Anticipating the Birth of the Coming Windows 8 Ultratablet

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This week I was at warring events: First Microsoft Build in Anaheim California for Windows 8 training, then up the coast to Intel's IDF.


Both vendors are hard on the message that we aren't in a post-PC era at all. With PC shipments at over a million a day and tablets at more like a million a month, the numbers support that argument, but the trends are troubling particularly when we tack on smartphones.


Let's look at some of the things Microsoft and Intel showcased and talk about their impact on the IT space.


No Business Demand for Windows 8


Operating system demand is generally generated by users, not by IT. IT is a fulfillment organization, particularly when it comes to personal devices. The days when IT could actually drive a change on the desktop probably never existed except in a few misguided vendors' minds. Until the users clamor for it, IT won't show demand and, when it does, it will be a lagging, not a leading, indicator.


Windows 95's history shows that it was the most high-demand OS product Microsoft ever created. IT actually tried to block it, much like they tried to block the iPhone, suggesting there was negative demand, yet both of those products set initial sales records and were deployed by users over the silenced objections of IT. There were stories of Windows 95 shutting down manufacturing lines because IT wasn't ready for users to install it, nor were they capable of blocking it. (My own personal experience was at Intel, when one of their Fabs crashed, costing millions.)


For you IT folks, this means that if users want it, you are going to deploy it. If you think users will want it, you'd be well advised to have a plan.


Windows 8 Is Compelling


You may recall the movie Jerry Maguire where, at the end, the lead actress says to Tom Cruise when he tries to win her back, "you had me at hello." For Windows 8, Microsoft had me at the initial boot time. Windows 8 can go from full power off to boot faster than a monitor can resolve the image. That is a 3- to 4-second boot time, suggesting that we are going to need faster monitors. If you've used Windows 7, you are already getting used to near-instant suspend/restore events, but Windows 8 makes Windows 7 feel downright pokey.


The new blended interface allows for a tablet-like experience on top of a traditional Windows-like experience for legacy code. This is like getting an updated iPad that can actually run all of your Windows applications natively (at least on Intel or AMD hardware).


This makes it Microsoft's third hybrid platform. The first was Windows 95 (16-bit to 32-bit), then Windows XP (32- to 64-bit and Windows 9x kernel developed for Windows NT) and now Windows 8, which bridges a traditional Windows experience with that of a tablet. Metro, the new interface, represents the future. Tied with the Windows Application store (and there likely will be a number of private application stores and IT-driven stores surrounding this platform), it also is a transition from traditional software deployment and purchase methods.


This is just the tip of the iceberg, which contains improvements to Windows Live and IE 10 that embrace the Metro design philosophy and huge moves to create a seamless experience between Azure (cloud) applications and local applications.


Oh, and there have been massive improvements in migration tools coupled with the ability to cache user settings in the cloud, allowing a vastly easier way to move between hardware. In short, I think Windows users are likely going to want this as soon as they can get it. IT folks should begin beta testing to make sure they can manage this demand and better control adoption.


Intel and Touch Ultrabooks (iPad Killers)


Intel wasn't sleeping. It showcased Ultrabooks, which will start showing up even sooner. These are MacBook Air-like products with sub-$1,000 price points and sub-3 pound carry weights. Paper thin and sexy, they arrive next quarter and many use SSD or hybrid drives to come close to the Windows 8 suspend/resume and boot times with Windows 7. They could easily become the next executive status symbol, and you know what that does to executive hardware requests.


However, what is coming is even more interesting. Intel showcased security technology that would allow you to decouple a log in and tie in a cell phone as a second authentication factor and/or bypass the PC's buffer for a randomized keypad impervious to key loggers and screen cloning. We are talking about making passwords obsolete. (Of course, any of us that have been following security have been arguing that passwords should have been obsolete decades ago.)


Finally, Intel Labs showcased a process that could initially improve the tablet computer massively by creating an instrumentation process that would quantify every aspect of that product and better set goals for future offerings. However, eventually this process could create the successor to the tablet, and future Ultrabooks with touch could be that successor. Running Windows 8, they could make products like the iPad largely obsolete.


As a side comment, if they could package Mooly Eden's passion, they could likely make a fortune on that alone. He is one of the most energetic and passionate guys in technology and if you ever go to IDF, don't miss him on stage. He is kind of Intel's Steve Jobs.


Wrapping Up: Stay Engaged and Prepare for Change


Like anything else, you need to be able to form your own assessments, as you clearly know your company and what your users will want more than I do. Still, a sub-3 pound laptop with near-instant cold boot and instant suspend/restore, coupled with an even more advanced tablet interface, vastly better security, and vastly longer battery life (did I mention that?) should be rather popular in most firms. You may want to get in some test hardware early if only to highlight the advantages of being in IT yourself. Beating the executives to the punch is often worth the price of admission and you'll also be able to better assess when and if you'll back the related deployment.


And if you are wondering whether Windows 8 will ship on time, this is what Steven Sinofsky is known for: hitting his release dates. The only offset is that Steve Ballmer has been starving his units of late by being overly focused on cost cutting. That could significantly reduce initial demand and give you additional breathing room.