Since last week's announcements around WOA, Microsoft's implementation of Windows on the ARM platform, there's been a lot of focus on the consumer, and how the design decisions affect them and their experience. But how do those decisions work for the enterprise – and could the enterprise, Microsoft's core audience, be the reason for them? Let's take the opportunity to make a little informed speculation…
The first, and most obvious, accommodation for the enterprise is the inclusion of Office. A full blown Office installation, with support for all its security features (and note the mention of both a TPM as standard hardware and of Microsoft's whole disk encryption platform BitLocker in Steven Sinofsky's epic Building Windows 8 blog post) is key to a lightweight device for knowledge workers, who need to connect to existing line of business systems and workflows, built around platforms like SharePoint. They'll be able to pick a WOA device and get to work without a steep learning curve (and while the Windows 8 Metro start screen may have its detractors, it's at heart nothing more than another program launcher and search UI, just like the current familiar start menu). Word, Excel and PowerPoint will be there – along with OneNote. It's still unclear whether Outlook is part of the WOA implementation of Office 15, or whether the Windows 8 Mail client (with its EAS support) will be an adequate alternative.
It's that integration with business workflows that could explain one of the more puzzling aspects of the inclusion of the Windows desktop on WOA, a non-Metro Internet Explorer that isn’t there to give you Flash (or any other plugins). With Terminal Services a key component in any Windows managed desktop strategy (and in his blog post Steven Sinofsky states clearly that WOA desktop is primarily to support existing Windows components), and IE acting as a launcher for Terminal Services business application catalogues, the desktop version of IE will be how users with WOA clients get to use virtualised desktop applications through Terminal Services. If you can't port an existing application to Metro-style WinRT, then all you need to do is package it up for use with Terminal Services, and deliver its UI directly to the WOA desktop via the WOA browser, launching from a click or a tap. There's no need for any expensive development programmes, and you've instantly future-proofed your business.
With that in place you're ready to spend the time building your own WinRT applications. One point Microsoft made at BUILD was that there was a route around the Windows Store for enterprise deployment of applications. Business would have what would appear to be a private area of the store which would in fact be a local catalogue of applications that could be delivered by WSUS to managed machines. With that mechanism in place there's no need to worry about your applications leaking to the outside world – they'll never leave your network, and never touch the Windows Store. That way you can take advantage of the WinRT C++ capabilities, and port your code to a new UI.
Microsoft is an enterprise IT company, first and foremost. Enterprise licensing deals account for the lion's share of the company revenues, and with that in mind, it's clear that WOA is not a consumer platform (though it looks like one, walks like one and might as well be an Angry Birds-playing duck for all purposes). What it is, is Microsoft's a response to the growing trends of IT consumerisation and "bring-your-own-device" – with Microsoft delivering a consumer-like environment that gives users the modern UI they want, and enterprises the management they need, at the price point both are demanding. For IT administrators there's no need to step outside your organizational comfort zone, and migrations to WinRT and Metro-style can take place on enterprise time-scales. Enterprises will be able to manage and support WOA devices using the tools they have in place for Windows XP, Vista and 7 (and 8), simplifying roll-outs and letting them deploy the secure, managed tablets they wish Android and iOS could be, with no fear of stepping on the toes of a regulator.
With WOA Microsoft has made a very smart move, and any organisation considering a IT consumerisation strategy now has to rethink just how it wants to deliver it – and whether it should pause until WOA devices arrive.