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….





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).





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…





Silverlight, WPF, HTML 5, Metro and err…Flash…

20 09 2011

There is a lot of talk about these technologies, especially
after the Windows 8 BUILD preview. For many, Silverlight and WPF appear to be
dead, simply because it isn’t supported in the Metro world of Windows 8…This
technically is and isn’t true, depends what you think is in a name…

Windows 8 Metro

Looking for Files from any application in the Metro world, 1 single user experience

WPF and Silverlight

Both of these are essentially built on .NET libraries, which
in the desktop mode are still there, just as they are in Windows 7. However, in
the Metro world, these libraries have made their way into the WinRT library
collection, with this in mind and the fact that Metro runs XAML, you see that,
well the names may have changed, but Silverlight and WPF does run in Metro.

To “Metro” your application you do have to make some
changes, and these are very small indeed, we are talking a few changes to
include libraries and that’s about it. These changes though appear to be mainly
focused on touch enabling your application fully in the Metro world.

So if you wrote WPF applications and or Silverlight apps
that run OOB (out of browser), then things are pretty much business as normal. However,
if you wrote RIAs in Silverlight and had them running in the browser, then you
won’t be too happy. You see IE10 in the Metro world will not support plugins,
and that’s probably all down to touch and touch based libraries. If you want to
run Silverlight in a browser, then you need to be in desktop mode and use IE10…Not
perfect, but makes sense…

We also have to remember what we want to have as our
experience on the machine. You see, Silverlight in browser mode, and even
Flash, does deliver “Applications”, but the user experience can be very
different between apps. In the Metro world, Metro isn’t just about making your
apps run on that part of the OS, but is also about a seamless experience, look
and feel between all applications. It is also about integrating these
applications with the OS and other installed applications. What does that mean?
Well you cant have a Flash or Silverlight app running in Metro that then doesn’t
behave as other apps do, or more importantly how a user expects them too. In
the Metro world we can “Search” inside apps, we can seamlessly share content
and data between apps that never knew anything about each other. If we allow a
Silverlight app from a browser to run, then it won’t support this level of
experience, and more often than not, it won’t look and feel like a “Metro” app.
That consistent look and feel is what users want, expect and Microsoft has to
enforce…

Charms and searching within Apps

All apps should behave the same, deliver that same look and feel and support functions such as "Search" and "Share" in the same way. A single user experience

Apps

Apps are essentially the future for the desktop and the web,
Microsoft understands this, just as well as Apple does. You see the web was
never designed to deliver us “Applications”, rather it was designed and
architected to distribute and deliver content. This is primarily why we have
plug-ins for browsers, as even HTML 5 has limitations on what you can and can’t
do. Throw into the mix the horrible issues that arise with browser
compatibility and you see why Apps are far better for the user and for the OS.

Just as we have with mobile phones (and Apples iPad for
example), we will have an app store, which allows us to purchase (or get for
free) applications, for Windows 8, these will be XAML (WPF / Silverlight apps)
or HTML 5 with Javascript (though I believe and suspect XAML will be the
technology of choice).  In this way, Apps
will behave in similar fashions, so it makes it easy for any user to add more
apps to their machine and use them quickly and efficiently. This isn’t the case
with browser plugins nor with typical “chrome” based applications.

Death of Flash?

Well not really, but I do fear this signals the beginning of
the end for Flash. Essentially if you develop in Flash, I would be jumping ship
fast! I also have a chuckle when I think of apps such as Tweet Deck, which essentially
will have to be “Metroed” or make its users have to move to the desktop. Since
I have seen Tweet@rama in demos on Windows 8, I think Tweet Deck will have to
get itself “Metroed”, if it wants to stay alive…

Flash will be on the desktop side of things only for Windows
8, and that includes AIR. So what does this mean for Flash? Well why would a
user want to “flip” into desktop mode, go to a website or open a Flash based
application and leave the lovely Metro world behind? It isn’t going to happen.
Sure for business applications, complex studios (such as photoshop), users won’t
mind moving back to the desktop, but then it makes sense to be in desktop mode
for these kind of complex applications. But most things in Flash are either to
enrich our web experience or to provide a cross platform simple(ish)
applications – such as Tweet Deck. So in the new world, those apps would be
delivered by XAML in Metro and by HTML 5 in the browser, leaving nothing for Flash
to deliver.

The future…

Well the future of the web is HTML 5, the future of real
RIAs is Apps as too is the future of desktop applications. For complex
applications and legacy applications we will have the classic Desktop mode from
Windows 8, and I think this makes a lot of sense. Essentially Windows 8 is
everything to everybody; no matter what they want, expect and need to run…

WPF and Silverlight developers will simply be named Metro
developers (or something similar), web developers HTML 5 developers and Flash
will slowly disappear from the PC as it has already the iPad and probably Mac
OS…





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…





All in the process

25 05 2011

Often I talk about adaptive processes, the need to be flexible within our implementation of processes, but I haven’t spoken much about the power of processes. By this I mean the potential processes can have on impacting an organisation, or even how we live our lives as consumers. That’s pretty powerful stuff.

When I speak of processes, please don’t think of a defined process map, or some case with defined tasks. These are implementations of a process, not the process. When I speak of processes I always mean a very high level view of how something is done. This post is all about this type of process thinking…

 

Process definition

We get used to following a certain pattern on how to do things, the way something is done, this even applies to how we discover or design processes. How many of you use a BPM designer tool to design processes, or to communicate them? Working in this way means we can often shut the door on process innovation and innovative thinking in general.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t use such tools, but we shouldn’t be using them right from the start, rather sit down with a blank bit of a paper and a pencil…By using designer tools, or working with processes we know well, it means that in many cases we actually refine a process, rather than redefine or create new. The problem here is not one of flexibility, or capabilities to adapt, rather the way the business, individuals and teams believe the best way of doing things is. I need an example…

Take “check out” at a supermarket, how long has it taken someone to look at the checkout process and say “actually, why don’t we allow the customer to check themselves out, why don’t we let them operate the till?”. Let’s face it the technology has been there since the POS was invented to do this, but no one has really changed the actual check out process until recently…What has been happening is that we all presume the current process in general is the best way of doing it. It’s only that someone stepped back and re-evaluated the process in general that we end up with self-checkout.

 

All in the process

When we look at processes, no matter how flexible they need to be, there still is a definable process, once you step back and look at the whole problem. The trick is not to define in minute detail a process, nor to take a process and simply refine it, but to actually step back, take some time and re-evaluate the complete process from end to end. The best way to do this is to throw away what you know about the process, throw away any preconceptions of how the process will work, and start with a blank sheet of paper. Ask yourself what is the business problem? What is the start point? What is the end goal? Once you have done this, throw together some very loose and high level processes to achieve the business goal. I like to make them as different as possible as this often illustrates to me the massive variations that are possible, it also forces me to think outside of the box so to speak and I find, spark some innovative thinking. If you do this well, you will have a number of very different processes on your bits of paper, only then should we try to put some flesh on our process bones.

When fleshing out processes I then move to designer tools, but again I don’t ever want to enforce too much, nor put in any more detail than I need to. Once you have done this, then you can really look and evaluate your very different processes for the same business problem. It maybe (like our supermarket checkout) that more than one of these processes will be used to meet the business need, or that you opt for one in particular. The point is though, that you evaluate the processes in general, at a high level.

Innovative thinking and processes can make a massive difference to a business goal, it can even flesh out new ways of doing business, new ways for customers to purchase from you, open up new doors of revenue / savings and spark new life in general into an organisation. That’s the power of processes when you look at them at a very high level.

Implementation

When you come to implementation, that’s when you look to tools that aren’t rigid, solutions that can adapt and allow process refinement by the end user. After all, the end user will be the ones that make the process work, and work well. End users need to be empowered by your software solution to enable them to carry out your business process. If your end users are restricted by the software, if they are restricted in their thinking, then your innovation is lost, your processes ability to meet that business goal diminished and the benefits start falling away. End users are the key to success with any business process…

This is when I start talking about Adaptive Process Guidance, adaptive capabilities and flexible implementations….(see other blogs J)