Sunday, 20 November 2011

Opening the Windows: will 8 be a breath of fresh air?

After being shared with developers and scrutinised by the press, TBS Managing Director Steve Reynolds speculates on the impact of Microsoft’s newest operating system, Windows 8, which is set for release in 2012.

It’s clearly still early days for Microsoft’s new Windows 8 Operating System, but the signs are already extremely promising. If they get it right, Windows 8 could potentially leapfrog all other operating systems in its path.

But as much as it’s an exciting time for Microsoft, it’s also a nervous one. The early launch of Windows 8 to developers has exposed gaping holes and inconsistencies in integration. In the beta version a control panel still exposes users to the old system of keyboard and mouse, whereas touch and gesture prevails elsewhere. Clearly it remains a beta version, but consistency will be vital to longer term success.

Also important will be the new power management system which enables the operating system and hardware to function when it is in “connected standby” mode, similar to the way smartphones work. The challenge facing laptop technology is that during power-saving mode everything is switched off and the device cannot accept and process new information until it is woken by the user.

To assist with “always on” design, Windows 8 has been built to support ARM chipsets. This enables significantly lower powered, smaller form factors with superior power management for extended battery life. For the enterprise and task-orientated fieldworkers this is a key turning point, both for mobile operating systems and for mobile computing as a whole.

Windows 8 stands to be the first operating system which caters for multiple form-factors, meaning a single system can be repurposed across tablets, desktops and laptops. Given the technological advances involved in reaching this milestone, it’s not difficult to envisage a Windows 8 mobile device in the near future.

For the enterprise space this could provide a unified platform which alleviates compatibility pain and offers a single solution which can perform efficiently across a whole business. Having the same OS for engineers with smartphones and for executives with tablets and laptops would allow for security and device management policies which are more coherent and inclusive.

User Experience
The new desktop version of Windows 8 benefits from the significant amount of User Experience design which was first seen in Windows Phone 7, known as METRO. This helps the system lean towards a multi form-factor OS.

Now that design is becoming as core to software development as programming functionality, considerations of User Experience are more critical than ever. There’s a greater need to create visually pleasing software applications, which are a pleasure to use in order to complement the radical new experience that Windows 8 promises to deliver.

Microsoft remains tight-lipped on the 2012 release date for Windows 8 and I suspect it will be well into 2013 before we see the Windows 8 derivative on mobile devices. In the meantime I don’t anticipate fierce competition from another operating system that can deliver these capabilities across all form factors.

The Android operating system is great for mobile devices and for tablets, although Google’s fast developing Chrome OS feels cut adrift from the Android strategy; and Apple will continue to win the hearts and minds of consumers. But the general disconnection between web strategy and smartphone strategy means Windows 8 will have an open run at the enterprise space.

As a result, businesses will find it hard to look anywhere else.

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