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Back to the Start Again

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As Microsoft announced their update to the Windows 8 operating system, cunningly named Windows 8.1 after being codenamed Windows Blue, much of the focus has been on the Start button.

It’s not so much a triumphant return as capitulation to the criticism laid at Microsoft’s feet, and ironically I suspect that their so called U-Turn will attract just as much as the original decision to omit this magical little button.

Microsoft claim they have listened to user feedback and hit back at their biggest regret with Windows 8 – the lack of user initiation. Was this the right thing to do or was it a case of damned if we do, damned if we don’t?

If they didn’t listen to feedback could that be construed as arrogance? And if they did listen to the feedback, I’m sure lots of people would say they were backtracking and therefore have to admit that they were wrong.

The new ‘Helps and tips’ app which will be pinned to the Start screen is designed to ease people through the transition to the new system… yet a ‘help, tips and tricks’ app was included in Windows 8 too.

OK – so they undoubtedly shot themselves in the foot by not exactly making the app itself intuitive – you had to go into the app store to get it.

There’s also a subtle distinction between legacy and old habits – and it appears that for many old habits die hard. Perhaps, it’s really just that Windows 8 has been designed for a future that most of us haven’t quite stepped in to yet.

Rather than dwell on specifics, for more on what’s new in Windows 8.1 take a look at this article from Ed Bott, What's New in Windows 8.1 which looks at the features beyond the infamous return of the Start button.

Lack of integration

For me the real issue that’s yet to be addressed is the seamless integration of core business applications such as Outlook and Office into the Windows 8 environment.

Windows 8 very much wanted to be a ‘touch’ orientated system. Its interface is designed so that you can swipe to access apps easily, loading and navigating between them with a single touch.

Only problem with that is that you can’t do this when you’re in Word or Excel as it drags you back to the old desktop. If that sounds a lot like Windows 7, it is. Neither Word or Excel are designed as apps (which is obvious by the tiny buttons and lack of touch screen interface). But it’s where I spend most of my time.

And with the return of the Start button, I’m probably even less likely spend time with the live tiles. So integration is really key here.

Microsoft as a company is making a fundamental transition

The Windows operating system was always the crown jewels for Microsoft – it’s how they built their empire and the reason for their market dominance. Yet now we’re seeing a significant point of change. We’re now seeing some of the giants working more in partnership.

For example, this summer’s launch of Sage 200 2013 works with Microsoft’s Azure platform which is fully integrated with Office 365. It might be a bold statement of intent, but most importantly it seems to be a recognition that compatibility is more critical now than it’s ever been.

At TSG we always talk to our customers about aligning their use of technology with their business goals – this will ensure that they drive greatest value from improvements in productivity and evolve the way their business operates.

Microsoft themselves have gone through a process of evolution and are making the transition from just a software development business to also being a services and devices company – and that’s fundamentally changed its landscape.

A lot of the criticism levelled at Microsoft, to which I agree with to a certain extent, was that they went too far and too fast with Windows 8. Throwing the Start button out of the window (pun absolutely intended) was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back, but I do think there was a certain amount of naivety about how quickly consumers would seize this new way of working.

With Windows 8.1, it’s clear to see that Microsoft has now made the transition to becoming a continual development business. Much like Apple who seem to announce a new software update every second Sunday, I’m sure it won’t be too long until we see Windows 8.2, 8.3 and so on, although it will probably be quite a while before we see a fully fledged ‘9’ version.

Consumer Culture

On the device front, some figures were released recently that suggested that Windows Phone was growing faster than expected, albeit the figures were for the US market. Growing 47 percent year over year, it is also growing in popularity amongst the younger generation. And it’s this population who tend to adopt new technology very easily (my 6 year old is a dab hand on the iPad).

My point here is that whilst much of the hype is targeted at the consumer audience, businesses need to be careful to avoid being influenced by anything other than what will be of benefit to the business when it comes to making technology decisions.

The Bring Your Own Device trend (BYOD) has contributed to this ‘consumer culture’ drifting into the workplace, with the risk that the IT manager becomes more reactive to various technology demands that workers think the business needs, rather than focusing on and developing the overall technology strategy.

Try not to be distracted by the fact that it’s shiny and it “does all this great stuff” – although we’ve all been there.

It’s what it will do for your business that really counts.

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