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What does Windows 8 mean for clubs?

posted by Mike Ryan
What does Windows 8 mean for clubs?

Something really cool is coming to your computer this year!

This is the year Microsoft are betting the farm on the biggest change to their flagship product Windows since the very first release of Windows 95. The upcoming release of Windows 8- which should be some time early in the second half of this year- represents Microsoft’s vision of an operating system that spans a range of devices and form factors, ranging from mobile devices to tablets to PC’s.

This is significant for many reasons, not least of which is because it attempts to bring a commonality to the user experience, regardless of the device you’re using. What this means is that in theory you should encounter the same look and feel and interact with your computer in a very similar manner, regardless of whether it’s a mobile phone, tablet, desktop computer, your Xbox, etc. Further, Microsoft are building a suite of technologies that bring your disparate devices together in a seamless way using the cloud as the backbone (more on this later).

Geeky Sidebar: technically speaking, the mobile platform is serviced by the excellent but underestimated Windows Phone 7, but the rumours are strong that Windows Phone 8 will share a common underpinning with Windows 8. And devices like the Xbox only share similar user interfaces and interaction modalities, not any underlying cores.

So what does this mean for your business?

There are so many implications of Windows 8 that it’s well beyond the scope of this blog entry (and both our attention spans) to fully delve into it, but I’ll touch on a few of the big ticket things that I think you should know.

There are five things about Windows 8 that immediately strike me as being of interest to a health club or studio:

  • “PC Refresh”
  • The Metro user interface and new runtime
  • Cloud integration
  • Mobile devices
  • System requirements

There are many other cool new features such as the Windows 8 App Store, but for now I’ll focus on features that I think are of more immediate importance to a fitness business.

I’ll discuss these things in far more depth in future postings (and I’ll have much more to say once the beta is released in late Feb), but in the meantime, here’s a brief summary.

PC Refreshing/Resetting

This one is probably of more interest to the truely geeky and the IT professional who looks after your systems (you DO have someone who looks after your systems don’t you?). If you’ve ever had to suffer through a ‘system rebuild’ where your hard drive is completely wiped and Windows and all your applications are re-installed from scratch and configured, you know just how time-consuming, expensive and risky it can be. Microsoft are attempting to eliminate this pain with two new related features called PC Refresh and PC Reset. Both are very similar. They basically do all the hard work of reinstalling Windows and your apps from scratch while you sit back and relax. And instead of it taking several hours (which an old school re-build can take), this should only take 20 minutes or so. And at the end, you’re back to having a nice, fresh, clean computer ready to roll.

This feature is important to you for a few reasons. Firstly, it will save you a lot of time and money for the times you run into those weird problems that seem to suddenly crop up out of nowhere and render your computer non-functioning. You know what I’m talking about here. You sit down to do the exact same thing on your computer today that you’ve done very other day, only for some reason today your computer decides to bring up an error message instead! Under these circumstances, you can either spend hours on the phone to tech support and much money having a technician correct the problem, or you can just execute a refresh and you’re good to go. Secondly, it helps mitigate the disaster of being infected with a virus or malware. Malware is perhaps one of the single biggest causes of computer malfunctioning and performance degradation (not to mention the security implications). And despite what the anti-virus manufacturers will tell you, most of the time once you’re infected a clean rebuild is the only sure way of purging your system of the stuff. That’s where the new PC Reset feature will be a huge time and cost saver.

Metro UX/New Runtime

This is a new user interface that sits on top of Windows (the ‘shell’), and it borrows heavily from Microsoft’s existing designs in their Windows Phone 7 and the recent Xbox update. This change is without doubt the most significant and visually obvious change to Windows, and it changes much of how you interact with your computer. It is very ‘touch-centric’, being designed to facilitate Windows on tablet devices.

Metro appears to have a strong emphasis on what’s referred to as ‘sovereign’ applications. These are applications that are of primary importance to the running of your business and spend most of their time running full-screen front and center all day every day. Due to their sovereign nature, they are usually designed to be very prominent, and work best when running maximized (full screen). Your membership management software at reception is a common example. There’s a good chance your membership management software spends most of its day running full screen at reception and isn’t often closed down or minimised. Its nature is that it’s used very often and heavily. This is a sovereign application. Metro reinforces this notion by providing an environment where your application consumes the entire screen (not even your Taskbar is visible), and if you wish to display another application at the same time, you’re limited to one other, and it is automatically ‘docked’ to the left taking up roughly one-third of the screen. (You have the option of reverting back to the ‘classic’ Windows Desktop that you’re used to seeing now, but Microsoft will be doing everything they reasonably can to discourage that).

Why is this important to you and your business? Apart from the high hopes Microsoft have of its productivity boost, you will face the issue of staff training. Unless you’re lucky to have a computer enthusiast on the team, it’s quite likely Windows 8 will present a short-term problem for your staff as they must learn their way around a completely new user interface. This is something to keep in mind and plan for when you move your IT systems over to Windows 8, and like it or not, it’s an additional [indirect] cost to you.

So what is this ‘new runtime’ thing I mentioned? It is a set of underlying technologies that new software written to take advantage of Windows 8 and its Metro user interface uses behind the scenes. It is heavily based on standard Web technologies. This is of primary concern to people like me who create the software you use in your clubs, but the reason I bring it up here is because this new technology allows for some very cool things like being able to ourchase and update your apps via a ‘Windows App Store’, much like you currently can with Apple’s App Store for the Mac and portable devices like iPhone. It is also this new runtime that plays heavily into the capabilities of the PC Refresh feature above.

Cloud Integration

I can’t comment on this one too much just yet as Microsoft are yet to fully disclose what’s in store, but from what they have revealed so far, I’m pretty excited by this one. Imagine having an environment where all your data, settings, customisations and applications (right down to the wallpaper you use as your background image) is automatically synced and backed up online without you having to do anything. Now imagine being able to walk up to any ol’ Windows 8 computer, enter in your Windows ID and password and that computer then magically shows all of your data, apps and settings just like on your other computer. Those of you who use Apple and especially its recent iCloud service will be familiar with this capability, but Windows 8 is taking it to a whole new level. In a club or studio environment, this can potentially simplify the management of your network quite dramatically, and save you a small fortune.

Mobile Devices

I love my iPad so much I’m thinking of taking it out to dinner for Valentine’s Day this year. It is the one gadget of the many, many gadgets I have spent money on over the years that I truly get my money’s worth. That said, Microsoft will be making a bid for the tablet market by having a version of Windows 8 that is optimised for tablet devices. The Metro shell is highly optimised for touch-based interaction and changes to the core of Windows allow it to run on processors that the majority of tablets use. It remains to be seen whether they can pull it off successfully, but the notion of running Windows on an iPad-like device is exciting.

System Requirements

It has been somewhat axiomatic that with each new version of Windows that’s released the demands on your computer hardware increase as well. Put another way, it has been generally true that upgrading to a new version of Windows meant either a) experiencing slower performance if you’re using the same computer, or b) experiencing roughly the same performance as your old machine if you opt to also buy a new computer with the new version of Windows. This is understandable. As the capabilities of Windows increases and what it’s been asked to do becomes more complex, then the hardware it runs on must work harder to keep up.

However, Windows 8 is (apparently) different. Microsoft have stated that for the first time, system requirements will decrease by upgrading! So this time, when you upgrade on the same computer you should enjoy greater performance instead of less. Or if you choose to also get a new computer, you may benefit from a double whammy- a speedier Windows AND a speedier computer.

This means that barring hardware failure, you might be able to squeeze a couple more years out of your computers before you need to pony up and buy new ones without suffering appreciable hits to productivity.

I should point out that these are all claims by Microsoft and as at the time of writing can’t be proven or dis-proven. I hope they’re right.

There is much much more to Windows 8 than the stuff I’ve talked about here. As I said, I will explain Windows 8 and its new features in more detail bit by bit down the track, and offer advice on what I feel you should do when it comes to your business. It’s far too early to offer any advice this early, as the product is a while away from release and it would be premature of me to advise right now.

I’m excited by Windows 8, and I suspect that whilst it may not necessarily dramatically improve your staff’s productivity, it should have a positive impact on your total cost of ownership for your computer systems.

Stay tuned.

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