WPC: 2015 Review

Written by David Tan, Chief Technology Officer, CHIPS Technology Group

Every July, after the end of their fiscal year, Microsoft holds what they call their Worldwide Partner Conference. It’s a 4 day gathering of Microsoft partners from around the world where we get a chance to meet with key Microsoft business leaders, hear about plans and roadmaps, and network with other partners to learn best practices or information about emerging trends. Overall more than 16,000 partners from more than 100 countries attend and it’s a phenomenal opportunity to learn and plan for the upcoming 12 months. We have been attending for 12 years now, and it’s always good to sit down and take stock after the event ends so we can understand what we learned, and what we think will emerge in the coming months and years.

The theme of the conference matched what we have been seeing and hearing from Microsoft for a while now. This is a cloud-first, mobile-first world. In other words, partners need to be helping their customers find and deploy solutions around mobile workers and cloud-based applications. If you are a modern organization, you understand this, but it’s amazing how many companies still fail to adapt. I’d be surprised if you’re not seeing it already, but the new generation of employees want to work wherever and whenever. The cloud and your mobile device is what makes that happen. Not to mention the ever-increasing pace of business makes this a fundamental requirement. It’s critical now that you think cloud and mobile first when planning your technology, or you will not be able to compete.

There were many other interesting topics touched on throughout the week. Of course there was plenty of talk about the end of life of Windows Server 2003 and the launch of Windows 10. If you haven’t heard, Microsoft officially stopped supporting Windows Server 2003 on July 14th. That means no more patches, bug fixes, security updates or tech support for anyone still running it. If you are, it’s clearly time to upgrade. 10 years is a very long time to get out of a network operating system platform, and the changes in everything from security to compliance to worker habits mean Server 2003 is long past its expiration date. As for the launch of Windows 10, that was really interesting in many different ways.

Windows 10 launches as a free upgrade (for at least the first year) on July 29th. Of course the big buzz is about the return of the start menu! While many (myself included) thought Windows 8 and the Metro interface were nice, far too many users lamented the loss of their traditional computing interface. Microsoft has listened and seems to have put together a really slick interface that combines the modern style and functionality of the Windows 8 look and feel, with the old home comfort of what you are familiar with.

Also of note is that Microsoft had more than 5 million users in the early deployment tests for Windows 10. That’s a really enormous beta test, and it makes me comfortable that the platform they launch will be stable and robust. Something interesting to know about Windows 10. Microsoft says it will be its last ever monolithic release of Windows. So don’t expect a Windows 11 or Windows 2018 or whatever might be next. Instead as more and more computing moves to the cloud, Microsoft will continue to upgrade bits and pieces of Windows, and add functionality as it makes sense, but you won’t be doing huge upgrades of your whole operating system ever again.

One of things that struck me as I watched different demos and presentations was the inherent change to how we interact with the operating system. In 3 days of keynote presentations, I don’t think I ever saw anyone use a keyboard. Now obviously the keyboard isn’t going anywhere. You won’t be using a touch screen or voice dictation to write emails or create proposals, but simple everyday tasks are very much going to rely on things like voice commands. To that end, Microsoft’s virtual assistant Cortana is very deeply integrated into the operating system and the new applications. So, if you need to find an email about a project, you would simply say “Hey Cortana, please show me all emails related to the Acme Company onboarding project” and your virtual assistant would do the rest. Talking to our computers in a natural language way will very much be the norm and Microsoft is making a big push in that direction with Windows 10.

Probably the coolest demo of the week was the HoloLens. If you don’t know what it is, HoloLens are Microsoft’s virtual reality glasses. They showed a few demos, everything from fixing a clogged drain as a plumber sees what you’re doing and overlays instructions on the screen, to interacting with a virtual 3D model of a motorcycle to a home entertainment solution where your TV follows you as you move through the house. The possibilities are absolutely limitless, and the technology is revolutionary. There is no commercial version available today, but the next 12-24 months will see a lot of evolution in this space and we are incredibly excited to see where it goes and what it means for business.

The way we work with computers and applications has changed so dramatically in the last few years, and as I sat in the convention center in Orlando, one thought kept occurring to me. The speed at which things change is only increasing. The technology in our businesses and our world in 2 years will probably look nothing like what it looks like today. The power and convenience that this technology offers us is almost incomprehensible, and it’s critical to continue to find ways to harness it as the business climate evolves.