The OS for the Enterprise

by Dave Michels

Back in the days when I had the Director of IT title, the OS discussion was relatively limited. Windows.

But it isn’t so simple any more. The server side has Windows, Linux, and hypervisors, and public cloud options. The client operating systems include Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. A lot more choice is good, but it also brings with it more headaches.

I just got Windows 10 on my Surface Pro 3. I haven’t used it much, but it certainly seems more intuitive than Windows 8.1. My primary desktop device is still running Windows 7. It’s actually in need of a refresh, and I can’t decide if I go with 7, 8, or 10.  There’s pros and cons to each , so I remain undecided. This kind of paralysis is common, eventually stability issues will force the decision. I usually need to rebuild my desktop every 12-18 months.

I wonder if Windows 10 will stimulate PC sales. I imagine it will, but the experts disagree. Last month both Gartner and IDC published estimates for PC shipments in the second quarter of 2015. Gartner says sales have dropped by 9.5% over the past year, while IDC’s data is even more alarming — predicting a year-on-year decline of 11.8%. Personally, I’m not productive on a smartphone, but for some reason other people are able to replace their desktops with mobile devices.

Windows 10 may actually deliver on multi-device. It’s the vision we were sold on Win 8 that never came to be – a common OS for desktop, phone, and tablet. The problem with Windows 8 was it was too awkward for many – including me. But Microsoft licked its wounds right through Windows 9 and now Windows 10 could be it. I’ve already heard from one Windows/Android junkie that he may indeed drop Android. Windows 10 could potentially stimulate PC sales and hurt mobile device sales.

One very slick feature of Windows 10 is called Continuum which detects if the device has shape-shifted. For example, my Surface Pro 3 can be a tablet or laptop by removing the magnetic keyboard. With Windows 10, it detects the change and adjust its UI to finger friendly. It’s an even more powerful concept if you imagine a smartphone that drops into a docking station and becomes a desktop with multiple monitors, keyboard, and mouse. It effectively eliminates the need to sync devices. Data sync works well with data, but not all of the preferences.

I’m so far impressed with Windows 10, but there’s another device that could disrupt it – Google’s newest generation of Chromebooks. I really like my Chromebook, but I use it as a secondary device. I keep it in the living room and I find it handy for quick browsing during TV. The Chromebook is an impressive device and value. Most things I do are in a browser, so there’s not much loss in functionality, but there are some compromises. For example, Office 365 isn’t as robust as desktop Office and there’s no Skype – but I can buy 3 Chromebooks for one Surface Pro 3 so there should be some differences. Chromebooks don’t get viruses either and generally require less management.

Dell just announced their new Chromebooks that are optimized for VDI. Google refers to these as “work-ready devices.” The new Dell offers a carbon fiber cover, a 13.3” FHD IPS touchscreen display, 5th Gen Intel Core processor, magnesium alloy palmrest, backlit keyboard, 12-hour battery, and high-precision glass trackpad. Dell says the new Chromebooks, available next month, will start at $399 – but who knows what that means. In terms of VDI for legacy apps, Chromebooks now support single sign-on, and has clients for  VMWare, Dell vWorkspace, and Citrix’s Chrome receiver. It also supports Windows File Shares (SMB/CIFS), Box, Dropbox, and OneDrive. Printing is supported with Google Cloud Print which is now expanded thanks to HP. VPNs are even supported with Pulse Secure, Dell SonicWall, Cisco AnyConnect and soon F5 Networks and Palo Alto Networks.

Chromebooks are gaining strong momentum in education. NY Times reports:

Last year, about 3.9 million Chromebooks were shipped in the education sector, an increase in unit sales of more than 310 percent compared with the previous year, IDC said. By contrast, iPad unit sales for education fell last year to 2.7 million devices, compared to 2.9 million in 2013, according to IDC data…In the first half of this year, she said, roughly 2.4 million Chromebooks shipped to schools compared with about 2.2 million Windows-based desktops and notebook computers.

Google was working to bring Android Apps to Chrome – a few were brought over. I tried Evernote and found it intolerable. Touch-screens on the new books could be a game changer. Factor in WebRTC and built-in A/V and the Chromebook can replace both a PC and phone. That’s what Twilio and LiveOps promise. Avaya is now supporting Chromebooks but without video. Every browser-based WebRTC app I’ve seen works with Chrome except Cisco Spark (requires FF). Though oddly Cisco previewed WebEx working on a chromebook in the past.

I am not up to speed on MacOS. I bought I bought kid1 a Macbook a year ago and was shocked how expensive it was. Just bought Kid2 a Lenovo Yoga and that seems like a relative bargain. I get that the MacOS experience is superior, but if you spend 95% of your time in a browser and Office, how much better can the experience be?