Based on my experience with mid-sized non-profit organizations, most offices have held off moving to Windows 8 as long as possible, with the hopes of forestalling the training and compatibility challenges that are the hallmark of a transition to a new operating systems.
Unlike the transition from XP to Vista, which presented compatibility and stability challenges, the larger challenges with Windows 8 has been the new user interface. Microsoft’s new approach has been sufficiently different to drive some users to distraction, some to indifference, and some to outright rage. After the refined and productive simplicity of Windows 7, most have found Windows 8 to be convoluted and inefficient.
Windows 10 for business
Enter Windows 10. Unlike Windows 8, Microsoft is returning to a more familiar user interface. Several commentators have noted that the technical preview is aimed directly at the business market and deals only with a traditional desktop work environment. Realizing where a large portion of their market share lies, the very fact that they are working so hard to cultivate the opinions of the Enterprise IT crowd screams in large friendly letters: “please come back to us and retire your old machines. Buy new operating systems. It will be DIFFERENT this time, we promise. And by ‘different’ we really mean the SAME as before!”
And, for the most part, they are right. The new user interface is a solid hybrid between the traditional desktop interface and the new touch screen focused Metro UI touted in the first iteration of Windows 8. For users coming from Windows 7 it will feel at once familiar, but also fresh and new. The start menu is back, but with live tiles as well. The old search bar is back, allowing you to search for programs and is also paired with a Bing integrated search button.
The general theme of the OS lends itself to more customization, while at the same time guiding users towards a new way of working with their computers. The interface appears to be redesigned with the desktop in mind, allowing for greater productivity. While users can toggle between the don’t-call-it-metro and traditional desktop user interfaces, Microsoft looks to be working towards a more flexible style that lets users chose the most productive methods for their workflows.
Tablet and mobile devices users will likely find the new user interface more useful with a continued emphasis on “tile app” based software, while desktop/laptop users will enjoy the existing paradigm. This was a major complaint in Windows 8, one partially remedied by 8.1. While Microsoft still intends to unify its Operating Systems across all platforms it’s doing a better job about how customers will actually use it.
“Tile Apps” are a good illustration of this new approach. In Windows 8, “tile apps” slowly started replacing traditional programs and it caused a very uncomfortable dissonance between how traditional programs looked and felt and how the more mobile device friendly apps acted. You essentially had two separate classes of software competing for the interface. Internet Explorer was a particularly egregious example of this Jekyll and Hyde approach.
Jekyll and Hyde make peace
In the traditional Windows system, programs behaved as expected. You ran them from the desktop, resized them at will and could manipulate them as needed. Apps on the other hand, acted as they would on the mobile platforms even when run from the desktop. They filled the full screen and could not be resized; an approach that made sense on an 8“ tablet, but seemed silly on a 24” monitor. Moving between programs was more complicated and you couldn’t resize the window or close it quickly.
In Windows 10 these versions have been merged. Apps now look and feel much more like regular programs. While they default to full screen, they essentially run in windows that can be easily moved and resized. They do not, as they once did, overpower the start menu. Visually they are still different. They can be pinned to the start menu via live tiles. They are brought in and out of the OS via the app store, not Add/Remove programs in the control panel. For power users and administrators, this may still prove to be a little awkward.
On the whole, Windows 10 seems to be a step in the right direction and should be a welcome upgrade for most organizations. Next week I will explore the impact of Windows 10 on IT management staff.