By Peter Chadha
Getting under the skin of the software giant is not always easy.
But there is clearly something in Microsoft’s DNA that has created a good-bad-good gene when it comes to developing its operating systems. In essence, every time it skips a generation, it’s significantly enhanced.
Remember Windows 95? It was a great product for its time. Innovative, intuitive – an OS that really moved the world of personal, and more importantly business, computing forward.
Sure, it had some bugs, but software development on that scale is bound to have early teething problems and they were quickly resolved.
Then came Windows ME, a product supposedly fit for the new Millennium. Except, no-one appeared to have told the development team that a move into the 21st Century was supposed to engender improvement, not retrograde steps. While ME showed some ingenuity, much of it was regressive particularly for business users, who were not a happy bunch of campers.
Skip a generation from 95 and welcome Windows XP. A giant leap for computer-kind, XP was a significant springboard for Microsoft to build a whole new suite of products and really enhance existing business applications such as its Office suite.
It was stable, reliable and incorporated enough innovation to keep customers loyal. In fact, there are still organisations using XP and are very happy with it, despite the rest of the world having moved on.
Vista was next. Clearly the rogue gene had found its way back into the code and its launch was greeted to the sound of one hand clapping. Enough said – and swiftly on to Windows 7. Again, genuine innovation and a drive towards integration with mobile technologies. Great for businesses that were starting to get to grips with an ‘always-on’ world.
By now, the trend was pretty clear and, apparently, not just an anomaly. Windows 8: yes, a rock-
solid system which works well, but an OS that was half-baked when it came to business.
The interface was a radical departure from day-to-day working environments and, although 8.1 has been an improvement, the concept of partial control via tiles and partial control through traditional menu layouts just does not work – particularly when most of the workforce is highly unlikely to have touch screens.
In my view, this was a personal consumer OS that should have stayed that way and been clearly separated from business users. It’s the reason why most businesses have held-off from full Windows 8 implementation.
So, given Microsoft’s genetic record, Windows 9 should be a real humdinger for business and, if the rumours are correct, there will be an element of consumer and enterprise separation. But before us geeks get too carried away, there is a fundamental question to be asked: “does business really care that much?”
The reality is that, for many business users, the interest in PCs has waned and they are simply seen as a ‘must have’ tool to do their job, rather than engendering the kind of excitement that used to occur every time new innovations, applications or hardware appeared.
The focus is now on mobile tech and that means Windows 9 has a very specific job to do: it needs to be a reliable workhorse not a sparkly, whizz-bang package.
Compare an OS to the office photocopier. Unless you are running a print shop or the design department of a major corporate, how many buttons, features and gizmos do you actually need to make a few copies? Speed, yes. Reliability, most definitely. Collation, probably. As for the rest – who even understands what that button with the strange reverse arrow icon means, let alone how to use it?
The same can be said for an OS. It needs to do the bog-standard stuff totally reliably and be robust enough to withstand the lowest common denominator user.
It must be easy to support and fully backwards-compatible with both software and hardware. It certainly has to be fast and run software glitch-free and efficiently. Most importantly, Windows 9 has to be totally cloud future-proofed, regardless of the system or service.
Until it’s launched, we won’t know for certain, but my hope is that Windows 9 will also include a ‘killer’ feature similar to Apple’s Siri personal assistant, along with ‘smart’ coding that can rationalise password storage, predict usage patterns and reporting requirements. We’ll have to wait and see but, if Microsoft’s genetic code is true to form, we’re in for another step forward.
- Dr Peter Chadha is CEO of DrPete Inc and Chair of Steegle.com. With more than 20 years of independent consulting, his company now provides strategic IT reviews and implementation to global enterprise. He takes a pragmatic approach to business solutions, but is a technology evangelist.