Friday, August 19, 2011

If they BUILD it, will they come?

That question comes from Field of Dreams, a movie in which Kevin Costner builds a US baseball and attracts the Black Socks. In my experience, though, the answer to the question is usually only true in movies – in real life, just building something is often not enough – it often takes a lot of effort and costs a lot to attract your audience. But not always – as Microsoft’s demonstrated with their BUILD conference being held in Anaheim in September.  I wrote about this conference last week in an article in Pacific IT News where I’m writing a series of articles about BUILD.

In this case, the answer is a resounding YES. BUILD is sold out, despite the economy and the utter lack of details about the conference. This is quite surprising and perhaps positive in terms of developers. It’s all part of Microsoft’s marketing approach for Windows 8.

The BUILD conference is taking place in Anaheim California on 13-16 September. You can see what details exist about the show at: BUILD will be the first time most developers and many hardware developers will get a chance to see and hear about Windows 8.

In earlier versions of Windows, Microsoft had a long beta programme and took input from beta testers. I recall fondly the NNT 5.0 beta period of several years. And for those with longer memories, the Win95 beta programme featured near-weekly releases to test.

With Windows 8, all that openness is a thing of the past – just like Windows 7, we have the ‘cone of silence.’ MS staff are under significant pressure to reveal nothing – as recently as February key staff were even forbidden to say the words ‘Windows 8′ or to even hint at what might or might not be included. And leaked builds were not as common place as during the XP or Vista days, although in preparing for this article it took me around 3 hours to find and download what appears to be a legitimate leaked build. In earlier generations of Windows, beta testers were more involved and the beta test process longer. With Windows 7 and now Windows 8, that’s a thing of the past. It appears likely we’ll have just one real beta release sometime soonish, with the probability of a single RC nearer to RTM.

So why do IT Pros care about BUILD in the first place. IT Pros should care because BUILD is where MS will let you see what will be coming in Windows 8. Unlike earlier versions of Windows, what you see released of BUILD will pretty much be what we all get as Windows 8 when that is finally released. So if you or your organisation is running earlier versions of Windows, particularly Windows 2000 and XP, Windows 8 is most likely your future. On current timescales, Win 8 will almost certainly be released before XP mainstream support ends. Given the ascendency of Google with Android and Apple with iPad and iPhone, Windows 8 may be Microsoft’s most important version of Windows to date. It could become a game changer. Ballmer is right to be nervous about Windows 8.

What’s IN Windows 8? That is a great question – and one I really can’t answer. Anyone who does know what is in Windows 8 will  be under a pretty draconian NDA – and I would bet MS will be pretty fierce on those who break the NDA. Speaking personally, I do not want to have MS’s lawyers on my case! Personally, I think this approach is poor, but it’s the way MS has chosen to go. We do know a little about Win 8, but BUILD is where we’ll see some semblance of the final product. Of course, given the development approach being taken, what we see at BUILD will pretty much BE what Windows 8 will be – it’s too late in the cycle to do much other than cosmetic stuff. Sadly, gone are the days when beta testers mattered to the Windows development team.

As part of a very carefully crafted disclosure approach, we know that the UI will be, at least partly, based on the Windows Phone tile UI as disclosed by Julie Larson Greene ( You’ve no doubt have seen the demos by now.

We also know MS are planing to deliver one version of Windows 8 across phone, tablet, desktop and server. That approach has caused some raised eyebrows and seems to generate more questions than answers. Quite how MS will get the bloat that is Windows to fit into a phone and tablet without poor battery life is an interesting question. We also know that at the Partner Conference, MS announced windows 8 would include some improvements in Hyper-V. But beyond that details are sketchy. From the looks of it, Hyper-V may be part of Windows 8 clients as well as for the server.

While industry reaction is understated so far, some critics are positive on the potential benefits, but well, critical on other points. Jon Honeyball, for example, raises some interesting questions in a recent blog article res/367813/windows-8-could-i t-be-more-than-lipstick-on-a –pig

I imagine, as a PowerShell MVP, that we’ll see a new version of PowerShell – but what that consists of is still highly secret. We’ll also probably see improvements in Windows Server for the cloud -  but details thus far are pretty minimal. There have been a few leaked builds – but a lot less than in previous years. I’m pretty certain that torrent sites will quickly have any builds handed out at BUILD – and I’d hope that MSDN subscribers will also be able to download those builds at the same time.

One more positive thing, the Windows Team have begun their official Win 8 engineering blog, also known as the Building Windows 8 blog. The first article, written by Steve Sinofsky, sets out the aims of the blog. In this 1200+ word article, no real details are given, but some promises are made. In particular: “We'll participate in a constructive dialog with you. We'll also make mistakes and admit it when we do.” It remains to be seen how much of a true dialogue this will be – I am not expecting much more than the blog being a useful monologue on what MS has chosen to do in Windows 8 and their justification of it. I doubt any mistakes will be ‘found’ or ‘admitted’. We’ll see.

BUILD is just a few weeks away and I’ve got flights and hotel booked. If you’ll be there, please add a comment to this article and let’s meet up – I’d love to hear your views.


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