Windows 8 Interview – Wes Miller from Directions on Microsoft
I had a chance to meet Wes Miller in Seattle at the MVP Nation Windows 8 Conference.
Wes has a substantial amount of expertise in SQL Server, SharePoint Server, and Windows (including deployment, security, and operating system internals). He analyzes and writes about Microsoft’s SQL Server and SharePoint Server products.
Before joining Directions on Microsoft, Wes was a product manager and development manager for several Austin, TX, start-ups, including Winternals Software, acquired by Microsoft in 2006. Prior to that, Wes spent seven years at Microsoft working as a program manager in the Windows Core Operating System and MSN divisions. His blog is getwired.com.
My thanks to Wes for making time for this interview.
The transcript of this interview is as follows:
Onuora: Thanks for making the time Wes, Could you tell us a bit about your background?
Wes Miller: I’m a research analyst at Directions on Microsoft. I primarily cover SQL Server and SharePoint, but also pinch hit for Office, Office for Mac, Bing, and sometimes pick up Windows coverage when my peer, Michael Cherry, doesn’t have time to cover everything. So in a nutshell, I’m a writer – I also blog a little bit (http://www.getwired.com).
I worked at Microsoft from 1997-2004 in several areas, but spent most of my time working on Windows. I was the Program Manager responsible for enterprise deployment of Windows, and owned almost every deployment tool at one time or another. We shipped Windows XP, and I helped define many of the deployment tools that eventually shipped in Windows Vista, after I had left.
I moved down to Austin to work with Mark Russinovich at Winternals (we were acquired by Microsoft in 2006), and after working at several startups, found my way back to Seattle in 2010.
Onuora: I assume you’ve had a chance to see and play with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, what were your first impressions?
Wes Miller: I think that Microsoft has taken a pretty bold step with Windows 8 (and Metro), and it provides a very different experience to Windows as we’ve ever known it. As a peer noted the other day, it’s weird to refer to it as Windows now, since at least in Metro, there are no (overlapping) Windows.
I feel that it is really hard to give the Consumer Preview a fair shake without using a touch device, since it’s developed with such a focus on touch-first for the entire user interface. I think until it is possible to really try Windows 8 on a touch-based tablet at length (something that I have been unable to do), it’s going to be really hard to form a completely fair opinion.
But having been on the Windows XP team when people freaked out at the simple theming and Start menu changes we did then (when we added the Classic menu back), I’m very curious to see how enterprises react to Windows 8. Microsoft has made a pretty bold statement. We’ll see how it is received.
Onuora: What do you think of the Windows 8 Metro interface?
Wes Miller: Honestly, I’m torn. I cut my teeth on Win 3.1 and NT 4, so I’m pretty used to a certain experience from Windows. That said, I’ve been an iPhone user since the first generation, and an iPad user since the second – so I know my brain can be retrained to a new user interface. As someone who is familiar with iOS, I find the Metro UX to actually be a little jarring.
It’s sort of hard to visually consume, in my opinion. I have some discoverability concerns about Metro, and about how it and the desktop interplay – something I’ve been concerned about since the “dual-view” story of Metro vs. Desktop was first revealed.
Onuora: What do you think of the overall Windows 8 vision?
Wes Miller: In a Winter biathlon, you have an athlete who is skilled at two sports – skiing and shooting. If they’re good at one and not the other, they generally don’t win the event. Windows XP through 7 delivered a Tablet PC platform, but no partner or ISV ecosystem to help it grow – hence there wasn’t enough value (no pen-centric applications) to justify the premium price of a Tablet PC.
So those versions of Windows were great desktops and laptops, but suboptimal (pen-based) tablets. My primary concern with Windows 8 is that I believe it can be a great tablet platform, if the apps are there, the devices are compelling to consumers, and the prices of both are right. But I fear Windows 8 may have forgotten how to be a desktop when touch isn’t available.
With no way to have Windows 8 be a “desktop OS first” – for laptops and desktops without touch, I again have concerns about how well the enterprise will receive Windows 8. We shall see how it plays out.
Onuora: Have you had a chance to check out the development tools – Visual Studio etc?
Wes Miller: To be honest, I haven’t. I’ve never been a strong developer, so that’s not where I spend much time anymore.
Onuora: What do you think about the development tools Microsoft have made available?
Wes Miller: From what I have seen, I think they’ve done a pretty good job of iterating the tools to help developers make the most of WinRT and Windows 8.
Onuora: What role do you see Windows 8 playing in the enterprise?
Wes Miller: I think quite a bit of it depends on the devices and the applications that become available, and what price points the devices and apps show up. I’m really not seeing a broad swath of enterprises deploy Windows 8 as it currently exists on current-generation desktops or laptops.
While it can technically run on systems that are in the enterprise today, how well it runs as well as the cost of retraining users to make the most of the new user interface when almost all systems it would be deployed on would not have touch support. There are also costs for IT needing to learn any new management methodology necessary to deal with Metro-style applications (or Windows on ARM – WOA, which may be quite different).
I have to think that we’re going to see lots of organizations continuing to roll out Windows 7 (perhaps to an increasing scale, given the impending demise of Windows XP support) on the desktop and laptops for quite some time, and looking into how they can best take advantage of Windows 8 on new hardware that is optimized for touch, power efficiency, heat, and weight.
So short story long, if the prices are right, and the form factors are right, I can see enterprises deploying Windows 8 on new touch-centric devices first, and seeing how/if it can make sense for the rest of their organization’s existing devices over time.
Onuora: What do you think about having Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8 on the market at the same time?
Wes Miller: Really, this question is about Windows XP, Windows 7, and Windows 8. To me, Windows 8 will make the most sense on new devices that are designed to make the most of the OS in terms of both touch and power efficiency.
I don’t think most enterprises, or even many consumers, will elect to upgrade current PCs to Windows 8 to the scale we used to see long ago when a new version of Windows hit the market – but honestly, I think even Vista and Windows 7 began lightening that trend, and everyone focused on upgrading the OS at the same time they did a PC refresh.
Windows XP is, from a support perspective, at death’s door. It’s got less than two years of extended support left. I don’t expect it to be gone by 2014, to any degree. There are Windows 9x, NT 3.51, Windows 2000 systems in mission critical roles out there. It’s not secure. It’s not pretty. But it’s real. Windows XP will be around for a long time.
Vista, on the other hand? Well… Moving on to Windows 7 – I think that we’ll see many consumers elect to get Windows 7 on devices that aren’t touch-focused, and as I noted earlier, I expect enterprises to be continuing to roll out Windows 7 for the foreseeable future, through downgrade rights from Windows 8 if that’s what their OEM PCs ship with.
Onuora: What would you change about Windows 8 if you had the chance?
Wes Miller: Put back the Start button. I wrote a blog post on this, but I have a real concern about the confusion that users will face when they attempt to use Windows 8. It’s not just something that Microsoft should gloss over or provide a tutorial on.
As noted in that same blog post, I also believe that there should be a method to more tightly incorporate Metro into the desktop, and retain the Start menu, if there is no touch. Basically, incorporate the best of Windows 8 into the best of Windows 7.
I think that doing so would actually lead to a version of Windows 8 that enterprises wouldn’t fear on desktops or laptops (or any touch-free system), and in turn it would give a much broader potential market for apps in the Store.
Onuora: What is your view on the use and deployment of tablets in the enterprise?
Wes Miller: I think tablets – the iPad in particular at this point – enable very unique use cases that were historically ignored. We’re seeing digitization for lots of tasks that were largely paper-based before. Trucking, airlines and the FAA, innumerable “point of service” roles that need a brain-dead reliable device with great battery life and – often – a cellular wireless network connection or at least WiFi.
The iPad filled an interesting niche in the market that, perhaps, the Tablet PC could have. But it didn’t, for a few reasons. As I look forward to Windows 8, I have concerns about hardware in particular – one for each device category Windows 8 will support.
As noted, price, weight, form factor, battery life, a lack of fans (specifically on non-WOA devices), and performance (specifically on WOA devices) are key concerns of mine – and until we see what the OEMs have on tap for Windows 8, we won’t know how compelling of an offering they are – and how competitive they are vis-à-vis the iPad.
As you mentioned in a blog post awhile back, “why would I get this instead of an iPad” is a question that people need to be able to get an answer to. If the Windows 8 devices are compelling, enterprises may well deploy them and start building WinRT apps. If they aren’t, I anticipate iPad growth in the enterprise to continue unabated.
Onuora: Do you own an iPad?
Wes Miller: I do. As much as I wanted it, I skipped the first generation iPad, because I knew from my own iPhone 3G that it wouldn’t have enough RAM to do multitasking well when it was expected to ship later that year (it didn’t). I have an iPad 2, and love it. I use it every day.
But I also use my 15” ThinkPad W510 (Win7/Office2010), and my Acer 27” monitor every day. You’ll note the different screen sizes there (10” for the iPad). As a writer, each of my “workspaces” offers different capabilities – I wouldn’t want to give up any of the three, really. My iPad, for now, couldn’t replace my Windows system by a longshot.
Onuora: What do you think of the iPad as an enterprise level device?
Wes Miller: A bit of an oxymoron. The iPad, like the iPhone, is like play-doh. It conforms well to the task currently in the foreground on it, but doesn’t handle multitasking. Ironically, I think that’s true of most of us as humans, anyway.
The iPad has many great things going for it in the enterprise, though. It supports multiple Exchange e-mail accounts. It can be actively managed (and wiped) using ActiveSync and Exchange and several other device management platforms, has hardware-based encryption, and separation between apps.
Add in support for most VPNs, a breadth of third-party apps that support SharePoint and other collaboration, business intelligence, and workflow solutions, there’s a lot there to build upon. Is it perfect? No. But it’s constantly evolving, and Apple added quite a bit of functionality to help in the enterprise in particular with iOS 5, and I’m pretty certain they’ll continue that trend in iOS 6.
My biggest concern with the iPad as a primary computing device is that, as good as some of the word processing and spreadsheet tools are on the iPad – and there are quite a few of them, none offer parity with Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows and 2011 for Mac.
Onuora: Do you feel that you and your peers have had enough opportunities to give feedback about Windows 8?
Wes Miller: Not really, no. There really hasn’t been any sort of “conversation” as might have been the case in the past as Windows was being developed, no discourse about whether we think Windows 8 will or won’t be a good fit for our subscribers (largely Microsoft enterprise customers). Unfortunately, we’ve been offered very little opportunity for feedback, as have most of our subscribers.
Onuora: Assuming Windows 8 came out in Q4 2012, when would you recommend use and deployment?
Wes Miller: Personally, I’d take an early evaluative approach in the enterprise. Get a few machines, dole them out to users and get real-world feedback as to how it works. This is a whole new world in so many ways. Organizations shouldn’t necessarily just rush into it. I’m concerned that both consumers and enterprises that buy WOA because it has a Windows logo on it may be a bit confused.
It’s Windows, but not as you know it. For Windows 8 Intel tablets, the transition may be less jarring, and won’t throw out legacy apps, but the question then is how well the devices perform in the real world. It’s a delicate balance of enough performance without poor battery life or thermal challenges.
I’m looking forward to seeing what OEMs do to build a compelling tablet platform given Windows 8. Again, for desktops and current gen laptops, unless the current plan of record changes to return more of a desktop experience, it’s not that I recommend, rather that I anticipate, enterprises will stick to Windows 7 for a while.
Onuora: Thanks again.
Wes Miller: My pleasure.