Microsoft Q&A: With Windows 8, the choice is yours

Why CIOs should test Windows 8, why developers should love it, and why we'll all be touching our laptop screens sooner than we think

During the Windows 8 keynote at Microsoft TechEd 2012 in Orlando, Corporate VP of Windows Web Services Antoine Leblond took attendees through a breakneck tour of Microsoft's new OS.

From Metro UI navigation (both via touch-screen and mouse/trackpad) to application development and virtualization tips to a showcase of Windows 8 hardware, the keynote took another step in delivering Windows 8 to the masses as Microsoft redefines the look and feel of its flagship OS.

Before his keynote, Leblond sat down with CIO.com's assistant managing editor, Shane O'Neill, for an exclusive interview about Windows 8's embrace of developers, its promise as an enterprise OS and how tablets will never replace laptops (but Windows 8 will run on both!).

Shane O'Neill (SON): There was a pent-up need for Windows 7 for wholesale upgrades in the enterprise that isn't there with Windows 8. So what do you think are some of the enterprise scenarios with Windows 8?

Antoine Leblond (AL):What's going to generate interest in Windows 8 inside enterprises are the scenarios around mobility and everything that goes with that. When you use the touch-based Metro UI for a while and then it's gone, you miss it. So I think we're going to get a lot interest from consumers with the new Metro UI experience and that will filter to the enterprise.

SON: In the enterprise, mixed environments have always been part of the natural upgrade cycles. And this time is no different. So I expect to see Windows 8 mixing with Windows 7, on tablets and PCs.

AL: How important are Windows 8 tablets to the overall success of the OS. As we enter the BYOD era, what place will Windows tablets have in the enterprise?

Tablets are great for some things but they are not wholesale replacements for laptops. One is not going to replace the other. But because of tablets, we'll end up with more choice. Being able to choose a device that meets the requirements for the way you work or live. Tables are great for mobility and for carrying on the road. But when it comes to banging out a lot of emails or writing a report, a tablet is not the best choice.

Honestly, I think we've seen a bit of a backlash against tablets. You see it at conferences. In year one, everyone was sitting in the front row with their tablets taking notes. And a year later half had tablets, half had laptops. In year three, everyone is back to using a device with a physical keyboard. It's not as if they don't like tablets anymore. But for a task like typing you can't beat having a real keyboard and also just the ergonomics of a laptop is better.

But it's about choice. The whole point of Windows 8 is choice. Making sure you can choose the form factor you want without having to compromise. You can have a tablet that parks all your Windows apps and actually works within your enterprise environment.

SON: What are some of the key enterprise features that set Windows 8 apart from Windows 7?

AL: The security and networking features come to mind. A lot of them are direct answers to what users have been asking us for.

Trusted boot for instance [a feature that prevents malware from creeping in during boot ups and before any of the OS components are launched]. It may not seem important to someone using their PC at home, but trusted boot is a really important part of keeping your PC secure. Windows to Go [having an entire Windows 8 image transferable a USB stick that works on any Windows PC] is also a great scenario. It's another version of mobility; instead of carrying a ultramobile PC, you can just carry your work environment with you a USB stick.

A lot of the improvements to Windows 8 in general could be improvements in the enterprise. One good example is BitLocker. It's available in Windows 7 but it's been enhanced in Windows 8 to include a feature where if you exceed the number of wrong passwords you're entering to log on to a tablet, instead of wiping the machine clean like many others do, we use BitLocker to encrypt the data instead of wiping it.

So if someone steals your Windows 8 tablet and you get it back, you can use your BitLocker passcode to get your data back and not have to start over with a wiped device.

SON: Let's talk about Metro. It really is the gateway to the heart of Windows 8 the apps, the Windows Store, Web browsing in Internet Explorer 10, but it's best used through multi-touch functionality. How effective can Metro be on laptops where the mouse and keyboard have proven to be the best way to navigate?

AL: I promise you people will use touch on a laptop. We're on a path where your PC is the only device with a screen that you don't actually touch. In addition to smartphones and tablets, you're touching ATM screens, you touch the check-in kiosk screen at the airport.

A lot of touch-screen ultrabooks and ultrabook-tablet hybrids debuted at Computex last week. If you use a laptop that has touch on it, and someone takes it away, it drives you crazy. It's just a natural human interaction to touch.

It seems silly to think the laptop will be the one screen we never touch.

SON: You have to admit though, touch is uncomfortable on a traditional desktop where you're navigating from a taskbar and opening and closing browsers.

AL: Sure, but you can still use the mouse or trackpad for that. With Windows 8 you can do both depending on the task at hand. Obviously when you're typing a bunch of text you would use your mouse to place your insertion point exactly where you want it rather than trying to do it with your fat fingers.

SON: Most enterprise-level companies are just now deploying Windows 7 and may not even be thinking about Windows 8. What would you say to a CIO who couldn't be bothered with Windows 8 right now?

AL: The first thing I would say is, 'try it.' Get a sense of what the product is capable of. There's a lot of evaluation going on right now in enterprises with tablets and iPads. But within those evaluations CIOs need to ask, 'what price am I paying for using these devices as far as security and compatibility.' And then put Windows 8 in the mix and ask whether you're still paying that price.

We talk a lot about 'no compromise.' Part of that is not having to choose between having a tablet or being able to run your Windows desktop apps. With a Windows 8 tablet you can do both. In the same way the companies are evaluating all sorts of tablets today, it's certainly worth it to evaluate Windows 8 in the same way.

Obviously, if you're in the middle of deploying Windows 7, you shouldn't stop. Those are complex deployments. At the same time, we hope enterprises take the time to get familiar with Windows 8.

Part of the evaluation also includes developing apps on Windows 8. We've designed the platform so you can write native Windows 8 apps using any programming language you're familiar with. Web developers who only know JavaScript can use those skills to build Windows 8 apps. There are tons of enterprise app developers who know languages they can now use to build Windows 8 apps. It opens up the world to app development for people who really aren't doing it today.

Shane O'Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Shane at soneill@cio.com

Read more about operating systems in CIO's Operating Systems Drilldown.

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