The IT industry has always been one of rapid change and upheaval, with many technology companies only lasting as long as they could innovate for. This is at odds with the traditional way businesses operated, preferring to stick to predictable cycles and seek gains through incremental improvements in process, procedure and marketing. The eventuality of this came in the form of the traditional 3~5 year cycle that many enterprises engaged in, upgrading the latest available technology usually years after it had been released. However the pace of innovation has increased to the point where such a cycle could leave an organisation multiple generations behind and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down soon.
I mentioned last year how Microsoft’s move from a 3 year development cycle to a yearly one was a good move, allowing them to respond to customer demands much more quickly than they were previously able to. However the issue I’ve come across is whilst I, as a technologist, love hearing about the new technology the customer readiness for this kind of innovation simply isn’t there. The blame for this almost wholly lays at the feet of XP’s 12 year dominance of the desktop market, something which even the threat of no support did little to impact its market share. So whilst the majority may have made the transition now they’re by no means ready for a technology upgrade cycle that happens on a yearly basis. There are several factors at play with this (tools, processes and product knowledge being the key ones) but the main issue remains the same: there’s a major disjoint between Microsoft’s current release schedule and it’s adoption among its biggest customers.
Microsoft, to their credit, are doing their best to foster rapid adoption. Getting Windows 8.1 at home is as easy as downloading an app from the Windows store and waiting for it to install, something you can easily do overnight if you can’t afford the down time. Similarly the tools available to do deployments on a large scale have been improved immensely, something anyone who’s used System Center Configuration Manager 2012 (and it’s previous incarnations) will attest to. Still even though the transition from Windows 7 to 8 or above is much lower risk than from XP to 7 most enterprises aren’t looking to make the move and it’s not just because they don’t like Windows 8.
With Windows 8.2 slated for release sometime in August this year Windows 8 will retain an almost identical look and feel to that of its predecessors, allowing users to bypass the metro interface completely and giving them back the beloved start menu. With that in place there’s almost no reason for people to not adopt the latest Microsoft operating system yet it’s likely to see a spike in adoption due to the inertia of large IT operations. Indeed even those that have managed to make the transition to Windows 8 probably won’t be able to make the move until 8.3 makes it debut, or possibly even Windows 9.
Once the Windows 8 family becomes the standard however I can see IT operations looking to move towards a more rapid pace of innovation. The changes between the yearly revisions are much less likely to break or change core functionality, enabling much of the risk that came with adopting a new operating system (application remediation). Additionally once the IT sections have moved to better tooling upgrading their desktops should also be a lot easier. I don’t think this will happen for another 3+ years however as we’re still in the midst of a XP hangover, one that’s not likely to subside until it’s market share is in the single digits. Past that we administrators then have the unenviable job of convincing our businesses that engaging in a faster product update cycle is good for them, even if the cost is low.
As someone who loves working with the latest and greatest from Microsoft it’s an irritating issue for me. I spend countless hours trying to skill myself up only to end up working on 5+ year old technology for the majority of my work. Sure it comes in handy eventually but the return on investment feels extremely low. It’s my hope that the cloud movement, which has already driven a lot of businesses to look at more modern approaches to the way they do their IT, will be the catalyst by which enterprise IT begins to embrace a more rapid innovation cycle. Until then however I’ll just lament all the Windows Server 2012 R2 training I’m doing and wait until TechEd rolls around again to figure out what’s obsolete.
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of what Google’s done with their latest product, Plus. Initial impressions of the service were good with the interface being clean and apart from the Huddle app experiencing some technical difficulties it was essentially bug free. It also seemed to be quite the hit with it gathering 10 million users in just 2 weeks, no small feat even for a tech giant like Google. I’ve been using the service ever since it launched to the public and now that we’re starting to get to the tail end of the honeymoon period for Google+ I’m starting to see some similarities to other social networks I once used, and that’s not a good thing.
When I first saw Google+ the first thing I thought of, and I wasn’t the only one to think this, was how persuasive Google could be in order to drag my friends across from Facebook. Now initial numbers were pretty good, with about 20% of my friends signing up in the first few weeks. They were all my somewhat technically inclined friends and I had expected the majority to come across in the early adopter wave. However the rest of my social network hasn’t shown any traction at all and in fact mentioning the fledgling social network to them draws blank stares. Thus whilst I was quick to see a good chunk of people come across the inertia for the regular user to jump ship is, at least at this point in time, still way too high.
It’s also become apparent that even these early adopters seem to value Google+ as a second rate candidate for their social networking. Whilst both my Twitter and Facebook feeds see dozens of updates every day I can’t say the same for Google+, sometimes going days without seeing anything new on my front page. I’ll admit that I too barely post anything to the service as most of my activities are automatically syndicated by way of in built APIs. There are of course solutions to this but unfortunately unlike WordPress, Twitter and Facebook which have rather elegant solutions anything involving Google+ at this point feels rather hacky. This may change once Google releases an official API and allows native apps ala Facebook, but since all my other technical friends aren’t syndicating their streams it makes me wonder if they’re that engaged with Google+ in the first place.
My anecdotal experience however doesn’t explain why Google+ is seeing such explosive growth. They hit 10 million in just a fortnight and managed to more than double that to 25 million just two weeks after that. By all rights that would seem to be an impressive number of people who were looking for an alternative to Facebook (around 5% of their users, give or take) but still a tiny number comparatively. Realistically it’s still way too early as whilst such traction is impressive it’s still very early days for Google+ and the real test will be if they can capture any semblance of that exponential growth in the next 6 months.
Google, to their credit, hasn’t been resting on their laurels since launching just a month and a half ago. Just recently they launched the games section of Google+ which includes a fair number of familiar titles. Whilst I haven’t had a play around in that section yet it does seem to be an almost straight up port of the games section of the Chrome Web Store. This isn’t a bad thing as it means that those looking to develop for the Google+ platform can already do so, just that it seems like a bit of duplication of effort even if Google+ and Chrome target different markets. Still initial reviews of the games service aren’t entirely positive but there is hope for future iterations that have tighter integration with the Google+ platform.
Google+ also seems to be sticking to its guns when it comes to being clear of privacy with it managing to avoid any scandals in that area. There has been the rather sticky issue of those users who didn’t want to use their real name getting booted from Google+ and subsequently losing everything attached to that Google account. This is really the only major issue that Google has faced with their network and whilst I can understand their position their reaction to those users has been rather heavy handed. Considering nearly all other Google services allow you to operate under a nickname many were under the impression that they could do the same on Google+. Whether Google will change this policy in the future remains up for speculation.
The next few months are going to be crucial for the ongoing success of the Google+ platform. They’ve definitely managed to make a product that a lot of people want however the competition they are going up against has a long head start, enough that such explosive growth looks like a drop in the bucket to them. Fortunately Google does seem committed to the platform with it being under heavy active development and it’s those improvements and additions to the service that will determine whether or not it becomes a viable alternative to Facebook.
If you haven’t yet got an invite to Google+ you can click here to get yourself an invite.