Microsoft Bets Farm on New Releases--SharePoint v15, Windows 8

Feel any tension in the air in the Microsoft “space”? We’re on the edge of a cliff, and the jump will soon begin, as Microsoft revolutionizes all of its “core” products: Windows, Windows Phone, SharePoint, Office, Exchange, Lync, Office 365… all at once.

The Windows 8 and “Wave 15” releases are a tsunami of change—the biggest risk I’ve seen Microsoft take in more than a decade.

And I know from discussions with many customers that we’re all on the edge of our seats, trying to evaluate what it means for our organizations, and for the IT initiatives we have planned for the near term. Many enterprises are asking an important question: Should we wait?

 

Microsoft is literally on the edge

The jump begins this week, as the rumored launch date for the Windows 8 release preview is June 1st. Then, next week, at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles, Microsoft is sure to unveil surprises related to its new, unified consumer entertainment brand: Xbox.

For those of you who may have missed the news, Zune is officially dead as a brand, but much of its goodness and a whole lot more is now part of Xbox. You can catch up on that announcement with Paul Thurrott’s article, "Xbox Has Replaced Zune as Microsoft’s Media Brand."

The following week is TechEd North America, followed closely by TechEd Europe. And, importantly, we’re coming up on the beta—er, customer preview or whatever we will call it—of Office 15, which Microsoft publicly stated would happen in the summer of 2012 which, by my calendar, is right about now.

Of course, the big party for SharePoint 15 will be the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas, for which registration is now open. By the way, this event will sell out. So register early—even if you decide to cancel later [read the cancellation policy before you register, of course].

What you should consider as we await these releases

This week, I’m going to talk about the upcoming releases in broad strokes. I’m not going to reveal any technical secrets or “killer features,” but I am going to try to bubble up some of the considerations that I think should weigh heavily in your evaluation of your own IT strategy for the next 6-18 months.

First, Windows 8

This is a SharePoint column, but I do want to touch on Windows 8, because it is part of the broader ecosystem that we all touch. The release preview of Windows 8 should be ready for download any day.

The Windows 8 consumer preview (released in February) App Store already has updates for many core apps that hint at some of the changes we will see in the release preview, and Microsoft has announced further, significant UI changes that will be integrated into the final release of Windows 8, including the removal of Aero features as discussed by Paul Thurrott in his article, "Windows 8 Release Preview: RIP, Aero (2003-2012)."

It’s clear that Windows 8 will be on the market for Christmas—probably in October.

Windows 8 is going to change everything. I don’t say that often, but I really believe it here.

And I’m not saying it’s the perfect OS. There is no such thing, because Windows consumers and business users have far too diverse a set of requirements.

But it is going to change everything. The most important things to keep in mind, in my opinion, are the following:

  • Unified experience across devices. Windows 8’s new Metro experience is going to be ubiquitous, across PCs, laptops (Ultrabooks, etc.), tablets, phones, and living-room experiences (Xbox). This is a game-changer for user training.
  • Complete integration with the cloud. Across these devices, settings and data will be available. Wherever you are, your data will be there. I’m already loving this with SkyDrive on my iPad, iPod, Windows 8 slate, and laptop.
  • A game-changing shift in app development effort. Sure, there are currently tens of millions of iPad or iPhone users. But there are hundreds of millions of devices running Windows, Windows Phone, and Xbox. This has, in my opinion, a game-changing effect on where developers will want to spend time developing applications. The economic argument is inescapable. It won’t happen right away—initial headlines will read “XYZ app not yet available in App Store” and “Windows App Store fails to provide fart and burp apps.” But it will happen quickly.
  • No new hardware necessary. Running Windows 7? You’ll be able to run Windows 8.
  • Huge choice in hardware devices. You do want a new, modern device? OK, there are three-ish iPads to choose from in 2012. HP, Dell, and others have really great devices aimed at both business and consumer users. There will be dozens of form factors and configurations of Windows 8 slates, convertibles, ultrabooks, phones, readers, and other devices from which to choose. Consumers love choice.
  • Increasingly unified management. Right now, the bring-your-own-device trend is causing huge pain for IT organizations trying to manage assets and information security. The new Windows ecosystem will really help answer that pain.
  • In the near future, we will see virtualization hit our mobile devices (tablets and phones). At that time, your device-of-choice will be able to run business apps and host business data securely, managed by your IT organization, *and* run the latest version of Angry Birds, Cut The Rope, and all of the other crazy apps you use for your personal use, in separate virtual spaces. One device, two personalities. Can’t wait for that!

When you put all these things together, it’s easy to see how in the “new world” of BYOD, tablets, and phones, there is a lot to love about Windows 8 and its potential as an application platform for consumers and enterprises. Choice, extensibility, security and management are pretty strong drivers.

Sure, the “old” Windows desktop is still there—at least on desktop and laptop versions of Windows 8. And it should be, for backward compatibility.

Thank God Microsoft cares about backward compatibility. Have you tried to get support for a four-year-old iPhone?

Windows 8 is a split-personality release. It’s a minor upgrade for users who are traditional PC (desktop) users. It’s a more important upgrade for mobile (laptop) users—particularly with cloud integration and manageability enhancements.

It’s a long-awaited and successful solution for the information worker of the 20-teens. The executive who currently uses an iPad for everything will have a lot to like in Windows 8. He or she won’t care about the desktop. The line worker using a desktop as a kiosk will be just fine on the Windows 8 desktop and won’t care so much about Metro. The IT organization will be able to support and manage both of those extremes and everything in between. Don’t hate Windows 8 for its “split personality”… love it!

 

Office 15

Then there’s the Office 15 suite of applications. See a great overview of them in Paul Thurrott's article, "Office 15: The Mile-High View." Among the key considerations related to Office 15 are:

  • Deployment. The suite can be deployed using application virtualization (App-V) technologies that will allow it to run cleanly side-by-side with existing Office suites. So you can safely deploy Office 15 to users who need it without the kind of gut-wrenching heavy-lift migration of past versions.
  • Full cloud integration. With increased support for document repositories in SkyDrive, Office 365, SharePoint.
  • Increased availability on other platforms. Microsoft is pushing Office applications to non-Windows platforms. OneNote is making the migration already. Rumors are that Outlook is next. I really hope the Office team succeeds in convincing Microsoft that a “Windows only” lock-in for Office is bad for business. I think it will happen, and we will see very soon. I also wonder how Office Web Apps and App-V may eventually fill the need for Office client app availability on non-Windows devices.
  • Agave. The new extensibility framework for Office 15 and Office Web Apps, detailed in Paul Thurrott’s article, will have a lot to offer. More on that when the beta hits the streets.
  • Office Web Apps. SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010 were “version 1” of Office Web Apps. Microsoft usually hits it out of the park in a “version 3” but I’m hopeful we’ll see a much-bigger-than-usual leap into the Wave 15 “version 2” of Office Web Apps.

On the server side of the equation, of course there’s already SQL Server 2012, and Exchange 15 and Lync 15 are part of the 15 wave. I’m personally craving a Skype-Lync client that supports my enterprise and personal (SkypeIn phone number) communications! Hope it happens and soon!

 

And lastly, there’s SharePoint 15

As I wrote in my article, "Office 15 Technical Preview… And Penguins," SharePoint 15 has a lot of potential. Again, I’m not going to spill any beans here, but let’s just state the obvious:

  • SharePoint 2010 was a major architectural change for SharePoint—including the move to the Service Application model for shared services.
  • SharePoint 15 represents Microsoft’s stated goal of being “all in” on the cloud. That may entail some plumbing changes as well.
  • Social, search, compliance, big data, and the cloud are critically important drivers in the industry right now. Microsoft has invested heavily in all of these. SharePoint 15 will certainly reflect that investment.
  • Office 365 is getting updates every three months.

 

With all of these observations, allow me to propose some “take-aways.” When I talk with customers about their IT strategies for the next six to18 months, these are some of the points that seem most valuable to them:

 

WAIT to buy devices if you can.

Between the new Intel hardware platforms and the new devices that will be released alongside Windows 8, it’s a crazy time to buy a device. In six months, the device world will be very different. And the devices in catalogs today will be on steep discount. I apologize for any impact I have on the quarterly results of Dell and HP (I’m sure my net impact will be approximately $1000—a result of my own choice to wait), but please, wait.

 

WAIT to architect any significant new solutions until Microsoft unveils Office 15 and SharePoint 15.

We’re so close. As with any new release, there will be built-in capabilities that solve “gaps” in the current product. If you’re architecting a solution on SharePoint 2010, you will have to build-or-buy gap fillers. Why not wait to see what the next wave offers out-of-box? At least wait long enough that your decision can be informed by what is possible in Wave 15?

 

DON’T WAIT to deploy, upgrade, or migrate to Wave 15.

There is a culture in many organizations that “we wait for Service Pack 1” or “we’re always one version behind.” That culture must be changed. It’s costly, and it’s risky.

And it’s more or less pointless in the new world. New world? What do I mean?

This is an important point: in the “old world,” Microsoft released new versions and we had to wait several months to really find out what the problems were “in the real world.” Especially 10+ years ago, some of those problems were significant. Over recent years, that trend decreased significantly.

Then something really major happened: Microsoft started running and managing its own software. Sure, they always “dog fooded” their tools internally, but Microsoft employees are not “normal”—they are accustomed to change, to bugs, and to solving their own problems.

In the last couple of years, Office 365 changed everything. Now Microsoft has to run scalable, stable, secure services for hundreds of millions of customers, in production. There have been soooooooo many lessons learned, and Wave 15 will reflect those lessons.

But what it also means is that by the time you actually can deploy SharePoint 15, there will already be tens or hundreds of millions of users in production. Not in “beta” or “tech preview”, but production customers running the latest version in Office 365.

Problems that used to be identified post-release are now being identified by Microsoft prior to “release to manufacture” (RTM), and in the days and weeks immediately thereafter.

If you wait a month or two to deploy on site, which you will need to plan effectively anyway, you are likely to find a very solid version of SharePoint 15 with updates that patch any last minute issues. The cycle is definitely shortened now.

In fact, I think we are not far away from the “death of the version.” What version of Facebook are we on? Who knows?

New functionality is added regularly (too regularly, and without change management, but that’s Facebook’s problem and Microsoft seems to be somewhat more disciplined). That’s the way of the future, particularly for cloud-first applications and services which… now… is everything.

Pretty soon, you won’t be able to “wait for the next version.” The version will be what you “subscribe” to. Change that culture now.

Get the benefits of lessons learned, the increased ROI of new functionality, and the reduced management burden. Virtualization, service architectures, and new approaches to the user experience will make the moves easier and easier.

 

Prepare for the Jump

 

In sum, we’re just about to see the fruits of Microsoft’s wrenching move to the new world of the cloud and diverse, consumer-driven devices.

There is going to be a lot of noise about the features that people do and don’t like. But in my book, Microsoft has done it right. They’ve prepared a set of products that not only recognize the current state of business and consumer IT, they move it forward in some really great ways.

And they’ve done it without breaking backward compatibility and without forcing users into a world they’re not ready for.

By creating increased dependencies between Windows, Phone, Office, Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync, and using cloud and virtualization technologies like Azure, Lync, Hyper-V and App-V, Microsoft is effectively “betting the farm” that it has managed to steer its very big ship towards success in the “new world” of IT.

Microsoft is jumping without a parachute. It’s all or nothing in the next six months.

I personally think it is our responsibility to be with them, and to work actively to identify how Windows 8 and Wave 15 can solve our problems.

We are all dependent on Microsoft’s success because, whether we like everything or nothing about Microsoft, it powers much of the productivity of the world. Be part of its success, and let its success fuel yours. Hold your breath—the jump is going to be thrilling.

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