Microsoft gave members of the Canadian media a hands-on look at some of the features of its new Windows 8 operating system on Tuesday.
With major customers sitting in as backup, the company demonstrated the functionality and enterprise features of Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT on various laptops and tablets.
Stella Chernyak, senior director of Windows Commercial at Microsoft, began by saying there had been “tremendous momentum” in Windows 8 sales, with 40 million licenses sold since its launch. She credited this to features in the platform that appeal to both to consumers and enterprises.
With the BYOD concept seeing greater acceptance in companies around the world, the working environment has changed. Thus, the goal for vendors like Microsoft has been to create the right balance between “devices that people love and enterprise solutions,” she said.
Another balance that needs to be struck in the market is between content consumption and creation, she added. By themselves, touch-screen tablets are limited as a business productivity tool, Chernyak said.
“This is where many other tablet solutions on the market will stop,” she said. “But Windows 8 does not stop there.”
Laptop or tablet? Both are useful in different circumstances, she said, but the new Windows 8 devices that incorporate elements of both (such as detachable keyboards on tablets and touch-screens on laptops) are eliminating the need to choose one over the other. “With Windows 8, you don’t have to make that compromise.”
Charaka Kithulegoda, CIO of ING Direct Canada, said his bank will be developing mobile apps for Windows 8 RT devices due to the “very large Windows install base” and the fact that a high percentage of its customers already access their banking using Internet Explorer on their desktops. These customers want a similar experience on their mobile devices, he explained.
ING is also “taking a very serious look” at deploying Windows 8 laptops or tablets within its own walls, Kithulegoda added. While he himself carries an iPad for certain purposes (“a fantastic consumption device”), he said in terms of productivity in the office, the “usability factor is the biggest thing we are trying to resolve.” The bank currently has a pilot project that has issued 30 Surface Pro tablets to ING employees.
Mike Batista, a research analyst at London, Ont.-based InfoTech Research Group Inc., said that for the most part, enterprises won’t have too much trouble making the move to Windows 8. The difficulty, however, may lie in user training.
The new Windows 8 tiled interface is “a pretty radical departure” from previous versions of the operating system,” he said. “It takes some getting used to.”
Users can switch into a more traditional desktop environment similar to Windows 7, he notes, but as soon as you click the ‘start’ button “it goes to that tiled interface. It always takes you back to that no matter what you do.”
Clearly, Battista said, Microsoft is trying to give centre stage to the new tiled interface, which shows forward thinking on its part but may result in some bumps in the road to full adoption.
He also said that despite the code similarities and superficial resemblance of Windows 8 to Windows RT, they’re quite different animals. In an enterprise context, Windows 8 proper is “going to be managed the same as any PC would,” he said, whereas companies may choose to manage and set policies for Windows RT devices using third-party software, as they would for other mobile devices.
Meanwhile, security for Windows RT is kind of a “double-edged sword,” added Battista. A company can’t use the same Windows 8 security tools on the RT platform, but the app store for RT devices will provide a layer of protection.
(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of Win8 licences sold. This has been updated)