There is something seriously amiss with Windows 8. It isn't clear yet if the issue is simply one of the operating system and the myriad Microsoft pieces that need to work with it all still being in their infancy, or if the problem will persist long term.
At Mobile World Congress (MWC) last week, as was expected, Microsoft announced the availability of Windows 8, albeit only the lightweight "Consumer Preview" version of the operating system. That was all well and good - the release behaves essentially as we've been led to believe by Microsoft's demonstrations in the past. And if you happen to be a Windows Phone 7 user (or at least fairly familiar with it) you have a pretty good handle on what to expect with the Metro UI.
Although there is a great deal going on behind the covers - Windows 8 represents a completely new "re-imagining" of Windows, for the most part it’s Windows' surface skin - the Metro UI - that has garnered the bulk of the attention. As with Windows Phone 7 most reactions tend to be of the love it or hate it kind. There doesn’t appear to be a middle ground when it comes to Windows Phone 7, and it leaves one wondering how well the new UI will be accepted by the majority of Windows users. It is also an open question as to whether or not the Metro UI translates well to the PC environment.
For example, the Windows Phone 7 panes look sleek and sophisticated on a smartphone (especially on the Nokia Lumia 900). But the panes on a large Windows screen look distinctly unsophisticated. In fact, to some of us that are old enough to remember, they remind us of the original Windows 1.0 with its tiled (non-overlapping) windows - as shown below!
However, beauty is not really skin deep. There is a great deal of new sophistication underlying the new UI, including new ways that different applications will work together. This sort of thing will sort itself out as users - whether relatively new or hardened old timers - begin to get a handle on what's going on. Microsoft has never the less made sure to create an environment where anyone who can't abide the new interface will be able to go back to a Windows 7 look and feel.
But the lover it or hate it aspect of the UI isn't the real issue we are concerned with however.
Windows on ARM (WOA)
Microsoft posted a PDF document, "Windows 8 Consumer Preview - Product Guide for Business," which has caused some interesting issues to come up. On page 6 the document says the following:
"Although the ARM based version of Windows [WOA] does not include the same manageability features that are in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, businesses can use these power-saving devices in unmanaged environments."
That is a very interesting statement. In a document that subsequently spends a great deal of time extoling the virtues of Windows 8 security, we have the above statement - casually noted in the text of the document, almost in passing - which specifically states that WOA, the version of Windows 8 that will power all tablets and any ARM-based ultrabooks that may one day emerge, will not be able to take advantage of any of the management and security features of its big brother Windows 8.
That is a rather amazing scenario. As Steven Sinofsky has made abundantly clear on his blog, WOA represents an entirely new branch of Windows. Microsoft started with a clean slate, and in great part that is driven by the "entirely new re-imagining" of Windows philosophy that has been in place for its development. Rather than let older versions of Windows get in the way of WOA Microsoft has focused on ensuring that exactly the opposite scenario prevailed.
But…did the company go too far in this direction in terms of security and manageability?
It's a great question for our readers - especially those who are responsible for managing larger scale Windows environments. Will WOA-based tablets (that, as Microsoft notes in the quoted lines above, "businesses can use these power-saving devices in unmanaged environments") be allowed to become a part of an otherwise carefully managed and secured enterprise Windows environment?
There are other issues surrounding WOA (and therefore tablets that run on it) - as part of the "re-imagining" no existing Windows 7 applications (other than components of Office) will run on WOA. An emulation approach isn't in the cards for the same reason - Microsoft is truly trying to use the ARM experience to clean up legacy issues. The company is genuinely asking its partners, developers - and its users - to look forward. At least with WOA. Those tablets will run true Metro UI apps built from the ground up - entirely new stuff.
The price to pay for moving forward in this case is to not look backwards. For Microsoft that is a mighty difficult thing to do and they should get credit for it. Whether the lack of security and the ability to function only in unmanaged environments will prove a real issue or a silver lining remains to be seen - but we're leaning towards the silver lining eventually showing up.