Life after RIM in the enterprise?

30 03 2012

There has been a lot of talk about RIM today, caused mainly because the company has stated it is giving up on the consumer market and heading back to its roots, the enterprise. Couple this with the $120m loss the company has made and the hints at “sale”, and you do see why lots of people have been talking about RIM. (If you don’t know RIM – Research in Motion make the BlackBerry devices).

One of the big conversations I have been involved in today (on Twitter with @BPMredux @puleen @souvikbonnerjee and @AlbertoManuel) is just what do we think will happen in the enterprise regarding the use of mobile devices, and vendor offerings for mobile based solutions. @BPMredux asked in his blog two simple questions

“How many BPM vendors have a mobile BPM solution based on Apple, Android or Windows Mobile”

and

“Now how many of you are still stuck with RIM and Blackberry in your own corporate environment?”

You can join in his debate at http://bpmredux.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/mobility-inside-the-bpm-scene/

So in this blog post I have want to have explore at some of the main points and give some thoughts based on conversations and relationships I have with a number of IT professionals that work within the enterprise supporting their systems…

BlackBerry

Are we seeing the BlackBerry swansong?

RIM is still a big player

For sure RIM is still a big player in the enterprise. Most people I know and speak too (within large corporations) have BlackBerry devices handed out to them as their corporate phones. There are lots of reasons why the enterprise opts for BlackBerry – security being one, durability another. Many people I speak to who have to support mobile devices within their business prefer BlackBerry, and that’s because they have better control over them, they are easier to administer, the battery life is second to none and the devices are durable (they do seem to get dropped a lot). These things mean less time is spent with the end user trying to address issues, and after all, time is money…

Apple is making in-roads in the enterprise

This all being said, the iPhone is making in-roads in the enterprise, especially within the “exec” levels of business. While the phone is undeniably a great phone, it does cause headaches for business, especially if you are already standardized on RIM. Throw into the mix that not much else in the enterprise is Apple based and the fact that you do pay over the odds for their devices, and you can see why, even with a great offering like the iPhone, Apple still isn’t king of mobile for business.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

This is something I hear a lot about and read about. However, in reality, this really hasn’t shown any traction with the enterprise, and I very much doubt it ever will. Predominantly BYOD is a media thing based on what some SMEs maybe doing – it simply isn’t a great option for the enterprise, and here is why…

The enterprise needs to support its workforce and their devices, mobile, desktop, tablet, laptop whatever. This means they have resource dedicated to help ensure IT runs smoothly. That IT needs to administer these devices, ensure business applications run as expected, ensure everything is secure as possible and support end users. (They do other things also, but no need to list out everything). If the IT department has control over its devices, it knows what they are, it can secure them better, ensure the software works as expected, manage roll outs, upgrades etc etc and help users with their devices (without having to train IT staff / mobile support staff on every handset available to a consumer). In addition, standardization allows the enterprise to strike good deals with their suppliers and all big business has preferred suppliers – that’s just life. So imagine you take all that control away from IT. What are you left with? Yeap, a mess. You simply can’t have users connecting random devices to your network. You can’t expect vendors to support all mobile platforms under the sun for bespoke software for that business. You can’t expect in house IT to help users with their particular phones OS or hardware issues, and you can’t expect everything you need to work on the device to work on every single device (have I said that one already?). All in all, BYOD is a great concept, lovely for startups and SMEs, but for the enterprise, this isn’t an option…

Software vendors and their mobile offerings

The BYOD issue does illustrate that software vendors do not support all mobile devices. Sure there are comments that solutions should be mobile web enabled, that they should run using HTML 5, but that user experience is going to be pretty poor. The reason we love our native apps is that we can do more with an app, and the experience is a lot better than anything we see on our mobile web browser. This means vendors have to support native apps, and do they really need to support so many different platforms? Ideally they want to support one, but realistically know they may need to support a few. The problem for a vendor at the moment is which to support? RIM is a must, or is it…It used to be. Apple devices, well they are a must aren’t they…well yes and no…Android? No. Symbian…erm No….Windows Phone…Well potentially……

So what do you do as a vendor? I personally would wait until the end of the year to make a decision…

Windows 8 in the enterprise

Let’s be clear, Windows 8 may not be rolled out across the enterprise as soon as it’s released, but business will be reviewing it, and scheduling in a Windows upgrade path. Some upgrade paths will be quicker than others, and some may do their normal, and wait for the version after – so upgrade when Windows 9 is available as they haven’t long been on Windows 7. The point is Windows 8/9 will be the standard OS on the enterprise desktop and on majority of their servers. With this comes the normal office based software and legacy applications that every enterprise has running on a Windows environment. However, Windows 8 is a little more than just a desktop OS. All of a sudden the enterprise can have the same OS across all devices, including mobile and tablets. Think what a nice thought that is for IT within the enterprise and vendors alike. A single OS to administer across all devices,  a single user experience to support and the ability to seamlessly tie in lots of services they already use back into the devices of choice. Office, Outlook, Lync, Office 365, Sharepoint, cloud backups, device synchronization etc. That makes life a lot easier for IT doesn’t it…

As a vendor then, supporting Windows 8 is a must. But hold on, if you support Windows 8 metro what do you support all of a sudden? Yes, tablets (including ARM based tablets), desktops, laptops, netbooks and with a few tweeks, mobiles. All of a sudden supporting Windows Phone seems an obvious choice –  a necessity. So perhaps it’s back to the usual suspects, support Windows first, then perhaps Apple…Or vice versa depending on where you are with your mobile policies and vendor software.

Let’s think about suppliers to the enterprise. Most enterprises have a strict supply chain policy, and with Windows 8, this means the enterprise can choose who supplies their hardware, including desktop and phones. Remember Fujitsu, Acer, Dell, Nokia, Samsung, HTC and others deliver Windows 8 mobile devices. These same companies will deliver Windows 8 tablets, and most of them will deliver desktops, servers, laptops and netbooks. The enterprise therefore has the flexibility it desires regarding suppliers, but the security, administrative advantages of being tied into a single ecosystem, which runs all their legacy software. Essentially, for the enterprise, Windows 8/9 is a no brainer across all devices….

Where does this all leave RIM?

Well, to be blunt, I believe in a very deep, dark hole.

Essentially if it becomes a no brainer to support Windows Phone in the enterprise and Windows 8 tablet devices, then Apple will continue to struggle in the Enterprise, but that’s not a great loss to them. RIM on the other hand, if they struggle in the enterprise then I believe we will be saying goodbye to RIM and thanks for the BlackBerry memories. Without a consumer market, Windows 8 could well be the last nail in the BlackBerry coffin. I for one am already starting to think that by mid 2013, I could be writing a blog along the lines of “bye bye RIM, thanks for the BlackBerry memories…”

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Windows 8 has got it right

14 03 2012

I have read a lot of great things about Windows 8 and a lot of negative things about it too. It seems that Windows 8 has polarized opinion across the media, and this really is shown on blogging sites such as ZDNet and Business Insider. I have noticed with Windows 8 that there are two types of bloggers, those that want to use it, feel it, see what’s actually new and think of it as a new piece of software at beta release (which it is), and those who simply are looking for any reason to say why it will fail and why Windows 8 is the next Vista, or why we should all use an iPad for business or something….What is weird, as yet, I haven’t read a blog that really skews its slant in a biased way towards windows 8 (must be the sign of the times).

So like many things in life, there is no point listening or reading so called journos on such matters (just as I rarely listen to film critics), you simply have to use it, and spend some time with it. So when the CP of Windows 8 was released at the end of February I thought it was time to install it on my work machine and see what it really is made of…

By the way, I am writing this on my Windows 8 machine, using Metro IE 10, which I have to say is the nicest browser experience I have used on any form of device, be that mobile, tablet, laptop or desktop…I really like it….

 

Windows 8 Start Screen

Windows 8 Metro Start Screen

 

Touch

OK, many blogs say Windows 8 is far too focused on touch, and it neglects the desktop and the good old days of mouse and keyboard. This may seem true, when you read the blogs and see some screen shots, but actually use it for a few days (in my case in a hard work environment) and you soon realise that actually, Metro works just as well with a mouse and keyboard. Sure it’s nicer with touch, but everything is nicer with touch, far more intuitive and even dare I say still novel.

What we must all remember is that touch is the future, and that includes the desktop and laptop worlds. Already we see many PCs with touch monitors, and if you have used them, you find their experience is better than standard PCs without it (even running Windows 7). By the start of 2013 I wouldn’t be surprised if most new PCs came with a touch screen option. Windows 8 is a new UI for the next 10 years for Microsoft, and touch has to be at the centre of it, like it or not. If you are one of those people who still want to use a mouse and keyboard, that’s fine too, but don’t knock an OS for supporting what will be the mass market shortly.

Clashing Metro and Desktop

Clashing user interfaces is something that is also being thrown at Windows 8 at lot, people claiming that its “jarring” moving from the metro world to the desktop. I really think this is looking for faults for the sake of looking for faults. I have 3 monitors and 2 of which are in desktop mode, the third Metro, and to be honest I don’t find the experience jarring at all. Sure they look and behave differently but so do many programs you run. Currently with any OS, you have a few windows open and the experience between those windows is just as “jarring” as there is no standard design for apps.

I really don’t find a clash, especially if you stop seeing them as different user interfaces, and see them for what they are. Metro home screen is the start button, just full screen. When you run multiple monitors it’s really nice having the metro side of things on a screen on its own, it works really well. I also have the option to ditch it and go full desktop. We have to realise that metro is start, and metro apps are immersive experiences, designed yes for touch and tablets, but work just as well on the desktop. The Maps App for example means I will never use Google maps or any maps in a browser again! It is a brilliant experience on a desktop machine.

When you run multiple monitors you find that probably on one of them you will have one window open to the full screen, typically for me this will be Outlook, and the other monitor may have VS 2010 open full screen and the third lots of multiple windows open, depending on what I am doing. So the concept of full screen apps in metro fits in nicely with multiple monitors I find. If on a single monitor, if you want to have two windows open at once, you can with Metro, nothing stops you, just that the apps run side by side (a feature many of us use in Windows 7 to snap windows side by side). Not many of us have multiple windows open so we are viewing them all the time, we have multiple windows open so we can work with them, but to actually view them no, we switch between windows. I think the alt tab is the most used key, and with Metro this doesn’t change, nothing is stopping you from opening many many apps…

 

Mystery in using the Metro UI

With anything new, comes new ways of doing things. Many have written that you have to “re-learn” the Metro world, and know where to hover your mouse etc. This is sort of true, sure you have new areas or zones where you hover your mouse and new things happen, but that is “added” to your windows experience, and if you can’t remember to move your mouse to one of four corners to activate something then you really won’t even remember why you are on the PC in the first place.

There are new things to learn, for example start button is gone, but metro home is start, you access “charms menu” by hovering the mouse in the bottom right, or top right hand corner of the screen, sure its new but now you know, it’s pretty easy to remember. If anything its very intuitive once you give it a chance. My Dad who is approaching his 70s is always scared of a new OS coming from Windows as he is still in XP mode, but after 10 mins with Windows 8 he was more than happy with it.

Once you get used to some of the new ways of doing things, you soon find that these are standardised across everything in Windows, which makes life so so so much simpler. Think about changing settings in your browser, or an app, often we end up looking through menus to find where they are (not always in the most obvious place). You then go to a different application and you want to change those settings and yeap, you spend ages looking for them in that app as they are not in the same place. With Windows 8 all that is gone, just go to the charms menu, and there they are, settings…No matter what app you are in.

Oh, and don’t forget, Metro is for all your devices, phone, tablet, laptop, desktop….

Lumia800

Nokia Lumia 800 showing its Windows Metro Interface. Metro across all your devices makes life simple

 

Default classic desktop

So you boot up and you are greeted with Metro, some saying they want to be greeted by the classic desktop and bypass metro, but I really don’t see why. Once in the desktop, what will you do, you will look to open an application. So why didn’t you simply open the application from the metro start screen? If it’s a desktop app, it fires and you are in desktop mode? Booting into desktop, and then clicking on start, then programs, then selecting your application of choice is far more time consuming than selecting it from the metro start screen. Plus, in desktop mode, do I have live tiles telling me information I may need?

 

Metro doesn’t work for everything

Ahh this is true, and this is the point of Windows 8 in some ways. You have one OS for all your devices, so just as typical Windows desktop apps don’t work well for mobile devices, certain metro design concepts won’t work for certain applications. I doubt there will be a VS 2012 in Metro, or a Photoshop metro app. You simply need the accuracy of a mouse, you need the text based menus with all your options, so traditional desktop interface works well.  With Windows 8 you get the best of both worlds, and more to the point the flexibility. I want to be able to do “everything” on my chosen device, and with Windows 8 I have that flexibility. It maybe that I have a metro version of outlook or mail open, but then need to work with Photoshop; I have the freedom within the OS to work as efficiently as possible in both environments. Can you say that with any other OS across any or should I say all of your devices?

I personally am glad metro doesn’t suit everything. If it did, think of those entire legacy apps people would be trying to re-write…They won’t will they, and the desktop works well for those apps, so why re-invent the wheel for something that isn’t broken.

 

Kinect Support missing

This made me laugh out loud; that someone has complained about this is mad! Windows 8 is a beta / consumer preview edition; it’s not a finished OS. Likewise do we have Kinect Support on all other operating systems…erm, no. I’m sure it will be there come the end of 2012, and in many ways you can argue it is there already. Since the desktop world supports legacy apps, it will no doubt support the current Kinect drivers, API etc available for Windows 7.

 

Live tiles ….

I think you either love these or hate the look of them. I personally love the practicality they bring. With my Metro start screen I see so much information without doing anything other than look at the screen. I have noticed I do the same with my Windows phone, no longer do I flit between multiple apps for quick updates, and I simple look at the screen and the various tiles. In many ways, Live tiles are great from productivity and making sure you are aware of what’s going on…

I think if you hate the look of them, you haven’t actually spent any time with them. If you have, the blocky nature makes things easy and clear to see, and the fact they are actually live, constantly moving and updating you with information is great. Many have said that they will look messy once you get different apps and graphics being used, I have to disagree, if anything the tiles look more vibrant. I think the tiles look more standardised, even with lots of different apps and graphics being shown than a sea of icons which I used to have (be that on my phone or desktop). Moving back to the old icon world really does feel like a step back in time now, and I think that will be many people’s thoughts once they spend a little time with Metro and live tiles.

 

Business adoption will be slow

This may be true, but not because Windows 8 is something they don’t like, rather because the Enterprise update in cycles, and this usually means an update ever 2 versions of Windows in recent years. Most companies went from Win 95 to Windows XP. I don’t recall anyone opting for Windows 98. On the server side we went NT 4 to 2000. Roll forward and enterprise moved from XP to Windows 7 and server side from 2000 to 2005/8. It’s not because the other versions of Windows were cra* rather the releases didn’t fit in with the Enterprises upgrade timescales. I think Windows 8 is being released so soon after 7 so that it does miss the Enterprise upgrade path on purpose. This means by the time Windows 9 is being released; everyone will be happy with the Metro concept and be very eager to move to Windows 9 in the enterprise.

Sure in the tablet scene, many businesses will opt for Windows 8 tablets, especially with support for legacy apps. I read in one blog though that because windows 8 on ARM won’t support these legacy apps that business will turn to the iPad….You see the sort of rubbish that gets written? Why would any business chose an iPad in such a case? The iPad also won’t run your legacy apps, so I think the business will opt for Windows tablets on Intel chips and sacrifice the added 2 hours of battery life (so that’s 10 down from 12 looking at the battery span of the Windows 8 Developers Preview tablet).

 

Gamble…

Is Windows 8 a gamble…Yes, but is it a massive one, no not really. If you hate metro, you will live in the desktop mode. If like me you like to move forward, and you are prepared to spend more than 5 minutes judging a book by its cover, then you will soon like Metro and everything it stands for, and that will include the Metro start screen and “apps” in Windows 8…

I think Microsoft have got it right with Windows 8, and we have seen some real innovation finally from a desktop OS.





HTML 5, Native Apps, the iPhone and Windows 8

7 03 2012

I have been a tad quiet on the blogging front for a little while, simply because I haven’t had time really to sit down and write anything (though I have found time to read a lot)….Ok excuses over…

In this post I want to look briefly at the whole HTML 5 Vs Native app debate, and how Windows 8 potentially changes that landscape…

 

HTML 5

It’s something that has been a dream of developers, a single code base, a single “app” if you like that works on any system you can think of. HTML 5 does deliver that, well sort of. You see HTML 5 maybe being touted as that multi platform solution, but the whole architecture of using a browser and HTML isn’t right for actual applications. If you want to present some information and some basic functionality (think blogs for example), then HTML makes great sense, and that after all is what it was originally conceived for, to deliver content (not applications) to any machine.

The issues arise when we start to use HTML to deliver actual applications, and this is something that has been going on for some time – long before HTML 5 raised its head (my own companies have done this too). There is nothing wrong with web apps as such, but you must realise that they do lack certain functionality, and equally important, the user experience is NOT as good as a native application.

 

The iPhone effect

Before the iPhone was released, many software development companies were starting to deliver real business solutions as “thin client” applications – essentially web apps. I personally hated these, but did see the benefits when it came to roll out, updates etc over standard “thick client” applications. Many companies even started to deliver apps via FLASH, providing the software with a richer environment, much improved user experience but still rely on the distribution architecture of the web to actually deliver the app to the end user.

With mobile devices, there was no flash support, and we started to deliver “mobile” web apps, though not that great and a little clunky, they did work to an extent…But then along came the iPhone and this did change everything.

The iPhone had a much better web experience than any other handset, yet still using web apps on such a device was not good. The iPhone though had an app store, and an environment that worked well for delivering applications to the device, and these were native applications, applications that actually worked very well and provided the user with a much improved experience. All of a sudden to support mobile well, it was expected you write a native app…

 

Flash support

Flash did provide great experiences over the web architecture; the whole plug-in concept did get round so many issues with traditional thick and thin client apps, though Flash did have a lot of issues, especially security ones…Flash was also dependent on support on the device, on PCs this wasn’t a problem, but on mobiles etc the game was different.

By not supporting FLASH and singing the praises of HTML 5, Apple effectively killed off the browser plug-in and cross platform support for technologies that could deliver thick client experiences in a thin client fashion. Instead, Apple forced that user experience to only be available via native apps, as it knew all too well, no matter how good HTML 5 is that it cannot compete with native applications…

 

Native Apps

I personally think the whole native app experience is far far better for the end user. Native apps deliver great usability, the look good and their functional capabilities far outweigh the potential of a web app. The App environments provided by Apple and now Microsoft also negate so many issues associated with installing “dodgy” software.

By controlling the distribution of applications, Apple and Microsoft effectively can ensure (to a high level) that the applications are good, that they perform well (which makes their device look good) and just as importantly, know the application isn’t up to no good. The problem with the web, installing plug-ins or actually applications is that the end user doesn’t have anyone else saying “yeap, this is fine to install”. As a consequence, the majority of computer problems, viruses etc are born out of the end user installing something by being tricked into thinking it was safe….

 

Native expectation

So many of us are now used to the native mobile app experience,  which we like, that we now expect the same sort of environments on our desktop machines, tablets go without saying.  Because of this, Apple and Microsoft are providing app stores on desktop machines, which potentially changes how we install applications on our machines – and the sort of experiences we start to expect. You could argue that the iPad has really started this migration of “apps” from the mobile phone to general devices that we use…

 

Windows 8 effect

Though the iPhone and iPad dominate their respective market places, Apple don’t dominate the desktop, and we must remember that the desktop is still a massive market. Windows 8 no matter what is written about it will change the desktop, and with Windows 8 you can only install “metro” apps via the application store. These apps are immersive full screen rich experiences, and they are native applications. So, just as we see with mobiles, we will start to users opting for “apps” over HTML 5 web experiences.

For businesses, even micro-online retailers, the importance of delivering native “apps” appears to be growing. On the plus side, this means you have the opportunity to really deliver applications and experiences of note to consumers, on the downside, you have to realise that you need more investment in the front end of your applications. (Mind you, the amount of time spent making sure your HTML website runs the same on all browsers across all platforms, and then is mobile compatible etc etc the difference may not be as great financially as you expect).