Today I’m going to abandon my usual balanced friendly analysis approach and play devil’s advocate, because I think there is an audience that needs a wakeup call. No it’s not developers of consumer apps, I think they’ve already gotten it. They realize the consumer is in charge and that if they like what you create they’ll fork over a buck or two, accept advertising, or use the app to front-end the service that you are really trying to monetize. And if they don’t like it, well then there are always at least ten other developers offering a competing app. No, this is for developers of business applications. You haven’t yet figured out that you aren’t in charge. Your masters like to let you think you have real power because it’s easier than enduring the pain when you revolt, but they hold the real power. And most importantly the purse strings. And their needs and your wants are diverging.
You can whine all you want about Tablets being only (and barely suitable) for consumers, but when the VP of Retail decides she’s handing all 10,000 store associates Tablets you are going to be writing Tablet apps. I don’t care if you are working in IT, or for a retail system software supplier, you will write Tablet apps or be out looking for a job. You will try to use FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) to get them to let you keep using classic Windows desktop technologies, and perhaps at first you will strike sufficient fear into their hearts that you can win. But mostly that approach will fail. The retail associates will rebel against anything that reeks of legacy, and wonder why they can’t have as good an experience as they have on their consumer Tablets. Business Unit management will look at their competitors, perhaps already using iPads for the same purpose, grow a pair, and let you know in no uncertain terms that their priority is on the optimal modern Tablet experience. iPads will be one option, Windows 8 Tablets will be another. But Windows 8 Tablets running Windows Desktop apps will be a non-starter. If the choice is Windows 8 then the preferred experience will be a pure Metro one.
The VP of IT Operations will look out upon the available Tablet options and his organization’s capabilities for managing them. He will look at how well they can enforce corporate policies, prevent data loss, centrally control the remote Tablets, tie these systems into their corporate identity systems, and meet audit and monitoring requirements. He will conclude they can do an OK job for iPads and a great job for Windows 8 Tablets. Operations is no more in charge than you developers are, but they are much better at FUD. Developers can walk out the door, but bad operations can put a company on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and the CEO in front of a jury. They will prefer Windows 8 Tablets, perhaps overwhelmingly.
Your CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) will look at Windows 8 and drool. They will see things like Secure Boot, the use of Reputation when deciding what applications to allow to run, the smoother more transparent patching process, and other basic security improvements and wish they could immediately force the company to upgrade its entire base of PCs. Then he’ll look at the Metro environment and how it solves their problem of keeping unsafe applications off of PCs. He’ll establish policies that require new applications purchased or written for Windows 8 systems be Metro apps. Anyone who wants to create or purchase new Desktop Apps will need policy exceptions from the CISO and the Chief Risk Officer (CRO). He’ll also establish policies that favor Windows 8 Tablets over iPads, again establishing an exception process.
The purchasing department will look over the Tablet landscape and the business unit requirements and try to find the lowest priced Tablet that meets those requirements. Those Tablets will have configurations that work great for Metro apps, but are taxed by heavy use of desktop applications. They will report that configurations capable of being used primarily for desktop applications, while still meeting requirements for things like battery life and low weight, are far more expensive (or unavailable).
The VP of Retail will look at all this data and decide it would be a crazy waste of her time to convince the VP of IT Operations, CISO, and CRO for policy exceptions and the CFO to approve the more expensive project. To what end? To make a few developers happy? She doesn’t give a damn about developers and is tired of them being the bottleneck to her meeting business goals. What she cares about is the productivity of Associates, and the improved experience of customers, in her Retail Stores. And she is convinced that Tablets and a touch-based UI (even on non-tablets in the store) is the best approach. She will insist on Metro apps on Windows 8 Tablets as the basis of her project as the path of least resistance for achieving her business objectives.
Oh, you developers will go nuts. You’ll find legacy projects within your own organizations where you can hide and use old technologies rather than wanting to work on new things in technologies you don’t care for. Or you’ll quit your job to move to a company that hasn’t adopted these technologies yet. I have had many a friend and colleague followed this path on previous transitions. One of two things happens. They find they can’t hide from the technology transition forever and eventually, and unhappily, make it themselves. Or they give up on their career growth and happily hide away in legacy niches for decades, milking money out of the demands on a shrinking expertise pool. I have one friend who quite literally left $ Millions on the table because he couldn’t bring himself to move off a beloved but legacy technology in order to take a new job. Or ask the pool of Cobol developers who had one last great hurrah fixing old apps for Y2K, and then found themselves on the unemployment line.
You developers like to think you hold all the cards when in truth you are the tail trying to wag the dog. They throw you bones to keep you happy, but when push comes to shove you’ve got a weak hand. And the market trends, the ones that those of you who focus on businesses try to dismiss as being “only ok for consumers”, show an explosion in Tablet adoption, new user interface technology adoption, and an overall consumerization of IT going on across the business spectrum. This “consumerization of IT” thing has been the trend for about five years. Consumers increasingly reject the old experiences in both their person and work lives. For the 20-something and under crowd the current Windows desktop experience is about as attractive as the thought of visiting a 19th century dentist. It isn’t a fad, as many business app developers are praying for. There is no “Ah Ha” moment that will cause the world to abandon these trends and return to a world of cascading menus and mice.
And guess what folks, if Windows 8 and Metro fail the world you will be left in is not a Windows Desktop world. Even if Microsoft does offer a fallback to the classic desktop, that will be the OS/360 of the client world. It will be an IOS, or IOS-like, enterprise computing world. That VP of Retail isn’t going to abandon her project to give Tablets to Retail Associates. And neither is the VP of Manufacturing going to give up touch-based UI for shop floor use nor Tablets for those workers needing portability. Nor the VP of Sales for his reps. They’ll just go with iPads, or maybe Android Tablets. And as Apple gains more and more traction with Tablets and Smartphones in the Enterprise, so will Macs. Especially as Apple unifies IOS and Mac OS. How long do you really think it is before Apple puts the IOS UI (if not all of IOS) on the Mac and offers Macs that are completely locked to the App Store?
What are the other alternatives? Chrome OS? Oh, what are you going to program that in? It’s a web model, not a local native app model. Android? It’s Java/Dalvik and tuned for touch just like Metro and IOS. I’m not dissing these two (at least not in this context), just pointing out that they don’t really offer a place to run if your goal is to retain the classic totally open, totally general purpose, desktop computing environment that so many feel is an absolute necessity. That leaves you raw Linux. And while the powers that be are fine with the use of Linux on servers, they’ve shown no inclination to adopt it on clients. And frankly speaking, the Linux community (other than as Android’s underpinnings) has shot off so many toes trying to address client use that these days they keep growing more toes apparently so they have more to shoot off. I’ve given up on any hope that Desktop Linux will ever be more than a geek-toy. At best you’ll be able to use a Desktop Linux system personally, but all your app development will be for a touch-centric, locked down ecosystem, client device.
So that’s it folks. The end-user, and “the man” are going to demand Tablets, and Tablet-like natural UIs, and the benefits of the locked down ecosystems, and in the Windows world they are going to demand Metro. And those developers who resist will learn their true place in the hierarchy. And it’s not at the top.
Now, let the outrage begin.