At its first-ever BUILD conference this week in Anaheim, California, Microsoft is showing off its upcoming Windows 8 and Windows Server 8 releases to the public for the first time. I received an early peek at both, but because of non-disclosure concerns, I can't discuss Windows Server 8 until next week. So this time around, I'd like to focus on Windows 8 and how this release will affect businesses. Long story short: not much at all.
Don't get me wrong. Windows 8 is absolutely a reimagining of the PC, as Windows chief Steven Sinofsky previously claimed. Its Windows Phone–inspired full-screen user experiences, which Microsoft now describes as a "Metro-style UI," are beautiful and can be used effectively with multi-touch, mouse, keyboard, or even a tablet PC–style pen/stylus as previously expected. There's an interesting developer story, with a rich set of services for automatic cross-application sharing and communication, as well as for online services.
If you're a fan of Windows Phone, you'll "get" Windows 8 immediately, and you'll love it. And if you're not familiar with Windows Phone, get ready for a happy surprise: Windows 8 is absolutely cut from the same cloth, with the same user experiences from top to bottom, the same style apps, and the same gorgeous content-centric look and feel. It's really special, and it just feels right.
Where Windows 8 falls down a bit, however, is in its approach to business customers. The thing is, Windows 8 is aimed squarely at the iPad and at consumers—and when Microsoft evaluated where it stood in the world a few years back when Windows 8 was hatched, this was clearly where it saw itself lacking. And although that's completely understandable, I sort of wish there were more of a business story.
Take the new HTML5-based Start Screen, for example. According to my sources at Microsoft, this screen can indeed be controlled with Group Policy, but it's not particularly granular. So you can disable it, but you can’t easily control what's on there. On or off does not make for a good business experience.
That said, most businesses will of course want to stick with the classic Windows desktop anyway, because it will allow them to mix and match Windows 7 and Windows 8 PCs in their environments without accruing any training expenses. And that works, literally, because Windows 8 works almost identically to Windows 7 and works with all the same hardware and software. Heck, it even comes with the same hardware requirements.
Beyond that, there are a few improvements.
Hyper-V is included in Windows 8, the first time Microsoft has delivered its hypervisor-based virtualization solution on the desktop. And this is the real Hyper-V, not a watered-down version, allowing developers and others to run multiple virtualized environments side by side on the PC desktop. It supports power management, can be used on laptops, and will replace today's less-powerful Windows Virtual PC solution.
A new feature called Windows To Go allows you to deploy full Windows 8 environments on USB keys and other memory devices, so that guest workers and others can securely access your environment in a disposable way that resets itself each time you reboot. It makes for a pretty compelling, cost-effective alternative to VDI and doesn't require a lick of server infrastructure.
Remote desktop is getting overhauled quite nicely, too, and will provide a Metro-style UI with support for multiple remote desktops, as well a simple remote app interface. It supports all native Windows 8 input methods too—keyboard and mouse, multi-touch, and pen/stylus—so it will work even on a keyboardless slate PC.
That's about it for right now. I hope that once I've had time to really plug away at the Windows 8 developer preview build, I'll find more of interest to business users. But for now, the message seems to be that your Windows 7 investment is going to continue paying off for the foreseeable future. And maybe that's a message that business really can get excited about.