Microsoft Surface arrives

19 06 2012

Monday June 18th was a weird day in the tech world, for once Microsoft managed to create a buzz and a stir regarding an announcement they were to make, yet no one knew what that would be. This felt more like an Apple announcement than anything we have come to expect from Microsoft – which is a good thing and lead to a lot of speculation.  I too joined in with that speculation, believing that Microsoft was to announce a 7” eReader device with new partners Barnes and Noble, how wrong could I have been…

Microsoft Surface Tablet, showing off its built in stand and magentic cover that doubles as a keyboard

Microsoft Surface Family

We now know that Microsoft has announced a family of tablets named Surface. For those of you who keep up to date with technology, you would already have heard of the Surface name from Microsoft, that particular product being a multi-touch enabled table device that was highly focused and sold to businesses. Now though Surface is the brand name for Microsoft’s own made tablet devices, meaning Microsoft has gone into the tablet market in a big way.

This is a bold move from Microsoft and quite a break from tradition. Typically Microsoft doesn’t do hardware, rather it lets its OEM partners build the hardware and Microsoft focuses on the software. However, in recent years it seems the hardware that runs Windows just doesn’t look as sexy as anything produced by Apple, none of the devices have that wow factor which can only harm sales. The latest ultimate laptops are starting to compete, but it has taken a long time for many of the OEMs to get with the game and start designing good looking, light weight hardware. I can’t help feeling that Microsoft has been forced into delivering its own hardware for the tablet market, simply because it cannot rely on OEMs to deliver hardware that looks as sexy as that produced by Apple.

Microsoft Surface Devices

Essentially Microsoft has shown us two tablets, one that runs Windows 8 RT on an ARM based processor tablet, and the other, running full blown Windows 8 pro on a tablet powered by an Intel Ivy Bridge processor. Here is some information on the specs:

  • A full-size USB port and a 16:9 aspect ratio angled at 22 degrees.
  • 10.6-inch, 16:9 widescreen HD Display.
  • Integrated Kickstand: Built-in kickstand lets users move Surface from active use to passive consumption.
  • Touch Cover: 3 mm pressure-sensitive Touch Cover senses keystrokes as gestures will come in different colors.

    Microsoft Surface Magnetic Covers that are keyboards

Surface for Windows RT

  • OS: Windows RT
  • Light(1): 676 g
  • Thin(2): 9.3 mm
  • Clear: 10.6″ ClearType HD Display
  • Energized: 31.5 W-h
  • Connected: microSD, USB 2.0, Micro HD Video, 2×2 MIMO antennae
  • Productive: Office ‘15′ Apps, Touch Cover, Type Cover
  • Practical: VaporMg Case & Stand
  • Configurable: 32 GB, 64 GB

Surface for Windows 8 Professional

  • OS: Windows 8 Professional
  • Light(1): 903 g
  • Thin(2): 13.5 mm
  • Clear: 10.6-inch ClearType Full HD Display
  • Energized: 42 W-h
  • Connected: microSDXC, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort Video, 2×2 MIMO antennae
  • Productive: Touch Cover, Type Cover, Pen with Palm Block
  • Practical: VaporMg Case & Stand
  • Configurable: 64 GB, 128 GB

    Microsoft Surface with its own stand

From the specs I would suggest that Microsoft is going after the business user and home users who like to do more / want to do more with tablet devices. I think this is a wise move as Apple devices still have a very long way to go to get real market share in the enterprise. For any business looking into tablet devices, Microsoft Surface has just made their choice a no brainer. Get Surface for Windows 8 professional and you get the best world of a fully blown ultimate laptop, combined with the flexibility, portability and battery life of a tablet – not to mention the capabilities to hook the device seamlessly into your network at work and run legacy applications if needs be. Why would any business opt for an iPad now?

With regards to home users, Microsoft has really only targeted those users who want a tablet in place of their laptop. Until now, the problem has been for many users (including myself) is that I would love the flexibility of a tablet device, yet I potentially want all the power a laptop provides, meaning I would need to purchase both. Microsoft Surface has changed that, and with the neat magnetic cover doubling as a real keyboard, Microsoft has basically removed my need for a netbook or laptop. For me, and I am sure many other users, Microsoft has moved us to a desktop and tablet only world with the laptop for some acting as a desktop.

OEMs

One of the reasons I personally didn’t think Microsoft would build their own tablets, was that of Microsoft’s relationships with OEMs such as Samsung, Asus etc. It does seem harsh that Microsoft now will actually compete against them in the tablet market, but after spending some time thinking about this move, Microsoft may actually be helping them.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe some of the OEMs will be a little annoyed at Microsoft Surface, however Microsoft is in a far better position to get marketing and the tech world reviewing Windows 8 by having their own hardware. In addition, Microsoft is actually setting the bar quite high in terms of design, and what consumers will now expect from a Windows 8 tablet device. Let’s look at Windows Phone as a comparison.

When Windows Phone launched there was quite some anticipation, however the devices launched by the OEMs (Samsung, HTC etc.) actually were not that attractive to look at. The hardware specs were not that great, and compared to some Android devices and the iPhone, the Windows Phone looked quite underpowered. What is the saving grace is the actual OS itself; however, many people base their phone purchase on how the device actually looks. Only now with Nokia Lumia devices are we seeing some aesthetically pleasing Windows Phone devices, and with that, a little more marketing and market traction. With Windows 8, Microsoft cannot wait for one of the OEMs to finally get their design act together, Windows 8 in many ways is already a big enough risk. Here with Microsoft Surface, Microsoft are showing OEMs what can be achieved, and almost saying “go out there and do better!”. That’s a good challenge to set, one I’m sure will lead to many more Windows 8 tablet devices turning up that a) look stunning and b) contain some real punch.

By Microsoft only announcing two higher end devices, I feel we can read that Microsoft is not wanting to be the biggest hardware player in the tablet market, rather they are showing the way for their OEMs.

Marketplace

One of the main concerns many may raise is the lack of apps available for Windows 8 at launch or the marketplace ecosystem. I personally don’t see this as a problem at all. We have already seen in the past couple of weeks numerous reports about how developers and software companies love developing for Windows phone, how simple it is and how important they feel developing for Windows 8 will be. Attracting developers is not a problem for Microsoft, so getting the “apps” available also won’t be a problem for Microsoft (Windows Phone now has over 100,000+ apps all of which will be available on Windows tablets).

We must also remember that the Windows Marketplace will also allow older software to be sold, which means that on a Windows 8 pro surface tablet, the user has access to any software ever written to run on Windows. They also have access to the complete windows market place for metro based apps too.

I know that Apple has a great ecosystem, but you cannot deny that the Microsoft ecosystem is its equal if not better.

Conclusion

Windows 8 is a big release for Microsoft, and it’s quite a gamble, so much so that I feel Microsoft couldn’t leave it to OEMs to deliver sexy tablet devices when Windows 8 launches. If the OEMs failed, then Windows 8 could possibly fail in this market place, something Microsoft obviously doesn’t want. By producing their own Microsoft Surface tablets, Microsoft has ensured the tablet market has some wonderful Windows 8 tablets available when the general public can finally start purchasing Windows 8 tablets. If anything, this reduces the risk associated with Windows 8 and tablets for Microsoft a little, and ups the potential profits for them at the same time.

Microsoft Surface also sends a message to OEMs, that they can build sexy devices that rival and beat the iPad in terms of design, and with Windows 8 they will have an OS that beats iOS in terms of user experience and productivity, not to mention flexibility in how the user works.

Android has been the OS of choice for most tablet makers, probably because there wasn’t a viable tablet option until Windows 8. Microsoft may have in one swoop confined Android to just the mobile phone world, which makes it quite isolated when we think of how users want to share content across all their devices. That isolation could really harm Android in the smart phone arena in the long run.

Microsoft has come to the tablet market with a bang (this time round) and has actually delivered something special…I for one never doubted them….





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).





Connectivity, Efficiency, Experiences

23 11 2011

When looking at BPM (Business Process Management) solutions, or talking about BPM the concept, many of us think of how it relates to actual business processes or business goals, cases, targets etc. This is the main aim of BPM, to address how a business achieves a goal or carries out “work”, agreed? Ok, but my observation is, Is this right? Does the term BPM limit our thinking in real sense?

 

Outside of the business

If we take everything that we do towards a desired goal or outcome as a process, then BPM applies to everything we do in life, it’s not just limited to Businesses! For example, our own bodies go through processes every second of every day to achieve a goal. Think how we breathe, there is a distinct process, think how we turn food into energy, a distinct process, think how we run, a distinct mechanical process.

Now these examples are to simply prove a point that processes are around us and a part of our daily lives massively, which means any one process is made up of many others. Me running is a process, but in order for me to run, my body goes through a number of other processes, breathing and turning food into energy. This means businesses should not see their process as “the process”, rather as simply a smaller part of an overall and far bigger customer experience.

 

Real world example needed

To get my point across I want to use a real world example. Ok, I purchase a printer from a store. On checkout I provide that store with some basic information about myself. I then get home, install the printer and start using it. I fill in the warranty card, post that off, and then forget about it. A few days later the product breaks down, and I need to get it replaced. From the point of view of the manufacturer they don’t need to take into account any of the process I have just gone through, in order to kick off the process of dealing with the fault, but should they?

I believe yes.

 

Connectivity

Connectivity of devices and processes can have massive implications on process efficiencies, and the ability for external processes (that may not be directly related) to have a positive effect on our business processes.

First off, connecting and sharing data between different processes obviously provides added efficiencies and data accuracy. If we take our printer example, the process of checking out and paying for my printer should be integrated with the process of me completing a warranty card and informing the manufacturer.  That’s a process I shouldn’t need to be doing, and with improved connectivity of processes and data, I don’t have to. Now relate that back to the process of me returning the faulty printer, you see that process will be improved because of this connectivity in a different process. Both the store, and the manufacturer now know me, the product and the warranty, I don’t need to go through a number of steps at the start of the manufacturer’s faulty product process.

Secondly, device connectivity can have a massive impact on process efficiency, especially when connecting multiple and sometimes very different processes together. In the typical BPM world, do we take this into consideration?

Since the rise of the Smartphone, we have started to take into consideration connectivity to processes from different devices; we now see not just eMail being accessed on our mobile devices, but also ECM concepts along with the ability to actually work. However, when we flit between devices, such as our laptop, tablet, PC and mobile, often we have to do things again. Think deleting emails from your mobile device you have already deleted, think re-downloading a document we were working on etc. These are small things, but they can rack up a lot of time, and frustration amongst your work force. Now think of this from the point of view of a customer? You can see how better connected devices mean we can deliver better connected experiences to our customers, which have an impact on process efficiency.

Connectivity is a big thing, and one of the problems with multiple platforms and operating systems is the lack of connectivity. As a consumer, we like single user experiences, and we now want and like flexibility to do things whenever we want and on whatever device we want. Unfortunately having a different OS on my phone to the OS on my tablet, to the OS on my laptop and PC is not great for connectivity or user experiences. I’m not sure big players such as Google and Apple get this. Apple do it better than Google, and currently Microsoft, they learnt from the disjointed approach of Microsoft in the 90s. However, Microsoft seems to understand this connectivity and single user experience far more now, and they are moving ahead of the others. With Windows 8 and Windows Azure, one connected OS across all devices is only a few months away. That potentially provides massive connectivity bonuses to business and consumers.

 

Efficiency

BPM, APG (Adaptive Process Guidance), ACM (Adaptive Case Management) all aim to help businesses in a number of ways, raising efficiency, increasing standards, increasing accountability, ensuring compliance and improving customer experiences. These are just a few arguments for BPM thinking.

Efficiency is often looked at in terms of processes businesses own. Let’s look at our example process again. The manufacturer can improve the actual faulty printer process internally; it monitors what goes on, tweaks it here and there and improves it. However, external processes and greater connectivity should be leveraged to drastically improve this process further. Make sense?

In order to get a working printer, I the consumer, will follow through a process, which is a bigger process to that which the printer manufacturer has for handling this issue. If we step back, we can see that this process of getting a working printer spans over the store and the manufacturer, but if we step back further it also incorporates the process of me purchasing the printer in the first place. Do you see how a bigger picture of a process now surrounds my manufacturer’s simple process of dealing with my broken printer? If you do, then you can start to see areas in which we can make the manufacturers process of dealing with the broken printer far easier and more efficient than what is currently in place.

Essentially, if along the entire process of me purchasing the printer the manufacturer was thinking about the returns / repairs process, then they would want to get the warranty and customer information at the point of sale. This drastically improves the process efficiency for returns, in terms of internal efficiencies but also from the point of view of the customer, improving their relationship with that store and the brand of printer they have bought. I’m not going to break down the process further, rather I believe I have made my point, that business can improve process by taking into account external processes, especially those of their customers…

 

Experience

This post is about delivering a better customer experience. Leveraging the connectivity potential of devices and the connectivity potential of processes, business is able to improve its own processes. Taking our faulty printer example we can see how improved connectivity leads to external processes improving the manufacturer’s returns / repair process, in terms of efficiency internally and for the customer. We also see how connectivity of devices makes the customer experience far easier, simpler and more efficient, including for the manufacturer.

So with efficiency in mind, we look to greater connectivity, put the two together and you get drastically improved experiences…





Disappointed with the cloud?

12 10 2011

A recent eBizQ question has sparked this post, essentially it asked “Why are so many disappointed with the cloud?”, and this question was based on the fact that few organisations have made the move to the cloud, and those that have, many are stating they are disappointed with the results…So why would you be disapoointed? After all, it does what it says on the tin…

 

Cloud variants

A big problem is what do people mean when they say the “cloud”? If we take a look at the big players here, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, we see 3 different interpretations. Amazon deliver IaaS, which is Infrastructure as a Service. So essentially they deliver you an infrastructure for you to leverage as you please. This is very different to Microsoft’s Azure take on things, in which Azure delivers PaaS – Platform as a Service. Think of IaaS as your physical servers, all connected with nothing on them, and think of PaaS as physical servers, but running the server OS. Essentially Azure is the operating
system for the “cloud”.

Unfortunately, “cloud” is a very broad and “loose” description, so organisations must understand what type of “cloud” they are leveraging or buying into.

 

Expectations…

First off, let’s remember that the “Cloud” isn’t a solution, it’s just another platform. As a company you didn’t purchase Microsoft Windows Sever and expect it to solve all your IT needs did you? The “cloud” is a platform, nothing more, and yet as a platform it has capabilities that just aren’t available anywhere else.

Convenience, or something more?

Some argue that Cloud can be seen as IT convenience, which is true to an extent. If you view the cloud as nothing more than convenience, then you will no doubt also argue that the cloud makes far more sense to small organisations, as opposed to mature companies that have invested heavily in data centres – effectively providing them with cloud like capabilities. In many cases this is
very true, I myself have written posts illustrating reasons why the “cloud” is not applicable to some companies or IT solutions. Yet, “cloud” is more than just convenience, it’s about scalability, availability, reduced administration and reduced IT overheads. If you are a mature organisation, then no doubt your data centre will be specified to meet your maximum demands placed on it, as it
has to. For most of the time this means you have a lot of “spare capacity” and in effect, are wasting money. With the “cloud” and especially PaaS, you only pay for what capacity you need at that time. So you can quickly scale to meet demand peeks, but when you have little demand, your costs decrease as you lose that spare capacity.

We also have to look at capabilities here, using “cloud” based solutions we have a real option for continuous connected availability across a range of devices. We can share “state” between devices etc which makes it far easier to jump right back into work, where I was, even when I swap from my work PC to my work tablet or laptop at home, heck even to my Phone.

 

Security

This is a big issue, and unfortunately many security concerns are simply invalid. The cloud doesn’t mean open access to all! However, in some cases, compliance and regulatory demands mean you cannot jump to certain cloud providers or solutions. For example, for compliance you may well need to keep your data stored in your geographic location, so you can’t have it physically residing in the US when your company and the owners of the data are in the UK. That will include your data back too. So, you need to be aware just what your cloud provider is doing with your data / files, and make
sure they can meet your compliance needs.

 

Cloud based solutions

The big problem why organisations are disappointed with the “cloud” is the actual applications, their capabilities and user experiences. To be blunt, most cloud based “apps” pale when compared to traditional desktop based applications. Why is that? Well it’s mainly down to implementation of the software application, nothing really to do with the “cloud” as a platform.

Most “cloud” solutions are fully in the cloud, so essentially you access them through a browser. This is a massive problem and hindrance, and for business, web applications just don’t meet the needs. I don’t care what anyone says; running software in a browser is ok for only a handful of solutions – not for everything. Some of the problems with web based applications are listed below, and these are real problems and cause for disappointment with cloud based solutions at the moment:

  1. Integration – how do you integrate multiple solutions? How do you integrate a cloud solution with standard desktop bound solution?
  2. Customisation – do you really have an option to have your software customised to your needs? Again probably not, as the solution is there for “all – in the cloud”, not just you
  3. Cross platform – HTML 5 is what keeps getting mentioned, but the issues still remain about how it performs within different browsers. In addition, think a bit wider. Does HTML based apps really deliver what you want cross platform? Think “cross devices”, how can you get the best user experience across multiple devices and their operating systems. Think PC, Mac, Windows Phone, iPhone, Android, Tablets, Laptops, XP, Win 7 etc
  4. Asynchronous – many web based apps aren’t really Asynchronous, which means your user experience can suffer, especially when you are making round trips to the cloud and back (same problem applies to basic websites that are implemented poorly)
  5. Data Extract – what is available, does it meet your needs, and whats the user experience here
  6. Synchronisation – Can you synchronise between devices and return to your application in the same state?
  7. Backup – what backups and formats can you get?
  8. Application upgrades – will you be charged for upgrades?
  9. Service Level Agreements – just what agreements can you get in place?

 

Improving the cloud experience…

So I have spent some time highlighting why organisation may well feel disappointed with the “cloud”, but now I want to point out how cloud providers and more importantly, software vendors, can replace disappointment with real excitement…

First off, your “Cloud” provider, you need to choose carefully, make sure you understand what they are providing (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS capabilities) and then understand what they do to meet you compliance needs. Take into consideration what you want to deliver via the “Cloud” – does your desired solution even work in the cloud or on a particular cloud platform?

I personally recommend the Microsoft Azure platform, simply because it delivers far more than just typical PaaS, it delivers brilliant development tools, application capabilities and synchronisation capabilities (it is also tied in pretty tightly with the up-coming releases of Windows 8 and Windows Server 8 – keep that in mind).

Windows 8 leverages Cloud capabilities heavily (Microsoft's Azure)

Windows 8 leverages Cloud capabilities heavily (Microsoft's Azure)

Secondly, and most importantly, choose “cloud” solutions that leverage your devices – so that’s your actual PC, Mac, Phone etc…The big change is how we use the “cloud”, moving away from a single UI within the browser to an actual “application” solves so so sooooo many of the issues highlighted. So what do I mean?

Cloud based applications need not run in the “cloud”, they need only be distributed or leverage cloud services, data and content. So the application is installed and runs on the device, accessing cloud services, data and content. When we move to this model, you see how usability, experience, and capabilities all drastically increase. So:

  1. Integration – This is made a lot easier, real application integration can take place, be that using cloud services in another application, or actually sharing data on your device between applications (this can be taken further with Windows 8 and the use of contracts and charms)
  2. Customisation – Customising applications for a client is made a lot simpler, it becomes something that is in essence, not that different to customisation of typical desktop in house applications today
  3. Cross platform – well the iPhone has shown us that using platform specific technologies deliver the best user experience. Would you rather use the iPhone app for that, or trundle off to the website. You will use the app. So this is no different, deliver “Apps” for the desired platforms and HTML 5 for platforms where you will not support apps. (Remember, that you are not maintaining multiple versions of solution code, rather multiple front ends, nothing more)
  4. Asynchronous – Running typical applications allows developers to really use asynchronous capabilities within their solutions, improving performance and the user experience, not to mention
    dodging the browser time out issues
  5. Synchronisation – with apps you can leverage the cloud to then store your synchronisation data, which makes it possible to synchronise your applications across all your devices in real time
  6. Upgrades – these are made easier, even for customers who run highly customised applications

 

Quick finish…

Essentially, disappointment in the “cloud” is actually disappointment caused by “cloud” expectations being wrong, choosing the wrong cloud provider, or using cloud solutions that are limited, limited because they are stuck in a browser…With time, we will see greater understanding of what cloud providers actually provide, greater understanding of IaaS vs PaaS and we will see software providers delivering “apps” as opposed to just browser based solutions.

See the cloud as a platform, nothing more, and choose solutions based on their capabilities for meeting your business requirements. Good cloud based solutions, that leverage apps, will not only meet your expectations, but will offer you more features, more functions, less administration and ultimately run at a cheaper cost for you…





BUILD and Windows 8…

19 09 2011

So last week saw Windows 8 developer preview being shown off at Microsoft’s BUILD conference, and well, there was a lot to take in. BUILD was also showing off Windows Server 8 and a host of other Microsoft initiatives / solutions, including Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Azure. With all that being shown off, it was hard to keep up and understand what exactly Microsoft was telling us about their future products and services. Unfortunately, as with most things Microsoft does, this meant that there was a lot of “dodgy”, to put it politely, blogging and tweets being thrown around. Essentially many tweets and blog posts were simply wrong, or written by pure Microsoft haters, so the messages coming out from BUILD did get a little lost for some…

Anyway…Let’s have a look at Windows 8 and what it could mean to consumers and businesses…

Metro

Well this is the new interface style if you like, what Windows now looks like by default. Metro is something Microsoft has been pushing, but it’s essentially a design look and feel. Many people see this as
primarily just for tablets, but I disagree. I like the idea of switching on my PC to see the “live tiles” environment, allowing me to peer into applications without needing to open them. It’s a feature I like on the Windows Phone 7+ platform, and I personally think it works really well for the PC, laptop, tablet market. Metro applications also look and behave great, and I have no problem with moving away from “chrome” based windowed applications.

Windows 8 new Metro UI. It's Alive...

The “Metro” side of Windows 8 only supports “metro” style apps and HTML running in IE10 (currently no Silverlight or Flash in the Metro browser experience). Metro also provides a design methodlody for applications, and as such, a framework for developers to work within when delivering “apps”.

There are also “contracts” in place between applications, allowing them to share functionality via “charms”, such as the “search charm”. What does that mean, well it means you can search inside your app from the standard search dialogue. Even better, you can share content between apps using the “share” charm, so I am in one app, and I wish to share some content, I can click on the system charm and simply share it with another application. This provides a real slick feel to using the system, as if the Apps are part of Windows 8, as opposed to a single bit of software that simply runs on Windows 8. There is quite a difference there…Essentially metro and charms all adds to the user experience, and rich environment, Windows 8 aims to deliver.

Charms in action

Using "Charms" with touch screen keyboard to search within apps

Many though have stated, why ship Metro style for the PC if you are also supporting the more traditional “desktop” look and feel, which essentially is Windows 7 updated. There have even been calls for supplying metro only for tablets, and desktop view only for traditional laptops and desktops, a bit like Apple shipping iOS for tablets and full on Mac OS for Mac Books. Well to these people I simply say “you don’t get it”…

Flexibility, choice and function is what people want. If I own an iPad and I want to edit some pictures by using Photoshop, I can’t. That means switching over to my laptop, Mac book, PC whatever to do that work, not great if I am at the mother in-laws for example. So why not deliver a tablet that can allow me to do that work if I want? What’s wrong with having the flexibility and option there? Nothing…After all, I don’t have to go into the standard desktop if I don’t need to…

Native Desktop

The native desktop is still there, essentially it looks and feels like Windows 7, and there is nothing wrong with that. The native desktop is used to support more complex applications, applications such as Photoshop or Visual Studio, applications that need lots of tool bars, need to show lots of actions and functions to the user. There is nothing wrong with these types of applications, and not all applications could be designed the “metro” way (nor should they).

The native desktop is just that, it’s everything Windows 7 is right now, so all your legacy / business applications that have gone before will run fine on Windows 8.

 

Tablets, Laptops, Netbooks, PC’s, Phones…ARM, the lot…

One of the big things with Windows 8, and something Microsoft kept on pushing at BUILD, was that Windows 8 is for all devices, and that means all forms of hardware. So Windows 8 runs well on my fully blown development beast of a PC, yet it works just as well on a small wafer thin tablet running an ARM processor. This is actually great, it means I have a single experience across all my devices, while Microsoft needs only support a single platform.

Now, throw into the mix Microsoft’s investment into the cloud and Windows Live, and you start to see added benefits of this kind of thinking. You can have all your devices understand “state” between them, so understanding where I am in an xbox live game for example, or where I am in terms of a business process. That makes life a lot easier and flexible. Simple things such as changing my “Avatar” on my PC is replicated across all my devices, which is a great touch…

For quite sometime I have wanted a tablet that allows me to install everything I may ever need on it, so that includes development studios, it includes database administration suites, it includes photo editing software etc etc and I simply cannot do that with a tablet. So that means I lug around a great laptop just in case I need these things, yet I mainly use that to search the web, run some power point presentations, check email etc etc. With Windows 8, I can get my PC on a tablet, and use it as a tablet, until I need to use it properly, and in such an event, I can…

 

WinRT, .NET, WPF and Silverlight

Ok, now this is where many bloggers etc really annoyed me, especially those saying “Microsoft has killed .NET and Silverlight”. The essential truth is that many “components” that make up the .NET framework (and therefore the Silverlight framework) have been incorporated into WinRT (which is the metro side of Windows 8 libraries – if you like). Metro apps run either XAML or HTML 5 (note that if you are familiar with WPF and Silverlight that XAML is the front end of those technologies) but don’t run what we could term “native WPF or native Silverlight” applications. Metro apps “managed code” environment is either C++, VB, or C# (oh that’s just the same as WPF and Silverlight), and pretty much everything is the same. If you have an old Silverlight or WPF app,
you do need to make a few, and I do mean few changes, before it runs in the metro environment. I personally don’t see the big problem with this. Sure if you have a business application running on Silverlight, you now need to change it if you want to run it in the Metro world, however, you can always run it in the desktop environment…If you want to migrate, make the few changes and away you
go, and you now have a Metro application. Those changes are essentially a few include changes, and that’s it…

When you look at “Metro”, you see that it really is just an update to Silverlight / WPF, actually the whole of Windows 8 looks and feels like a Silverlight / WPF.

 

HTML 5 and scripting languages

HTML 5 is now supported along with Javascript in Visual Studio 2011, now I don’t think this shows any movement away from Microsoft technologies (such as XAML), rather it shows Microsoft’s aim of allowing as many developers as possible to develop great applications for Windows 8.

From some of the videos I have watched, I would suspect that using XAML is better for Metro applications (well delivering some of them), however, HTML 5 is going to do more than adequate job.

 

Windows Azure

There was a lot on Windows Azure, especially when we start looking at how Windows 8 synchronises between all your devices. Now I am not one who has shouted about the cloud from day 1, I have often spoken of some of the issues regarding compliance and many issues with the cloud. However, that being said, Microsoft uses Azure very very well with Windows 8. They have also gone through a lot of work of exposing may Azure interfaces to developers, allowing them to take advantage of the power of Azure across all devices. Great thinking…

I also liked a lot of things being done with Azure, and how Microsoft have really addressed compliance issues that do raise their head when we think of cloud computing. If I am honest, I think the stuff I have seen on Azure of late has me praising the concept of the cloud so much more. Though I feel that’s more aimed at “Azure” than cloud computing in general. I still have issues with IaaS and concepts of cloud applications running in my browser (I hate that, I want a real user experience, a real application, and guess what, with Metro or the desktop and Azure, I can get that very easily).

 

Developers, developers, developers

BUILD was all about developers, and that means putting them at the forefront of Windows 8, giving them the tools they choose to develop with and allowing them “sell” to potentially millions of customers. On that note, there was a lot made about the sheer number of devices out there that will be running Windows 8, and just how big that audience is for developers. I know that Apple has gained traction here; I know that Android has gained traction too, but at the end of the day, if you develop for Windows you have the biggest audience out there. And that is a fact…Throw into the mix Windows 8 capabilities on tablets and the deal with Nokia, and I think you see that Microsoft is working hard to get even more devices running their software.

 

Much more I have missed…

There was simply so much at BUILD that I can’t possibly start talking about all the things I am aware of, nor did I fancy writing multiple blogs on essentially a platform that is only at developer preview stage.  I didn’t touch on Windows Server 8, nor other features such as NFC enablement, but there you go. Go visit Channel 9 and watch the hundreds of hours on BUILD.

Essentially, Microsoft has been working very hard, it has taken on board the need for touch, and the fact that mobile and tablets are becoming must have devices, and as such, Microsoft should have Windows running on them.

I personally think Microsoft has done a great job with Windows 8 and Azure, and I can really see them taking Apple on head to head in markets where Apple currently dominates. Is this Microsoft getting back to their best? I think so…





Apps Apps Apps. Oh and web services

31 08 2011

The growing demand for smart phones, and the ever growing number of us who now own one, and almost rely on one, means we (as consumers and end users) now expect to be able to consumer content and work in different ways. It’s amazing that “culturally” many of us now come to expect certain possibilities from our mobile devices, and that means we expect certain things from the content we wish to access or the solutions we wish to use to work. With this in mind, we need to architect solutions and user experiences not just for the “web” or the desktop, but for both, and not just for both, but also for mobile devices…

 

Apps, Apps and yet more Apps

It really all started with the iPhone, the drive for “there’s an app for that”, which means many of us now use apps for so many day to day type tasks. Apps deliver a far greater user experience than any web based “app” can in a mobile browser, even HTML 5. Keep in mind this fact, as it means consumers expectations are higher than ever, which ultimately means software developers need to provide “App” solutions, and not rely on HTML 5 for cross platform compatibility.

This same expectation on our mobiles means we expect similar from our desktop experiences. So while HTML provides cross browser capabilities and the newer HTML 5 provides richer experiences, it doesn’t quite hit the expectations consumers and users now have.  So what does this mean? Well it means that the desktop application is not dead, rather it is evolving, throw in the cloud and we can see where things “should” be going…

The Cloud

The cloud and SaaS opens up new doors, especially for “Apps”. Relying on HTML 5 to deliver cloud based applications is simply mad, simply because user’s expectations have moved on. For me, HTML 5 is simply 2 years already too late. The solutions then should be delivered in “app” type fashion, and this is where I believe Silverlight and Flash will lead the way. Both can deliver almost desktop type solutions and user expectation, but be deployed over the web. With Silverlight you can run it within the browser or out of the browse, as if a real desktop application installed on the machine. This surely is the way to go…

I know Apple goes on about HTML 5, but do we really believe that Apple sees people using HTML 5 apps on their iPad, when a user can access a far better experience, more features etc. by simply using the “App” for that?

Web Services

Good old web services play a pivotal role here, allowing any form of application (desktop, HTML 5, Silverlight, Flash etc) to communicate and essentially “work”. It seems that all these technologies are starting to “align” which means that these are exciting times…

One architecture for all?

With the cloud, web services and the drive for apps, we essentially have a single architecture that is already drawn out for us for so many different types of solutions. The only down side is that “apps” need to be developed for individual platforms, though Flash and Silverlight cover a few of the basis. But, “Apps” are essentially the front end of the solution, all the work is still being done down in the engine room and via web services, so it’s not as big of an issue as many may try and claim.

New ways of doing business

This architecture, and mobile devices, along with their apps, opens up so many new avenues for the ways in which we communicate, we consumer content, we play and how we work. It even means so many business processes that we believe are fixed in “stone” can be changed, and be changed for the better and at a cost that isn’t astronomical.

I think Apps, along with the cloud and web services will change the way in which so many day to day processes and tasks are done, I also firmly believe that there are a number of technologies in the pipeline that will take too long to evolve and will be overtaken by the “app” monster…I feel the big HTML 5 could well be one of them, with many organisations not investing in new HTML 5 websites, or applications, rather opting for real “Apps” leveraging web services…

What do you think will suffer at the hands of apps?

It would be interesting to know what other budding technologies, or big ideas, that you think may potentially fall by the wayside, because we now have such an architecture and consumer expectation for Apps…





The future of the web? Apps all the way…

11 02 2011

This year will be the first year it is believed, that web access will be carried out on more mobile devices than actually through a PC or laptop. That’s a massive shift in the way we use the web. But don’t think that means we are sticking with browsers and HTML 5 even. What it really means is that more of us are looking towards mobile apps for access…

Take an example, do you from your mobile device use Tesco website for your shopping, or do you use their app. Almost everyone will say the app (if you shop at Tesco via the web that is). So why do we use the app and not the website? Simple, user experience…

Apps User experience

The problem with mobile devices is the screen real estate, they are simply small, even when you use an iPad, the real estate is smaller than a traditional netbook or my 19” wide screen TFT monitor…So seeing everything can be tricky, and it means scrolling around a lot. Secondly is the experience, waiting for pages to load over the web etc etc.

Apps provide a more “desktop” type experience, often loading is done in the background or even core data is stored on the device. So that means performance is greatly improved and we don’t have to pay greater network charges. In addition, apps are designed specifically for the realestate problem, so we get nice smooth experiences which make browsing using a web browser pale in comparison…

What can we learn from this…

What we learn is that, HTML 5 may be the future of websites and even rich internet experiences on the web and to some extent mobile devices, but the future is still on the device itself. Running software via a browser is architecturally inefficient; it’s very restrictive and comes with no end of issues. That’s simply because the web was not designed to deliver applications, rather it was designed to deliver content.

Can we deliver “apps” to the desktop? Yes we can. This is something I am a strong believer in. The web is great for delivering content and communications between the client and a server. If we make the small leap that components of an application are content, then we see that we can deliver desktop apps down to the client via a website, and have them communicate with servers in the cloud over HTTP. This is why I love the Silverlight model, as it’s all there…

Delivering applications this way makes the most of the web architecture and leverages all the benefits of being on the desktop, just as “mobile apps” make the most of being on the device. This is a great way of delivering real applications to business users, either over the web or intranet, running them out of the browser. You have a desktop app, with all the flexibility of a web app. A great solution….

Facebook scenario?

I’m not saying this is where we should all be, but websites such as Facebook would benefit massively from having a desktop app version. Why? Well how many people do you hear actually compliment the Facebook website on its looks, feel and how they use it? I don’t think any, rather I hear constant moaning about its performance, lack of intuitive navigation and, well the list goes on. The only good point is that they can access it over the web. But, how many use Facebook the website on their phone? Hardly any, rather they opt for their devices Facebook app (which delivers a better experience than the website most times). So if you had the choice as an end user, would you  have a rich desktop app for Facebook, rather than having to go to the website? I know I would!

Silverlight and Flash can deliver those capabilities, HTML 5 cannot. I think the future should be HTML 5 for websites, Silverlight and or Flash for desktop “web” apps…