Talking to end users and some vendors, especially from the mobile space, there is some circumstantial  evidence of the existence of businesses who would like to see the previous wall-to-wall single solution provider - that existed with Windows and Windows CE - return, but with a difference. The preference today is for a broader perspective which includes modern smartphones and tablets as well as PCs. If true it would seem these hope Microsoft will reveal a wall-to-wall windows combination that embraces everything from the desktop through tablets to mobile phones. The desire is to make easier the replacement of existing systems as well as the addition of new end user devices.

This raises the question of whether such a wall-to-wall Windows approach makes sense in today’s business environment. In its theoretical favour, which may be why some are waiting in hope, is that simplicity and consistency when obtained from one vendor can reduce costs and management effort in the long term. Microsoft has a proven record of delivering robust and ever more secure versions of Windows which are flexible and which possess large ecosystems of existing applications as well as application developers and support choices. Bringing in tablets and smartphones would add to the already powerful attractions for any organisation that wishes to focus on its business activities rather than on IT administration.

Balancing this are three major counter arguments.

The first derives from Microsoft itself which shows no particular sign of wanting to deliver a Windows experience (including usage and management) that is truly seamless or wall-to-wall. Its current line-up for business - of Windows 7, Windows 8 RT and (full) Windows 8 plus Windows Phone - has deep functionality including production strength robustness acquired over decades of delivering to business organisations. Yes, IT could use the above components. But the current result is more likely to be a patchwork quilt than a smooth wall-to-wall solution. There are many moving pieces.

The second counter argument is that the world has moved on. Where the Windows/Windows CE combination was strong five to seven years ago, Apple with iOS and Google with Android stand astride today’s smartphone and tablet markets. Common sense must apply: today’s reality is not one that Microsoft (or anyone else) can roll back. End users are now accustomed to what iOS and Android bring them. Trying to convince them to change would require superhuman endeavours, and probably not be worthwhile (which Microsoft recognises).

The third has to do with how businesses are adapting to the many infrastructure innovations and possibilities like those coming from diverse flavours of cloud and desktop virtualisation. VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) solutions are attractive (though not yet, from Freeform Dynamic’s research, in widespread demand). There are multiple suppliers, including 2X, Citrix, Dell, Microsoft and others. Dell even offers (under the Wyse Cloud Connect label) a dongle which, when inserted into an HDMI port on a TV, runs Android but which can use RDP over WiFi to deliver your Windows desktop (whether this is from your PC on your desk or from your home study or is supplied from a VDI server) to that TV. Similar solutions exist, like the FAVI Android SmartStick or Tianle TL869 Android Streaming Media Stick/Mini PC. Such solutions bridge prior PC and mobile device boundaries. You could say this enables wall-to wall-Windows. But if this is ‘hosted’ via an Android dongle and displayed on your hotel room or home TV, is it? (You can argue this either way.)

There is a contrast to draw here, between:

  • Canonical which, with Unity on Ubuntu Linux, seeks to deliver one common experience across smartphones, tablets and PCs running Linux – and it is finding progress tough, as well as slower than desired
  • Microsoft which appears to recognise that, in the mobile space few organisations will ever again be wall-to-wall anything; it knows that businesses of all sizes will use multiple platforms and understand that IT will end up having to manage many of them.

For those facing the need to act, especially when XP goes end of life, they are fortunate to have an increasingly rich selection of solutions to choose from. While conceptually IT might like the simplicity on ‘one Windows fits all’, common sense will reign. Trying to resist what end users already possess will be fruitless. Far better to embrace all that is good and accept that homogeneity has gone and variety is here to stay.

That said, common sense also insists that this does not mean offering a wholly open house. Organisations must not throw out their existing disciplines. Instead they need to update and migrate these to that richer environment which embraces Windows and more.

By Charles Brett, Principal Analyst at Freeform Dynamics