The strategy Microsoft must pursue to recover from Windows 8

Yes, tablet and PC environments mesh poorly, but the new Windows reveals a sea change: PCs are now simply a type of mobile device

1 2 3 Page 2
Page 2 of 3

If it weren't for its huge management and security shortcomings, Windows RT would be a better fit for such a strategy than Windows 8, as it jettisons the Windows 7 platform that's well suited to a traditional PC but not to a tablet. The very fact of Metro-style tablets changes the IT paradigm from "How do we take advantage of iPads in business workflows?" to "How can we use tablets in our business workflows, and which tablets should we use?"

Microsoft hopes the support for traditional PC management in Windows 8 will get IT to favor PC tablets, which many IT folks were quick to do. However, I believe the poor user experience of those devices will lead to users rejecting them and insisting on iPads instead, which IT has already opened the door to.

The sensible horizon: Metro-only Windows RT Pro for x86, legacy-less Windows 9
But forget the current issues with Windows 8 and RT tablets. Fast-forward a year or two and imagine that Windows RT gains the necessary management and security capabilities. That's not a stretch, given Microsoft's plan to convert its Intune cloud-based management tool into a full-fledged, multidevice management platform. It essentially combines today's separate systems management silo for Windows PCs and mobile device management (MDM) silo for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone 8 devices.

Intune isn't there yet technologically, nor is its licensing appropriate for such enterprise usage. But Microsoft has laid out a road map that gets us there in a few years; the first step is a revision of both Intunes and System Center 2012 slated for early 2013 that will support Windows RT and Windows 8 to an unspecified extent.

A multiyear road map is probably too long, and Microsoft likely knows it. In the meantime, a few MDM vendors such as AirWatch and MobileIron have been broadening their MDM tools to include Macs and are thinking about Windows PCs; Meraki's MDM tool has Mac and Windows clients. Windows system management vendors such as Centrify, Dell, and Symantec are also looking to broaden into MDM. In other words, if Microsoft doesn't reinvent Intune as needed, someone else will do it with their own product.

Either way, it reinforces that major conceptual shift Morris says has arrived: PCs are just another device.

My guess is that Microsoft will at some point drop the legacy Windows from Windows 8. Maybe that's Windows 9 in a few years, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Windows RT move into that role on the tablet side well before Windows 9 sees the light of day. How? Through updates both in Windows RT itself and in Microsoft's back-end management tools.

Furthermore, it would make sense for Microsoft to deliver an x86 version of Windows RT that includes the key hardware security features (vPro) in the x86 chip platform upon which security-sensitive businesses rely. Morris points out that a software-only security approach used in iOS, Android, and Windows RT devices can't meet the needs of some industry segments. Unless someone comes up with an equivalent technology in an ARM chip, tablets used in those segments will need Intel processors.

If I were Intel, I would consider getting an ARM license and adding vPro-like technology to them, delivering its own chips for the Windows tablet world -- much as Apple has done for its iOS devices. That way, Intel could offer both chip platforms to all customers. Both Apple and Microsoft have ARM licenses, so both companies could develop their own ARM chips with VPro-like technology. Microsoft hasn't developed its own ARM chip, as Apple has, but Apple's conflicted attitude about enterprise use -- consistent in building the core capabilities, then almost embarassed about having done so -- means developing VPro-like capabilities probably won't happen.

Whether Microsoft were to make ARM chips in the future that met those hardware-based security needs, it still has Intel chips to do so today.

1 2 3 Page 2
Page 2 of 3
InfoWorld Technology of the Year Awards 2023. Now open for entries!