Last week at HIMSS, one of the surprise topics that kept coming up was Windows 8. Sure, I heard more about storing medical images in the cloud and meaningful use, but every time we talked about any of that, it wasn’t long before someone said, “Of course, when Windows 8 comes out, things will change.” People seemed to feel it was inevitable that Windows 8 would come and succeed, and that everything we thought about mobile computing would be out the window.
Today, Microsoft unveiled its consumer preview of Windows 8, and it looks to be on schedule for a fall release. I can’t remember the last “consumer preview” that meant so much to the enterprise. The issue at hand is not simply migrating to another OS (though we were writing stories only a few months ago helping people get from XP to Windows 7), but changes in the way we view mobile computing, virtual computing, and security.
Windows 8 is often viewed by the gadget techie press as a last-gasp effort to right a foundering ship and fix failures in the mobile market. However, during a talk at HIMSS called “Leveraging Mobile Technologies to Achieve Better Outcomes,” Andy Willet, CMO of NetMotion Wireless and a former executive at several major cellular carriers, predicted Windows 8 would bring big gains. “The Metro UI combined with security features and the desire to stay in one ecosystem would lead to more hospitals adopting Windows phones [and] tablets to pair with their PCs.”
Of course, some of that hinges on the success or failure of commercially accessible Windows 8 tablets. Willet was quick to point out that Windows tablets predate the iPad but have gained little traction.
Windows 8 has built-in support for 3G and 4G and will give users easier ways to access data across multiple platforms through a single user experience. That is key for most end users who are harder to train and more interested in knowing a single system. This would be key for a hospital environment.
The same reasons hospitals might adopt Windows 8, particularly security, apply to the enterprise in general. An improved version of BitLocker is promised for Windows 8. There will be fewer delays, and the encryption of hard drives and other data that started with Windows 7 is being fully realized with Windows 8. One good feature is the ability to encrypt data on a USB drive that could be tied to a specific date. That way, contractors or mobile workers could be given access to data that “dies” at a predetermined time.
Windows 8 support for Hyper-V is also a major enterprise plus. It will allow you to run multiple 32- or 64-bit operating systems on a single PC. This would allow you to run multiple test beds on a single system (four test beds with relatively average RAM of 4GB). Microsoft will even be shipping preconfigured VMs with older versions of Microsoft browsers and other software, so you can test how your apps will work with different configurations. This would make testing cheaper and easier, especially if you weren’t willing to go to a full virtual desktop ecosystem.
In other words, Microsoft is offering a robust enterprise experience in what looks to be a very consumer-driven product. This might be the exact combination to get the company back into the mobile game while not giving up any enterprise ground. Enterprises may be tempted to drive their users toward Windows 8 devices for the security and ease of management, and consumers might be willing to switch to Windows 8 for the consistent experience.
Windows 8 is coming this fall, and if the excitement at HIMSS is any indication, it is likely to make some serious noise. CIOs, get ready to change the way you look at your PC and mobile strategies.