Sitting through the presentations and demos at Microsoft's TechEd 2012 in Orlando, Fla., I'm struck by a sense of how several Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 features are going to be used by companies in different industries. Here are a few uses that I think will be big.
One demo app we saw for Windows 8 was for doctors and other healthcare workers, who can carry a Win 8 tablet on rounds. There are some pretty cool and visually slick aspects (like a map showing which rooms on a floor need to be visited). There is the ability to access central records and files (from charts to medical imaging files) and -- one of my favorites -- an e-signing capability, so that patients can give permission for procedures right on the screen.
There are a couple of things that this enables. One is increased efficiency for healthcare providers. In an overworked, overstressed world, this is critical. The other is an easier transition to an EHR system. If you never have a paper stage, it's easier to move to a fully electronic health record system. The security for Win 8 is good enough to make HIPAA compliance quite possible, and the degree to which Win 8 tablets can integrate with other Win 8 devices (like laptops used in Computer on Wheels deployments) will make sharing information and instances of the operating system and applications much easier from both the user and IT pro points of view.
Insurance and financial services
There are hundreds of small towns with insurance and investment services offices. Many of these towns have broadband connectivity that is sketchy at best. For IT teams setting up those branch offices, BranchCache is going to be a lifesaver. Part of the Windows Server 2012 standard package, BranchCache will help minimize the traffic that has to flow over the network.
It will also dramatically enhance the performance of document retrieval for users in the branch offices. Once any user has requested a file from the central office, the file is cached in the branch office, and subsequent requests (from any users) are served from the local cache. This isn't one of the bright, shiny new UI features, but it's going to make life much better for thousands and thousands of financial services professionals working in small communities around North America (and the globe).
In most cases, manufacuring is a dirty process. Even if we're not talking ecological disaster, we're talking dusty, grimy, and rather risky for delicate hardware. Windows 8 is already being shown on ruggedized tablet devices, and I've seen demos on touch-screen displays -- touch screens that can easily be manipulated by employees wearing gloves.
With integration to the back end a huge deal for these Windows releases, I think we could see a lot of companies moving to Win 8 in their manufacturing facilities as they move to Win 8 in the front office. The alerting, sharing, and other features of Windows 8 (and the ease with which those features can be invoked in applications) make some truly powerful manufacturing control applications possible.
There are more use cases that are going to have an impact, and I'll be writing about a number of them, but I have to say I'm as impressed by what I'm seeing here as I've been in a long time. I think that Microsoft has watched the market, studied the competition, and gotten a lot right in this set of products. Now I'm truly looking forward to seeing how the hardware vendors respond to the possibilities Microsoft is setting up in the newest versions of Windows.