Strategize and Organize – SMBs’ Best Use of the Cloud

Why your SMB cloud strategy could benefit from an integrated approach

Via ZDNET (Heather Clancy)

For many small businesses, one of the biggest perceived advantages of migrating to cloud applications and infrastructure services is the management proposition, the idea that it will free up their staff from an unwanted IT burden.

In some ways, that’s very true, since updates happen behind the scenes and provisioning usually can be handled very easily by individuals.

But if your small company decides to embrace a whole suite of cloud services – especially if it wants to integrate them with existing applications hosted within an on-premise server — it should consider working with a managed service provider (MSP) to make the administration simpler. The benefits of doing so include being able to offer employees access from a centralized Web portal for all applications, consolidating where data is stored and secured, and ensuring that collaborative processes can bridge multiple applications.

There are literally dozens of former VARs and IT solution providers cropping up to offer this sort of functionality as a managed service. One example is TOGLcloud, a hosted offering developed by a group of MSPs that felt most of the current offerings weren’t designed with smaller businesses in mind.

I’m not going to try to name all the options here, but there are several lists published by MSPMentor that offer a good jumping off point for anyone wanting to research their options. (Warning, you’ll have to register to get to most of the content.)

One of the more established players included on MSPMentor’s North American lists that is focused specifically on helping small businesses build an integrated approach to cloud strategy is eight-year-old ComputerSupport.com, with its ITAnyWhere Cloud offering.

“Small businesses can log into one place, all their files, all their productivity tools are there. Their Salesforce.com is there, too,” said Kirill Bensonoff, founder of the company. “They no longer need to have any infrastructure other than these services.”

What makes ComputerSupport.com interesting are relationships with some pretty big–name players when it comes to hosted desktop and cloud infrastructure services: it is an Amazon Web Services Consulting Partner, specializing in the cloud service provider’s QuickStart services; a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner that can migrate small companies to a managed Office365 service; and a Citrix Silver Solution Advisor and Service Provider that offers access to the cloud through Citrix XenApp and Citrix XenMobile. It has VMware, ShoreTel and SonicWall credentials. What’s more, ComputerSupport.com is even a member of the Apple Consultants Network.

The ITAnyWhere Cloud service, currently in its third generation, runs on top of AmazonWeb Services, for scalability, compliance support, security and multiregion access. Small companies can log in through a portal, where managers can handle provisioning, or remove and add users quickly. The services are supported 24×7 by ComputerSupport.com, which also handles migration of legacy applications into the hosted environment if appropriate. It’s a fixed-fee offering, but Bensonoff declined to reveal pricing. That depends, in part, on the migration and setup required by the business.

Most of ComputerSupport.com’s customers are small businesses with 30 to 50 employees that originally had at least one server managed in-house, Bensonoff said.

Maybe all of this is more than your business can handle, but if a piecemeal cloud apps strategy is starting to create management headaches as your team grows and becomes more mobile  — and you don’t have the in-house staff to sort them out — a turnkey approach like ITAnyWhere Cloud might be worth an evaluation.

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Are SMBs and Private Firms Better Economic Drivers than Publicly Traded Companies?

Recently, business author and Forbes.com contributor Stephen Denning  took up a topic that we found compelling — arguing from new research that suggests that privately held firms engage in greater investment than publicly-traded firms.  The short version of the argument goes that public firms invest less of their profits in new capacity or ventures to grow the company itself than do private firms.  There are a number of explicit and implied explanations of this apparent phenomenon, including claims that public firms are essentially engaged in “maximizing shareholder value” in a way that tends to be short-term in nature.

New boilers at the Yale power plant

New boilers at the Yale power plant (Photo credit: altopower)

One might paraphrase and say that public companies play to the market to maximize value via their stock price rather than long-term company value.  This case has often been made in more simplistic terms, but there is some intuitive appeal to the argument.  For years lip service has been  paid to the contributions and values of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to our economy, but the research might finally be validating what many people hold in their gut — the feeling that small business contribute far more to the economy than they are given credit for, and conversely that publicly-traded companies might be getting credit for doing good for the economy when they’re really just doing good for themselves.

We might not agree with some of Denning’s praise of certain companies he deems to be creative contributors, but the observations and conclusions are certainly worth considering.  What do you think???

-SMB Matters Blog Team

 

How The ‘World’s Dumbest Idea’ Killed The US Economic Recovery

via Forbes.com
Readers of this column know that short-term shareholder value, which is still pervasive in large organizations, has a lot of accomplishments to its credit. It has led to “bad profits” that have destroyed customer loyalty. It is responsible for massive offshoring of manufacturing, thereby destroying major segments of the US economy. And it has even undermined US capacity to compete in international markets.

Now the Financial Times reports that the short-term shareholder value theory has a new feather in its cap: it is responsible for killing the economic recovery that should have occurred after the financial meltdown of 2008.

Over the last month, the Financial Times has been doing a great job in cataloguing the problems caused by the shareholder value theory. Now Robin Harding has terrific article pinpointing its role in undermining the US economic recovery.

In his article entitled “Corporate investment: A mysterious divergence” he explores a conundrum that has puzzled the world’s top economists: why is net investment at a measly 4 per cent of output when pre-tax corporate profits are now at record highs – more than 12 per cent of GDP?

English: Construction Photograph of the Aqua T...

Construction Photograph of the Aqua Tower, designed by Studio Gang Architects in Chicago, IL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In standard economic theory, this makes no sense. When profits go up, companies should be seizing investment opportunities to lay the groundwork for even more profits in future. In turn, that investment should create jobs, generate more capital goods and lead to higher wages. That’s how capitalism is meant to work. So why isn’t it happening? Mr. Harding explores systematically why all the leading scapegoats for what’s gone wrong—regulations, Obamacare, tax policy, fear of another financial crisis and so on—and shows why they don’t add up.

Then he comes up with the kind of thing that you rarely see in economics—a study that enables us to pinpoint the problem by offering “with” and “without” data.

A brilliant study by economists from the Stern School of Business and Harvard Business School, Alexander Ljungqvist, Joan Farre-Mensa, and John Asker, entitled “Corporate Investment and Stock Market Listing: A Puzzle?”compares the investment patterns of public companies and privately held firms. It turns out that the lag in investment is a phenomenon of the public companies more than the privately held firms.

“They find that, keeping company size and industry constant, private US companies invest nearly twice as much as those listed on the stock market: 6.8 per cent of total assets versus just 3.7 per cent.”

As Matthew Yglesias at Slate writes:

“On this account we are reaping the bitter fruits of the “shareholder value” revolution. Executives at publicly traded companies are paid to generate higher share prices, which is done by hitting quarterly earnings targets. This leads to underinvestment relative to the behavior of managers of privately held firms. Not because managers of private firms are indifferent to the interests of shareholders, but because there’s less need for creating the shareholder value link via a simplistic relationship between compensation, share price, and quarterly earnings.”

As Mr. Harding concludes, it is “time to stop thinking about corporate governance and executive pay as matters of equity and to regard them instead as a macroeconomic problem of the first rank.”

There is another way: the Creative Economy

There is of course another way to run organizations, as illustrated by Amazon [AMZN] and other companies that are pursuing the Creative Economy. Their objective is not short-term profits but value for customers. The financial returns from this different approach are extraordinary.

The argument offered by executives that “the stock market made us do it” has the same legitimacy as “the dog ate my homework”, when public companies like Amazon [AMZN], Whole Foods [WFM] and Costco [COST] have successfully pursued customer value, despite the pressures of Wall Street. So isn’t it about time we stop compensating corporate leaders for meeting their quarterly numbers and instead shift the focus of business to its true goal of adding value to customers?

And read also:

The origin of the world’s dumbest idea

How modern economics is built on the world’s dumbest idea

When will the world’s dumbest idea die?

Leadership in the Creative Economy

The five surprises of radical management

________________________

by Stephen Denning

 

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Going Cash Free? It’s Not Just for Consumers Anymore…

Yesterday I went to a soft opening for a new artisan bakery, Hewn Bread, in our suburban Chicago community of Evanston.  (Full disclosure: We knew of the soft opening precisely because we know the owners, but I’m a fiend for fresh-baked bread regardless, so I probably would have discovered it by smell alone if I hadn’t already known about it.)

Besides the expected shelves full of fine goods and the nostalgic “throwback” mental association I get from the growth of new businesses using good old-fashioned quality and simple, traditional methods, I was a little surprised to find myself paying for my rustic French Wheat Loaf with a debit card on the bakery’s iPad-style PDA.  I’d gotten used to seeing this at farmer’s markets and other parts of the “smaller” economy, but it was certainly new to witness such technology at a traditional retailer.

Part of the surprise was my own choice to use a debit card for a such a small purchase, which I generally disfavor as a consumer, because it’s typically unnecessary when I’ve got cash.  The other part of my surprise is really less unexpected the more I realize that modern business has changed.  I’m normally sensitive to the fact that the added costs of debit and credit transactions for the merchant are ultimately passed along to us consumers, and I always hear gripes on that subject from small business owners.  However, the social media interaction between this new business and its prospective customers seems well-served by this innovative technology.

At checkout I was given the option of having a printed or emailed receipt.  While I declined both options to avoid adding to the vaults full of paper and electronic receipts that drive my wife crazy, I suddenly got why cash-free or “cash-less” has become just as attractive for some businesses as it is for many consumers.  Small Business Matters recently posted an article on PayPal’s newest entry into the point-of-sale (POS) market that reflects this growing trend.  -Paul for SMBMatters  BTW, the bread was great!  What else would you expect to hear from a bread junkie?

PayPal encourages small retailers to ‘lose your cash register’

Summary: The mobile and digital payment company is running a competitive trade-in under which it will help retailers get outfitted with an iPad solution in exchange for old cash registers.

ipad_checkout_here

PayPal has launched a competitive trade-in-program designed to get more small retailers to use iPad point-of-sale (POS) solutions that happen to use its payment processing services.

Under the Cash for Registers initiative, companies will receive free PayPal payment processing services for the remainder of the year when they turn in their old cash registers and start using an iPad-based payment solutions, such as PayPal Here. The offer doesn’t just apply to the transaction fees for PayPal services, it covers them for credit-card, debit-card and check processing, according to the company’s information about the program.

PayPal Here encompasses an iPad, card reader, iPad stand, cash drawer and printer. There are a number of pre-integrated solutions that PayPal has organized to help with the transformation.

Some of the companies that PayPal is working with include Erply, a POS and inventory management software developer; Leapset, which integrates POS information with a company’s customer relationship management systems; Leaf, which develops customer loyalty  and business intelligence solutions; NCR | Silver, which provides POS hardware;  ShopKeep POS, which sells an iPad POS system; and Vend, a POS and inventory management software application developer.

The program officially kicks off in June, according to a blog post written by David Marcus, president of PayPal.

“In addition to this great offer, we will make participating businesses known to our 55+ million U.S. (128 million worldwide) and growing customer base, and drive meaningful incremental business to them, stimulating the vibrant small-business community in America,” Marcus writes.

The rise of the tablet computer has signaled a turning point for small-business POS solutions, a trend that began accelerating in 2012 and is continuing to gain momentum.

Related stories:

Reblogged from ZDNET.

By Heather Clancy for Small Business Matters

Indie Capital? It’s a Movement, Not a Place

By Bruce Nussbaum Indie Capitalism

Here’s a shocking truth: Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party actually agree on something. They both hate crony capitalism, and they both love Steve Jobs. If this sounds freaky, let me add another weird fact: Practically all my students at the New School in New York, where I teach a course on creativity and capitalism, want to start their own companies. The New School is renown for being a bastion of lefty thought, going back to the 1930s and ’40s. My students want to be entrepreneurs. They want to be Kickstarter, kickass entrepreneurs. These students want to belong to what I call Indie Capitalism.

creative intelilgence by Bruce Nussbaum

I use the term Indie deliberately to reflect a new economy that shares many of the distributive and social structures of the independent music scene—and the value system as well. Indie bands are hyperlocal, and Indie Capitalism is a post-global, local economic phenom (think 3D printing, locavore eating, and crowdfunding new products). Indie capitalists are über-urban, too, feeding off the cultural/entrepreneurial energy of cities—New York, Portland, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin. And they are, of course, super-participative. Indie Capitalists believe in our making of all things, with no clear boundaries between consumer and producer, investor and shopper. We are all of them.

There are many Indie Capitalists already among us. Alice Waters’s groundbreaking organic restaurant Chez Panisse has served as a model for the “source-local” food movement. Blue Marble Ice Cream, “Made in Brooklyn,” uses only local New York State cow milk and hires folks from the neighborhood. Chrysler Group tapped into the Indie culture when it hired Wieden + Kennedy to come up with the “Imported from Detroit” ad, with a song by Detroit-born Eminem.

My favorite Indie Capitalist is entrepreneur Elon Musk, the co-founder of PayPal (EBAY). He’s handcrafting Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules to take people and cargo to the International Space Station—and even to Mars. His company SpaceX integrates creativity, creation, and capitalism. So does his other company,Tesla Motors (TSLA), which is assembling and selling all-electric sports cars and four-door sedans out of an old California factory.

Indie Capitalism has three foundational principles:

• Creativity generates economic value. Creativity is the source of profit. Yes, efficiency can squeeze more out of what exists, but creativity gives us originality, which translates into a market advantage and big margins.

• Creativity drives capitalism. These past few years we have been victimized by the disastrous results of “creativity” applied to the financial sector (mortgage-backed securities, for starters). What we lost sight of is that the scaling of creativity to actually make things of value sold in the marketplace is the true heart of our economic system. It is the true generator of net new jobs, wealth, and tax revenue.

• Creative destruction is crucial to economic growth. Crony capitalism, which relies on monopoly and political power, is antithetical to entrepreneurial capitalism. A faster cycle of birth, growth, and death of companies boosts creativity, economic value, and growth.

The contours of Indie Capitalism are only just coming into view. They will change over time, as my students and millions of others build this new economic system. But in the reconnecting of creativity to capitalism, we have something to look forward to.

Nussbaum, a former assistant managing editor of Businessweek, is a Professor of Innovation and Design at Parsons The New School of Design and author of the forthcoming book, Creative Intelligence (HarperBusiness, March 2013). Follow him on Twitter or visit his Tumblr.
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Surfacing: Can Microsoft Get Above Water in the Tablet Storm?

Surface Pro preview: Triple-play UI is its best innovation

Takeaway: As a hybrid tablet/laptop, Microsoft Surface Pro makes a bold pitch to reinvent the portable PC, but a few big caveats get in the way. Read TechRepublic’s product preview.

Photo credit: Microsoft

Over the past six months I’ve asked a lot of IT professionals, business folks, and technophiles what they think about Microsoft Surface. I asked them whether it could be the kind of work tablet they’d want to use, and whether they expect it to be more friendly to business and IT than the Apple iPad and Android tablets. The responses have been surprisingly optimistic. Very few people have been dismissive of Surface, even though it’s fighting from behind in the tablet race.

As I dug deeper with the people who were excited about the Surface, I quickly realized that most of them had very little interest in Surface RT — the less expensive, ARM-based version of Surface that can’t run traditional Windows apps. By far, the most interest — especially from IT pros and techies — was focused on Surface Pro, the Microsoft tablet running a full version of Windows 8 on an Intel processor.

As a result, I’ve been looking forward to taking one for a spin and reporting to the TechRepublic crowd on how it performs. With Surface Pro officially launching on Friday, I can report that I’ve been trying out a Surface Pro and I can share some of my early observations and conclusions.

As a frame of reference, I’ve also been using the Surface RT since its launch in October and I’ve been regularly using the Nexus 7, iPad, and iPad Mini in recent months. In the past I’ve been pretty skeptical about the usefulness of tablets for general computing. I think tablets have their place for specific tasks and functions and as companion devices, but I think most knowledge workers find that using a tablet as their primary system involves too many compromises.

Of course, Microsoft set out to change that with the Surface. Just in case you get distracted and don’t finish reading this post then I’ll give you my two quick takeaways on the Surface Pro: It feels like a much more complete version of Surface RT and I can say without hesitation that Surface Pro is capable of doing more than other tablet on the market.

Does that mean I’m ready to make Surface Pro my next laptop, or that I would recommend it as a viable PC alternative for business professionals? Not quite yet.

How’s the overall user experience?

I’m not going to get into all of the specs for the Surface Pro or compare its details to the Surface RT or the latest iPad. We’ll do all of that in the full review on ZDNet next week. Suffice it to say, the Surface Pro is far more powerful than its RT brother, and the iPad, and virtually all Android tablets. But, the tradeoff is an $899 base price and battery life that is much more like a laptop than a tablet. For now, let’s veer away from the numbers and feature lists and focus on user experience and how well this thing really works as a product.

The first thing I noticed as soon as I unboxed the Surface Pro is how thick and heavy it is (even thicker and heavier than the Surface RT). We’ve gotten pretty spoiled in this regard, especially by Apple and Samsung and what they’ve pulled off in slimming down their products. The weight and thickness of the Surface Pro is much closer to the 11-inch MacBook Air and most 11-inch Ultrabooks than to iPad and Android tablets. Otherwise, it looks and feels very sturdy and has the premium finish of a high-end product.

Both the Touch Cover and the Type Cover that I already had for the Surface RT snapped right into place and started working just as well on the Pro as they do on the RT. With the Surface Pro, I also tested Microsoft’sWedge Touch Mouse (right) since the Pro is a full-blown Windows 8 machine. I was glad I did. It’s a handy little mouse (I especially liked the one-finger touch scrolling) and like most Windows operating systems Windows 8 works best when you have quick access to a right-click button.

Once I logged into the Surface Pro with a Windows Live ID, I immediately got many of the settings, accounts, and files that I had already set up on Surface RT. The SkyDrive integration is the highlight of the services experience. It’s nearly as simple as Dropbox and has a lot more options.

Surface also attempts to do some social integration with Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and a few other services, but the experience is a mixed bag. There are some things that are nicely streamlined, like replying to Facebook comments and Twitter mentions from within the People Hub, but other things like the ways it mixes up social network streams and notifications is a bit awkward. I kept wanting to just see my raw Facebook and Twitter feeds (displayed in Windows 8’s minimalist text style), but couldn’t find an easy way to do that and so I gave up.

Once you dig in to do some work, that’s where Surface Pro really shines. There are native Windows 8 Metro apps for Evernote and Dropbox — two of the most popular consumer apps that business professionals love — and you have the whole library of standard Windows apps to draw from and install in Desktop Mode.

Metro apps are very visual and highly usable and I wish there were a lot more of them. If there were, I think it would make the Surface a much more attractive option for average workers. The ability to work with the large catalog of traditional Windows software helps soften the blow, but hardly any of that stuff works well in a multitouch interface. For that reason, I found myself relying pretty heavily on the Type Cover keyboard and the Wedge Touch Mouse for most of the time that I was using the Surface Pro.

That said, one of the most pleasant surprises was how effective it felt to move between the Type Cover/Wedge Mouse and the multitouch screen. There are some things that are faster and more effective with touch — like scrolling to a specific part of a page or flipping through images — and there are some things that are more efficient with keyboard and mouse — like long typing and right-clicking for options — and the Surface Pro was the first device that gave me the feeling that the future of business productivity will likely include both.

The digital pen for the Surface Pro also works beautifully. It’s the most accurate and precise digital pen that I’ve used. It can draw really thin lines and it draws on the screen precisely where it’s supposed to. I’ve never been a huge fan of pen computing, but this one gave me a sense that I could use this to annotate some stuff and do virtual whiteboarding that could actually be useful as part of my daily work.

That was my biggest lightbulb moment with the Surface — seeing how it combines a traditional mouse and keyboard experience with multitouch and pen computing in a way that works naturally and integrates the value of all three.

I have other thoughts and observations but I’ll sum up them up into a list of the kudos, caveats, and needs. Then, I’ll sum up my initial analysis about the Surface Pro.

Photo credit: Microsoft

Kudos

  • Threads the needle between touch, keyboard/mouse, and pen computing
  • Metro interface enhances usability and Metro apps continue to multiply
  • Desktop Mode offers full Windows 8 and its traditional app ecosystem
  • Type Cover, Wedge Touch Mouse, and the included digital pen are excellent accessories

Caveats

  • It’s a hybrid that doesn’t stand out as a tablet or laptop
  • Battery life is half of most tablets
  • Won’t sit in a lap
  • Not very useful in portrait mode
  • Microsoft Office is installed, but costs extra

Needs

  • A tiltable screen that can sit in multiple positions
  • A desktop and laptop docking solution
  • Digital pen should store in the casing
  • Integrated wireless broadband should be an option
Photo credit: Microsoft

Analysis

Surface Pro flirts with greatness, but its caveats could become show-stoppers for a lot of users.

The product brilliantly weaves mouse and keyboard with multitouch and pen computing in ways that feel very effective and useful. When you compare it to other tablets, there’s simply a lot more you can do with Surface Pro because of its triple-play interface and its ability to run the full version of Windows 8 in desktop mode.

The problem with Surface Pro is that it’s trying to bridge the gap between two products, a laptop and tablet, and it doesn’t quite stand out enough at either function. It’s lacking a little bit as a tablet and it’s lacking a little bit as laptop, so you have to make too many compromises on both sides.

What makes tablets like the iPad and its top competitors useful is their ease-of-use, portability, battery life, and big catalog of third party tablet apps. Surface Pro fails most of those criteria. Its dual personalities of Metro and Desktop Mode are powerful but complicated. It’s nearly as heavy as three iPads. Its 4-5 hour battery life means it won’t ever make it through a full day without a charge. And, while Surface Pro has all of the native Windows apps, it doesn’t have many touch-friendly tablet apps. Even if the Windows 8 tablet platform becomes a developer favorite, it will likely take a couple years to get a critical mass of productive tablet apps.

So, what about thinking of the Surface Pro as more of a laptop replacement? After all, under-the-hood it’s more like a MacBook Air or an Ultrabook than a tablet. That’s how I spent most of my time with the Surface Pro thinking about it. However, from that perspective, it’s a laptop that won’t sit in your lap properly (the kickstand tips over). The trackpad on the Type Cover is nice for a tablet but doesn’t match the spacious trackpads on the MacBook Air or the best Ultrabooks. And, even some Ultrabooks now offer mobile broadband and much longer battery life than the 4-5 hours you get with Surface Pro.

I can’t help thinking that if you want most of the benefits of the triple-play UI and full Windows 8 in Surface Pro then you’d be better off with a product like the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2, which has 10 hours of battery life, mobile broadband, an integrated pen, and laptop and desktop docks. The hardware isn’t quite as polished, the screen isn’t quite as impressive, and the accessories aren’t quite as slick, but it starts at $679 and overcomes several of the Surface Pro’s shortcomings.

The Surface Pro is one of the most ambitious products I’ve reviewed. It’s trying to do a lot — ultimately, a little bit too much. But, even if it doesn’t sell well, I expect that Surface Pro is going to be remembered as the product that showed us how keyboard/mouse, multitouch, and pen computing can work together in smart and useful ways. And, either Microsoft will fill the gaps in version 2.0 or other products will run with the triple-play UI.

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About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is the Editor in Chief of TechRepublic. He writes about the products, people, and ideas that are revolutionizing business with technology.

Making Small Business Partnerships Work

partnership agreement

(Photo credit: o5com)

For a small business, alliances and partnerships can be an important path to growth, so learning how to nurture these relationships is critical.

In “Paid to Think: A Leader’s Toolkit for Redefining Your Future,” husband-and-wife authors David and Lorrie Goldsmith offer a number of tips for making partnerships and alliances work.

For starters, you need to be committed to these relationships so doubt doesn’t creep in. Make sure everyone is clear on timelines, expectations, deliverables, communication preferences, collaboration methods and other issues before you even move forward.

Don’t overpromise and under-deliver; that can be a sure way to undermine a partnership. Show attention to detail, even down to spell-checking documents. You want your organization to build a good reputation, so demonstrate your professionalism in all aspects of the partnership.

These relationships depend on trust and commitment, so there’s no place for apathy. Watch out for self-delusion and keep your eyes open; it’s easy to pretend everything’s going well when it’s not. Be up front about everything, even problems and mistakes. Integrity and honest communication will go a long way toward helping your alliances work.

Adapted from Ten ‘Sins’ That Can Destroy Your Alliances at Baseline Magazine. Original published at Time.com.

And Now For Something Completely Different – Windows 8…

The Road To Windows 8

Windows 8 Is Completely Different From Windows 7!

Courtesy of BruceB Consulting

On October 25, Microsoft will formally unveil Windows 8, followed closely by a separate presentation of Windows Phone 8 on October 29. Windows 8 computers, notebooks, tablets and hybrid devices will go on sale on October 26, and Windows Phone 8 phones will go on sale through all carriers in early November.

Taken together, the releases represent the most significant change in business and consumer technology since Windows XP arrived eleven years ago. Apple’s mobile devices have changed the world for consumers but Microsoft’s vision is broader and might even have a greater impact in the long run.

Microsoft is engaged in remaking itself on a scale that is rarely attempted by large companies. If it succeeds it will maintain its place on a playing field that increasingly appeared to be limited to Apple and Google and perhaps Amazon. We will be using computers running Windows for many years but the shift to handheld devices is profound and Microsoft was in danger of being left out of it. This is the bet-the-company attempt to avoid turning into IBM, successful and rich but no longer important to anyone outside of enterprises. (And make no mistake – Microsoft’s attempt at a makeover might fail, brought down by poor execution and torrential criticism, and send it down that road, not irrelevant but increasingly ignored.)

Over the next few weeks I will be writing extensively about Windows 8. I’ve been using it exclusively on my computers for months and I have some ideas of what it will take for you to understand it, how I can help make it easier for you to get started, and who should ignore it and stick with Windows 7. I’ll have tips and tricks for you to file away for the day when you get your first Windows 8 computer. I’ll give you some advice about whether to upgrade your computer. I’ll give you some perspective on why you’ll see so many reports by people who just hate it with a white-hot fury. (Or so they’ll say. There might be some other agendas at work.)

Over the next few days we’ll start with a view of Windows 8 from 36,000 feet, the very big picture.

There will be two articles aimed specifically at people using computers in very small businesses: one demonstrating that Windows 8 is exactly the same as Windows 7, the other showing that Windows 8 is completely different than Windows 7. Both articles will be right.


Windows 8 Start Screen

Let’s see if I can answer your first question before we get to any of the details.

Should you buy Windows 8 the minute it comes out?

No.

Okay, is that clear? Stand down. Nobody should be getting worked up blindly. This is a time for paying attention. By the time it arrives, you’ll know if you’re the kind of person who is excited enough to step up right away.

Now let’s look at the nuances, because I said “no” mostly to make you feel better. Actually it’s possible that some of you should be lined up outside the (virtual) stores on October 26.

Computers

When you buy a computer after October 26, you will likely have a choice between Windows 8 and Windows 7. Some (but not all) of you should choose Windows 8. Many businesses, especially enterprises, will choose Windows 7 for continuity and compatibility. A fair number of people will skip Windows 8 completely. In any case, most desktop computer users will use Windows 8 in a way that emphasizes its similarity to Windows 7.

Notebooks

There will be dozens of new notebooks and hybrids on the market in November with new features – redesigned keyboards and touchscreens and innovative form factors. If you’re in the market for a notebook, wait until November.

There are compelling improvements in Windows 8 for notebooks – some of you may want to replace an existing notebook sooner rather than later to take advantage of Windows 8 as well as the hardware changes that have made notebooks lighter, thinner and faster with longer battery life.

Nonetheless, just as with desktops, many people will want Windows 7 on their new notebooks for familiarity.

Tablets

Microsoft will be selling the Surface tablet, similar in size and concept to an iPad. Lenovo and other manufacturers will have similar tablets – ten inch screens, light, long battery life.

The Windows 8 tablets deserve special attention! They are designed for touch, just like an iPad, but almost all of them will include a lightweight keyboard, making them better suited for doing real work. All of the Windows 8 tablets will have a desktop that resembles the Windows 7 desktop slightly modified for touch, and they will either include Microsoft Office or they will be capable of running Office programs.

Phones

Windows Phone 8 phones will be available from all the carriers starting in November. They will have the same interface as Windows 8 on computers and tablets, an interface that works particularly well on a small device.

If you get a Windows 8 tablet or phone, you will be much more interested in getting a Windows 8 desktop or notebook, because your experience will flow from one to the other seamlessly. The interface, your documents, your Internet favorites, your wallpaper and so much more will be the same on all your devices. Microsoft is creating a walled garden to rival Apple and Google and your experience will be better if you stay within the garden.

Technology is arriving at a dizzying pace. You’re feeling overwhelmed. Clear your mind, take a few deep breaths, and follow along with me as we start down the road that leads to Windows 8. You’ll arrive relaxed and in a better position to make some informed decisions about how it affects you.

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