My Windows 8 Challenge

I had a customer pose a technical challenge to me personally: use a non-domain joined Windows 8 tablet for work and entertainment. It seemed so simple. How hard could this possibly be?

Everyone’s results would be different, but my experience was surprising. And I think it is instructive about the potential for Windows 8 migration scenarios—and for end user computing scenarios, in general.

“My Windows 8 Challenge” could be an entire blog unto itself, but the essence of it boils down to two things. First, it is not easy to replicate the fluidity of full productivity on a domain joined PC when using a non-domain joined tablet. And second, Windows 8 is really a great operating system.

To the first point, there are lots of things in the way of being productive if you’re not joined to the domain. This is by design, of course. We have policies to help maintain control and improve security. But with more and more people (and businesses) using a wider array of personal devices to do work, IT has to make it possible for users to be productive. And just accessing email from your phone is no longer enough. It is increasingly an expectation among end users to essentially achieve parity between phone, tablet, and PC. And this was exactly the point of the challenge: to beg the questions of IT around BYOD. How well is IT prepared for BYOD? Is the IT infrastructure secure enough? Yet, it is it easy enough to access to be productive on any device users want?

Ultimately I was able to get things going, but there remains the nuisance of our IT policies: a seemingly constant stream of dialog boxes prompted me for my password. And there are a couple services I was not able to use, but I was able to do most of my work.

The second and more important point is what I found when using Windows 8 specifically with a touch-only interface. I discovered that I was very fluid in moving around from app to app and between the web, mail, and docs. And more interestingly, I found that going to the “desktop” is unnecessary. In fact, going to the desktop seems jarring—out of place in a touch-driven environment. Software has to close the gap between traditional desktop apps, like Outlook, and the touch orientation of mobile apps. For Windows 8 to realize its full potential, applications need to work equally well in both PC and touch-only modes. In spite of this, I determined that a Windows 8 migration would not hurt me (nor any of our employees); in fact, it would probably boost my productivity.

Increasingly, I feel like the notion of the desktop going away is not a threat to anyone—it is a good and relevant thing. The traditional Windows desktop metaphor is antiquated. And if IT undertakes a Windows 8 migration, I think we will hear more and more resonance from business end users that they agree.

There remains an extremely important manageability question for tablets, and I would submit that tablets should not be managed like PCs—that there is a smarter way to bring the security and policy enforcement businesses require without the traditional domain-joined management paradigm. But that is another post for another time.