Microsoft’s products are at the heart of many business infrastructures, making the company’s plans important news.
Last week, Toronto hosted Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in which 16,000 of the company’s partners, including myself, caught up to hear the latest on all things Microsoft.
It’s an important time for the software giant. CEO Steve Ballmer is claiming that the coming year will be the biggest for product and services launches in Microsoft’s history. There’s talk of the dawn of a new era.
What business cares about, of course, isn’t Microsoft, but the solutions the company delivers.
To that end, here’s a wrap of the news from Toronto that matters most for SMEs.
Windows 8 arrival
The release date for Windows 8 has been set as the first week in August, but the new operating system – with its Metro interface – will only see general availability by the end of October.
Anyone purchasing a Windows 7 PC in the meantime will be eligible for a $15 upgrade.
Microsoft says that Windows 8 will be their biggest release in seven years. Of interest is the fact that Windows 8 users will each receive free SkyDrive storage, which they’ll use to sync their profiles across multiple devices.
There will also be Windows Store – similar to other app stores – for purchasing Windows 8 applications.
Exactly what Windows 8 will mean for your business will depend on your priorities, especially those around mobility and tablet adoption.
Windows To Go
One important feature of Windows 8 is Windows To Go. This allows businesses to create their own custom image of Windows 8 that can be carried on a USB stick or flash drive.
Staff can insert that stick into any PC (at home, for example) and boot the business environment – including all business apps, settings and data. Once they’re done, they can remove the flash drive, and nothing is left on the host PC.
The ‘new office’
Having reached one billion users, Microsoft Office is also in for an upgrade. The ‘new office’, which some are dubbing Office 2013, is, according to Steve Ballmer, the most ambitious Office release to date.
New features include the incorporation of SkyDrive, meaning easier access to files on tablets and phones, as well as deeper integration with social media (Yammer, SharePoint and People Card) and Skype.
In a useful new feature, Lync integration will also show you whether a person (who might have commented on a document you’re working in) is able to take a call.
There will also be touch-enabled versions of Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint for Windows RT tablets – meaning this version of Office is likely to end up playing a prominent role in your mobility strategy.
Big, multi-touch screens
In other conference news, Microsoft announced that it will purchase a company called Perceptive Pixel.
Perceptive Pixel makes an 82-inch, wall-mounted tablet that supports an unlimited number of finger touches and up to four styluses simultaneously.
The hope is to replace projectors, white boards and even video conferencing screens – and it certainly looks impressive.
In Toronto, Microsoft has confirmed just how important Windows 8 will be to its future, and time will tell how successful its gamble is.
For businesses, its new Office platform is just as exciting a development – if not more so. Certainly, it embraces the cloud and mobility, and will further bolster new ways and freedoms in how people work – enabling business to as well.
Dave Stevens is MD, Brennan IT.
(This blog post was first published on the SmartCompany website on July 19 2012)