2012 is shaping up to be a big year for Microsoft, as the software giant prepares to unveil its newest generation of Windows 8 operating systems for the home and office. Microsoft Windows 8 and Microsoft Server 2012 look to offer the greatest number of innovations yet, presenting a substantial departure from the systems that we have grown accustomed to.
So what can we expect from this next generation of software; and should we be planning to upgrade our systems at the first opportunity?
New Innovations Aimed at Businesses
For the corporate sector, the most exciting innovations are found within the Windows Server 2012 package. Server 2012 promises to deliver a lot more than a simple update of existing software, with cloud storage, connectivity and standardization being the primary concerns. Of these, perhaps the most innovative feature is the emphasis on storage standardisation, and its benefits to the commercial user.
The first point to note is that Server 2012 employs a new Windows Management Instrumentation-based interface. This allows external storage devices to communicate immediately with the operating system and on-site servers via industry-standard technology. In real terms this means that any business which activates its Storage Management Service will find external storage systems instantly discoverable and manageable through Server 2012.
No need to install updates or additional tools, as both the operating system and external disk arrays comply with storage standardization. The SMI-S interface that forms the basis of Server 2012’s connectivity is already used by many storage services, including open source developers. This means that the instant-discover functions of Server 2012 will include a degree of backwards compatibility to cover many of your existing storage arrays.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this standardized technology is the cost-saving aspect for businesses. Companies will find noticeable financial incentives to upgrade as they look to save on data storage and systems management. Server 2012 is a product that offers remarkable efficiency.
Windows 8: A Tile Too Far?
But what of Windows 8? Will the new operating system revolutionize your office desktop, just as Server 2012 revolutionises data management? For now at least, the answer is not so clear.
Windows 8 has surprised many in the industry. The new interface could leave existing users feeling quite disorientated. Microsoft has made bold changes to the layout of Windows 8, basing its design on the Metro interface for portable devices, and placing greater emphasis on touch technology. The new design has situation-sensitive screen layouts and an intuitive feel for touch-pad users, but this may not transition comfortably to the standard keyboard-and-mouse operations that many businesses rely upon.
Microsoft suggests that the interface will increase productivity as its immersive design keeps on-screen distractions to a minimum. Similar to smart phone operations, the screen is situation-sensitive with every corner executing a command. Drag to the bottom left to reach the start menu, or to the top left to cycle through the programs currently running. This direct control may save time on individual keystrokes and mouse clicks. But the true cost of time in business is not measured by the number of button presses, but in how long it takes users to acclimatise to a new operating system.
A Truly Flexible Approach to Personalization?
Windows 8 is not simply a graphical overhaul though. There are some genuinely impressive new features. Perhaps the most exciting innovation from a business perspective is Windows To Go, which will allow workers to boot a personal version of Windows 8 from a USB stick complete with cloud-stored data, apps, and personal documentation, without any intrusion into the environment’s own operating system. The potential benefits of this to data management, working away from the office, and hot-desking cannot be overlooked.
So is the new Windows 8 design an unnecessary overhaul, or is that to overlook the true purpose of the new appearance? Microsoft clearly sees the value of introducing its users to the Metro-style interface that is so effective on portable devices. With connectivity being an integral part of Microsoft’s operations in 2012, it should be considered that the Windows 8 redesign is an indication of where the future of Microsoft may lie. Greater emphasis on portability, fluid working environments and cloud storage are on the horizon, and current operating systems fail to exploit the potential of this next generation of technology.
So Should I Upgrade?
The question now for businesses will be whether to upgrade immediately to the new Microsoft products. The Server 2012 package includes more than enough robust innovation to warrant careful consideration, but it will be the Windows 8 OS that proves a tougher decision. On the one hand, the unfamiliar layout could prove challenging to existing work routines, but on the other it will be beneficial to be amongst the early adopters if the Metro interface is truly the foundation of Microsoft’s future systems. It would not be a surprise to see many companies playing a waiting game on this one.
Interested in giving Windows 8 or Server 2012 a spin? One option that is available is the ability to trial the new operating system by downloading the beta version of both Windows 8 and Server 2012. This gives businesses a relatively risk free opportunity to see the OS in action before general release. Cloud server provider Elastic Hosts has also integrated both trial releases into their own cloud software portfolio giving it’s users an opportunity to set up a virtual environment in which to test Windows 8. The releases are also available as part of Elastic Host’s free cloud server demo.