoft’s move to 10? I think there are two things behind it.
- There are significant moves under the bonnet to consolidate platforms, to unify the Windows experience across devices. This is to be expected in the current technology climate. If Microsoft produce a product that lives up to this promise then I think they will be justified in giving it a number 10 as it will be a significant technological change.
- We’ve been used to single digit versions of software for years – these things evolve slowly. But more recently some major players have been upping the ante. OS X, anyone? Firefox and Chrome are both well into double digits. There is definitely a sense of maturity that comes from a double digit version number, something that implies stability and maturity. I suspect that Microsoft had this at least in their minds as they considered the version number, and I’m sure that they believe that it is a mature product – the justification will only come with the shipped product.
These days it’s not just about the operating system, it’s about the ecosystem: phone, tablet, web, PC – all have to work together. Apple have seen an increase in consumer purchases of Mac products because of iPhone users. Chromebooks are now becoming mainstream due to the ubiquity of Android and the Chrome browser. Microsoft are travelling in the other direction, but they have to provide an equal value proposition in terms of the entire ecosystem.
The promise of a single unified interface and architecture is a big one, but one that Microsoft may just be able to pull off. They have been providing the main building blocks of virtually every SME’s IT systems for too many years to think about, they have a wealth of experience and understanding. That understanding is changing however. Google have shown that a new kid on the block can change how people work. Google Apps for Work is doing this in some style.
The weight of existing users is still with Microsoft, and if you use any of their business server products then this will still be the most natural way to go. The Windows 10 front end will fit more naturally.
Where Microsoft may not fare so well is with the new business startup. For these businesses the infrastructure requirements of becoming a ‘Microsoft shop’ may be too much. The barriers to entry to the ecosystem may be too high. If Microsoft can push their Outlook.com email platform across platforms and perhaps provide cloud applications for the middleware that most SMEs inevitably have then they may well be onto a winner.
As has already been pointed out, there are viable and usable alternatives already out there. Both Apple and Google have broken into the operating system market in significant enough terms to deny Microsoft’s place as the only choice. However, for many small businesses it is probably still the default choice.
In my opinion and experience the Apple ecosystem isn’t comprehensive enough or cost effective enough to be an attractive option for the SME – always allowing for the fact taht there are certain industry sectors that will always prefer the Apple route. The Google offering is certainly more attractive as a low cost, hugely scalable collaboration ecosystem. As such it will work well for many businesses that haven’t yet made a decision.
Winners and Losers
In the operating system stakes there may not be any obvious winners or losers any more. The diversification of platform makes it harder to see success as well as harder to choose which way to go. The heavily cloud based offering of Google is certainly very attractive to the small business, and many larger businesses are finding it more than adequate for their needs.
I suspect that it will be the medium sized businesses that will stay with Microsoft. I think that the reason for this comes down to middleware – the bespoke applications, often developed in house, often starting with a spreadsheet, but usually moving up through Access or similar as the business grows. At present Microsoft provide more accessible tools for this sort of middleware, and a more straightforward path to building your own business data tools. If Microsoft can continue to provide this path, along with a comprehensive ecosystem to rival the rivals then I’m sure that Microsoft will continue to dominate at least the corporate desktop for a few years to come.
Now that I’ve installed the new OS on a test system I thought I’d share my experience. I chose a Windows 7 system that does service as our home spare machine. It doesn’t see a lot of use, and it’s not a particularly powerful machine.
The first interesting experience was that the Windows 10 Technical Preview installs via Windows Update! This means not only that it’s an in place upgrade, keeping your existing accounts, applications and data, but that you don’t have the hassle of downloading ISOs and burning disks. The Windows Update download was around 2.6Gb, so be prepared for some time to download.
The second ‘interesting’ experience was the slightly surreal progress messages for the update. Windows 10 apparently likes to ‘take care of things’ and do ‘some more’ things. I did find these messages to be a bit too ‘user friendly’ to the extent that all they were saying about the process was: we’re doing some stuff…
Having said that, the fact that this was the only negative observation to make is very encouraging. The entire process, while time consuming as expected was flawless.
I’ve not spent much time on the newly installed OS, but at first try it certainly seems to have ticked most of the boxes that the end user wants. It’s got a recognisable start menu (albeit with live tiles tagged on the side) and it boots to the normal desktop on a non touch machine. Once I’ve had more time to explore the interface I’ll post again with some concrete user experiences!