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 Thursday, May 23, 2013

OK5KOutside of my professional life in computing, one of the many things I’m involved with is the Eden Prairie Optimists.

(I know this blog has a global reach, but I also know a lot of people in and around the Twin Cities read it, and this post is mostly for you)

The Optimist organization is focused on helping our youth grow up to be good citizens and successful people. To that end the many chapters around the world help organize and/or fund many different youth oriented programs.

Our particular chapter funds local anti-drug and alcohol programs in the schools, organizes an annual fishing derby for kids, helps fund children’s cancer research, teaches firearms safety classes, holds oratorical and essay contests for youth, and several other programs each year.

We just wrapped up the spring firearms training class, and plan to hold another in late summer.

In June we’ll send all the crossing guards (kids) from Eden Prairie schools to an amusement park to thank them for their service to the community.

June will also see our annual fishing contest, where we get kids and their parents (and sometimes grandparents and others) outside in a nice city park to see who can catch the biggest fish. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the excitement on the face of 5 or 6 year old who just caught their first fish ever!

July 4 is the date for our annual OK 5K run/walk. This is one of our primary fundraising events, raising the money that allows us to provide these services and programs to the community. Even better, this is a great family event that is open to all ages. We’ve had little kids walk the route, and a WWII veteran run it. This year we’re honored that the City of Eden Prairie asked us to include our event as part of their overall series of events for the July 4 week, and I expect the event to be bigger and better than ever!

Later in the year we’ll sponsor the Halloween on the Mall event so kids have a safe, fun, and warm place to trick or treat. My kids always went around the neighborhood in the dark, their costumes hidden beneath coats to keep them warm. These days kids can show off their costumes in the warmth of the mall, without the risk of cars racing down the streets.

And we’ll fund next year’s drug and alcohol awareness programs, student achievement awards, and organize our annual essay and oratorical contests.

Although a lot of people look at all these things and wonder how someone like me, who has kids now, has time to be involved. My answer is simple: I include my kids. What’s the point of a youth focused organization that does youth focused events if you don’t include your own kids? Both of my boys have been involved in a lot of the Optimist activities – either as participants or as contributors. Personally I hope that this grounding in civic activities stays with them through their lives so they become involved in something similar as adults. I know my interest in civic involvement flows from my father and the ways he got me involved when I was a youth.

Thursday, May 23, 2013 9:41:20 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
 Monday, May 06, 2013

Mary Jo reports that Windows 8 sales are roughly on par with Windows 7 sales. Which is good news for Windows 8, because Microsoft said (at the time) that Windows 7 was the fastest selling OS to that point.

She also points out that actual usage of Win8 isn’t terribly high at this point – which isn’t at all surprising (see my blog post on if Windows 8 is a success).

The real value of the numbers just provided by Microsoft is that they are an apples to apples comparison between Win7 and Win8, and that they demonstrate that Win8 is following roughly the same track as Win7 in terms of production and sales.

That’s good news, given that Win7 is (by nearly any measure) extremely successful, and is considered by many people to be the best OS Microsoft has released. Windows 8 on an x86 machine can basically be viewed as a faster version of Windows 7, plus the ability to run WinRT apps, and so I pretty much think of Windows 8 as a slight improvement over the already excellent Windows 7.

As Mary Jo notes, we don’t know if the 100 million figure includes Windows RT. At this point I’m not sure if that really matters – at least not from a business app dev perspective. Windows RT can only run WinRT (Windows Runtime) apps, and the WinRT dev platform is too new and immature to risk targeting it when building large enterprise apps (not to mention the side-loading cost issues).

At this point most organizations appear to be building new smart client apps using WPF, and of course they continue to maintain a great many Windows Forms apps. The strength of Windows 8, as I see it, is that it remains an extremely relevant and potent business app platform via its desktop mode, which runs Win32/.NET apps at least as well as its predecessor.

If Microsoft resolves the side-loading cost issues so licensing and deployment becomes reasonable for small, medium, and large organizations I do think WinRT has a reasonable shot at being the successor to Win32/.NET for business developers. In another version or two it should stabilize and mature to the point that it is pretty comparable to WPF, and thus is attractive and useful to C#/XAML developers. That’ll probably take a couple years, which is also the timeframe that corporate IT groups will probably be willing to consider upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 8.

In summary: good Windows 8 sales today means that betting on WPF for smart client development should be pretty safe, and will hopefully have a decent migration path to WinRT in 2-3 years.

Monday, May 06, 2013 10:30:54 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [6]  | 
 Thursday, May 02, 2013

This question keeps floating around the Internet, and I thought I’d give my viewpoint.

Obviously I have no more intel on sales numbers than anyone else (which means pretty much nothing). So anything anyone says at this point is pretty much speculation, and that includes me too.

So rather than speculate uselessly, let me provide a bit of narrative.

Almost nobody buys operating systems. This is a truth that has existed since the dawn of the concept of an operating system. Operating systems exist as an abstraction over the hardware that allow developers to build applications without having to deal with the low-level details of interacting with hardware.

Of course over the past couple decades “operating system” has come to include a lot of things. At a minimum these days people expect the OS to include drivers for every type of device ever invented (or to be invented), a nice user interface, and a set of pre-installed “first party” apps. None of that stuff actually is the OS, but most people view it as part and parcel.

Even so, very few people buy an OS. They buy a device (computer, ultrabook, tablet, phone) because the device enables them to do something useful. More precisely the device allows them to run software (apps) that do something useful.

(I’ll freely admit that I’m biased. As a software developer, I do tend to see software as the most important part of this whole picture. And I think I’m correct, because if you give anyone a device and tell them they can’t install any software on that device I can pretty much guarantee you that they won’t be able to use the device for much of anything.)

I’d also suggest that there are two broad categories of “person” in this discussion.

There are regular individuals like you and me. We buy devices ourselves, investing hundreds or thousands of dollars so we can do things like access the Internet, write letters, manage home budgets, send email, play games, etc. Our motivations in buying a device are to gain access to the apps that allow us to do those things we consider worthwhile in life – whatever that might be for each of us. And yes, people like me also get joy out of the device itself because we’re geeks, but most people just see these things as extremely useful tools or toys.

There are organizations (which are also apparently “people” thanks to Citizens United). They buy devices for their employees so the employees can do things that provide productivity and value to the organization. Some organizations are OK with employees using those devices for personal reasons, others aren’t. In almost no case does an organization buy devices other than because an employee needs the device to perform important aspects of their job.

I keep running into people who think there’s no difference between these scenarios. And maybe I’m a little slow, but I really struggle to see how organizations are going to start buying (and supporting) devices outside the scope of enabling employees to be productive. Nor do I see how dock workers, administrative assistants, lab technicians, and other employees are going to start purchasing devices for the intent of using them at work. Actual human people buy devices to make their personal lives better, not because they intend on using them as an alternative for a work-supplied device.

(In other words BYOD is pretty much bunk – but that’s another blog post.)

To judge the success of Windows 8 then, one must evaluate it in the context of people buying devices for their own use, and organizations buying devices for their employee’s use.

 

From what I’ve seen there is some resistance on the part of people in terms of buying Windows 8. On the tablet side of things there aren’t a lot of apps, and people buy these devices for apps, not the device itself. On the ultrabook, laptop, and desktop side of things people buy a PC because they want to run PC software – all of which runs on Windows 7 just fine, so there’s no obvious reason to go to Windows 8. But there is an obvious reason not to go to Windows 8: everyone knows it is different, and people fear change.

So if I’m a regular person looking to buy a tablet, I’ll probably gravitate toward the tablet with the most apps – hence an iPad or perhaps a Kindle Fire. And if I’m a regular person looking for personal productivity with Office, CAD software, or gaming, I’ll be perfectly happy with Windows 7 (or even Vista) as long as my current computer keeps working.

Please note that I am personally not a regular person in this context. I’m a geek, and thus have been running Windows 8 since long before it was released. But I have sat in restaurants and overheard conversations about Windows 8 by random people – conversations that lead me to be pretty confident that my previous paragraph is correct.

None of this says that people won’t slowly adopt Windows 8 as their existing computers need replacing, because they probably will. And as more people actually start using Windows 8 and tell their friends and neighbors that it really isn’t that scary, then the fear of change will fade. And with any luck the number of apps available for WinRT will grow relatively fast so people will consider buying Windows 8 tablets because they feel confident those devices have good and useful apps.

Does this mean Windows 8 is a success or failure? I don’t know. We are in uncharted territory to some degree, because today’s computers (with their i3, i5 and i7 processors) are essentially identical in performance to computers from three years ago. For the first time in recent memory (and perhaps ever) computers have stopped getting faster, eliminating one of the primary reasons why people would buy a new computer. Now the only reason to buy a new computer is a complete failure of your existing computer, and computers often last a very long time…

In other words, Windows 8 adoption in the personal space might be slower than in the past (we don’t really know). But if it is, I strongly suspect one major factor has less to do with Windows 8 than the reality that few people are motivated to spend hundreds of dollars to buy a computer that isn’t any faster than the one they already have.

 

On the organizational side of things the dynamic is entirely different. Organizations try to minimize the number of device types, operating systems, and operating system versions because it is extremely expensive to support more than one. Organizations use “apps” (applications, or enterprise software) that is required for the organization to function. When those apps fail the business loses money by the second – often many thousands of dollars per second. Upgrading from Windows X to Windows Y is never done without extensive testing to ensure those important apps work on the new operating system version. And such upgrades are done according to an orchestrated plan that minimizes the time the organization is forced to support both versions.

This is nothing new. This is the reality of enterprise computing that has existed for as long as I can recall (thus dating back well more than 2 decades).

Strangely, I’ve had people argue that this dynamic is no longer true. That organizations are now going to adopt BYOD, even though that directly means supporting numerous devices, operating systems, and operating system versions all at the same time. I’m not sure what these people are smoking, nor am I sure I want to try it because I think whatever they’ve smoked caused some brain damage. But I could be wrong – perhaps organizations are ready to radically increase their IT support costs in order to allow employees to use random hardware devices and operating systems? Or perhaps there is no increased cost to IT because (as one person told me) it will now be the employee’s responsibility to ensure they have a working device at all times – thus all IT support costs will be born by the end users. Something I’m sure will thrill the minimum wage workers in the warehouses who’ll apparently now have to buy and support computers they’d never have purchased before?!?

Back in the world of the sane, what is actually happening is that a great many (most?) organizations are just now migrating from Windows 2000 or Windows XP to Windows 7. This is because those older operating systems are off support, or will be off support in April 2014. No more bug fixes. No more security patches. Nothing. I truly pity any poor souls left on XP a year from now.

This migration from XP to 7 is not cheap. It is not only an IT issue in terms of upgrading hardware, drivers, and operating system installs. It usually also means updating or replacing ancient enterprise software that was written in VB6 or PowerBuilder or other technologies that haven’t been current for many years.

As a result, almost no organizations even have Windows 8 on their radar at all. Virtually nobody is planning for a Windows 8 migration, because they are just now getting to Windows 7. In fact, my informal polling while speaking at conferences around the world is that nobody expects to move to Windows 8 until 3+ years from now.

Does this mean Windows 8 is a failure? Of course not. Remember, these organizations are just now moving from XP to 7. Windows 7 was released in 2009, and only eclipsed XP in 2012 in terms of installs.

Following that time schedule, we won’t know of Windows 8 is a success or failure until around 3 years from now: in 2015.

 

In summary, is Windows 8 a success or failure? I can’t say. Nor can anyone else, even though a lot of people (including myself) speculate about it quite a lot Smile

The space to watch is the personal/individual computing space, because that’ll move somewhat faster than the organizational space.

Like every previous version of Windows, we won’t know the success or failure of this version until 3+ years after its launch, because enterprises always move at a stately (if not glacial) pace.

Thursday, May 02, 2013 10:39:31 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [3]  | 
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