Will Business Folks, IT Admins Like Windows 8 Apps?

by Ann All

With a steady stream of news about Microsoft's Windows 8, some IT organizations are likely getting excited about the new OS – while others might be apprehensive or just not interested. However, some developers who have already created Windows 8 apps believe the new OS offers much to like for both users and IT admins.

New details about Windows 8, Microsoft's forthcoming operating system, which some observers see as a huge bet for the software giant, seem to be emerging on almost a daily basis.  A new survey found underwhelming adoption of Windows 8 in its current Consumer Preview stage.

Of course, IT departments might be waiting for the Release Preview, which is slated for the first week of June, according to a tweet from the Building Windows 8 team. Earlier this month Microsoft's Erwin Visser wrote in a blog post about what enterprise customers can expect from Windows 8.

Visser's post likely created excitement in some IT organizations and apprehension in others. But several developers who have already created applications for Windows 8 believe the new OS offers much to like for both users and IT admins.

UI Improvements

Anand Gaddum, director of the Healthcare Practice at iLink Systems, a Microsoft partner that has developed proof-of-concept apps with Windows 8 for several companies, said one of biggest strengths of the new OS is an improved user experience, for both mobile and desktop platforms. "There will be a learning curve for users, but once they experience it I believe they will like it," he said, adding that users will also find it appealing to easily access most Office apps on tablets and other mobile devices.

Corey O'Brien, development director for Sonoma Partners, a Microsoft Dynamics consulting company, said the OS offers a "beautiful" experience for users. He also thinks it gives developers ample opportunity to create applications that "run with the content front and center," the approach his company took with an app called Ultimate Beer Ranger that it created for New Belgium Brewing, the third-largest craft brewer in the United States.

Ultimate Beer Ranger showcases tight integration that offers sales teams in the field easier access to their client accounts and enhanced visibility into sales pipelines. Among the app's features: built-in search, a calendar with appointment scheduling, instant access to sales figures and other key metrics, customer profiles with an option to import photos straight from a tablet, and geolocation capabilities that show accounts within a predetermined radius. Sales reps can also record notes, dates and other information following a client visit, and the information is immediately stored in Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

One advantage offered by Ultimate Beer Ranger and other Windows 8 apps is that the new OS will automatically sync applications settings from machine to machine for users who have accounts associated with a Windows Live ID, an especially big bonus for mobile users. "So if I’m carrying a Windows 8 tablet in my backpack and configure an application just how I like it, when I get home and launch that same app on my desktop machine, it will already be configured for me," O'Brien said.

Microsoft CRM Windows 8

O'Brien also thinks users will appreciate the ability to run Windows 8 apps in a “snap view,” where they are docked next to other running applications.  "There are plenty of times where I’d like to be reading my ebook but have one eye on my inbox while I wait for an important email to come in," he said.

Stronger Security

For IT admins, the built-in security features of Windows 8 will be a "huge differentiating factor," said Gaddum. iLink's clients in the healthcare industry, especially, tend to worry about apps involving sensitive patient data when they evaluate tablets as form factors for health personnel, he said.

For companies using Active Directory, Microsoft's directory service for domain networks, IT admins can connect Windows 8 devices to the appropriate domain so users sign in with Active Directory credentials, O'Brien noted. This allows companies to enforce consistent security policies for all devices, minimizing at least some of the security concerns associated with mobile workforces.

While conceding that Microsoft must cover lots of ground to catch up to Android and Apple's iOS mobile development platforms, Gaddum thinks such features make Windows 8 better suited to enterprise deployments.

Sanjay Bhatia, founder and CEO of Izenda, said his company's Izenda Reports business intelligence software is especially well suited to Windows 8, because the OS offers a level of integration that will allow users to integrate reports into Windows search, giving them single-click access to their report library. This capability will cut costs and create added advantages for customers accessing real-time data, he said.

Development Differences

Izenda is "thrilled" that Microsoft is supporting HTML5 and JavaScript as an option for developing Windows 8 applications, Bhatia said.

O'Brien said Windows 8 will appeal to Windows developers because they can use familiar Microsoft tools and technologies. At the same time, "Microsoft is opening the door for a whole new segment of Web developers to experience them" by adding native HTML5 and JavaScript support.

O'Brien said both users and developers will appreciate Windows 8 live tiles, data-enabled tiles that collect information from Web servers and applications and dynamically push out notifications and changes to the Windows 8 start screen. So, he explained, a tile for a user's email client might show subjects of recent email messages. Displaying these kinds of updates for frequently-used applications can obviously boost productivity.

The key to designing user-friendly mobile apps for Windows 8 – and apps developed on other platforms, as well – is offering "an immersive experience that gives users just what they need in a very visible way," O'Brien said.

"Some people developing on top of Dynamics CRM like to just take forms from the Web browser and put them on a mobile device," he said.  "But that is not a good mobile experience. You want to give users very specific use cases and flows. A good mobile experience should be simple and intuitive and not a ‘do everything’ solution. With Windows 8 users can still go back to their laptops and desktops for fuller functionality."

Momentum is building for Windows 8, especially following the recent tweet about the Release Preview. As the Release Preview is usually the final stage before a full commercial launch, industry observers are speculating the full release will come late in 2012's third quarter or early in Q4. Still, with the launch date not yet certain, O'Brien said at least some of his company's clients that want mobile apps intend to use Apple's iOS for now and port apps to Windows 8 as the official launch nears.

Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today.

  This article was originally published on Thursday May 3rd 2012
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