Editor’s note: There are opportunities and risks associated with the October 26 release of Windows 8. James Morehead, VP, Product Management & Corporate Marketing, Support.com, discusses these, plus small and midsize business perspectives, and how Support.com enables its channel partners to help their customers prepare for the radical change.
SandHill.com: What makes Windows 8 so different?
James Morehead: The universe is changing dramatically. Microsoft had to do something radical, something that had some risk, which is to pivot with the changing technology focus, but not cut off their installed base of users of their platform along the way. It pivots off devices without keyboards that are completely touch-centric, devices that are mobile.
The opening screen of Windows 8 is very reminiscent of what a Windows Phone UI is like now. When you launch Windows 8, it starts in a very different way. It looks very different on the surface from prior Microsoft operating systems.
SandHill.com: Your company provides technology services for your channel partners and their customers. Do you anticipate that the upgrade path for Windows 8 will be similar to other Microsoft upgrades?
James Morehead: Microsoft has made the pain of upgrading much easier with each release. In our experience with the preview releases of Windows 8, it’s a pretty clean experience going from an earlier version OS to Windows 8. I’m not anticipating this upgrade to be any more difficult than it was for Windows 7 and perhaps even a bit easier.
If you’re on the right version of XP or Vista, and of course, Windows 7, you will be able to make your way to Windows 8 holding onto most of what you had before.
SandHill.com: If the upgrade is easier, then where do the issues start?
James Morehead: The issues really start in terms of how different the user interface is on the surface. It is so radically different that there is a high likelihood of initial confusion as users adapt to the way Windows 8 works. Simple things like what they click on, how they get the desktop, where things exist now.
It’s like someone came into your house and rearranged all the furniture. You still have the same furniture, but everything is in a different place. It takes a little while to get adjusted. The unknown is will people like the new house or not?
There will be a learning curve with a mouse. It’s a very tricky challenge to make something optimized for both touch and optimized for mouse and keyboard. I suspect that the UI will likely be refined over time. Microsoft has to support both modes because they’ve got hundreds and hundreds of millions of keyboard and mouse computers that are their legacy.
SandHill.com: There is a huge pent-up demand for Windows 8. Do you think people will be tolerant of this initial chaos?
James Morehead: It’s hard to gauge until it gets out into the public, because the early users are not necessarily reflective of the later adopters.
SandHill.com: Is that because the early users aren’t change resistant?
James Morehead: Yes. They are the ones that are excited to try something new. The vast majority of users, however, are not interested in that. They are just interested in getting a task done. They’ll focus on: Does this help me get there faster, or does it make it more confusing?
I think there will be initial mixed blessings among the non-early adopter crowd. I think it will take some time to adjust. I did a test with some of our team. I pulled some random people into a conference room and said, “Okay. You’re all familiar with Windows 7. Here’s Windows 8.” I asked them to open up Notepad and do some basic tasks. It was interesting to see the struggle people had finding stuff that they would have known exactly where to find before.
SandHill.com: What do you think the small business perspective will be? What questions will they be asking?
James Morehead: Can I take the machines that I have to Windows 8, or are they not suitable? Are they ready and upgradable to Windows 8? Can you help me through that process of upgrading our machines to Windows 8 and migrate all the data and applications that we have? When we buy new devices, can you help get those devices secured and optimized and ready for us to use in our business? Also, can you help train me as a small business owner, or my staff, on the differences of Windows 8 and how to get stuff done?
There are elements around training, around setting up new computers and migrating existing computers. Over time, as we’ve seen with earlier Microsoft releases, there will inevitably be troubleshooting and break/fix services, such as this device used to work and now it doesn’t, or this wireless printer used to print from Windows 7 and now it doesn’t with Windows 8. That is inevitable with any operating system upgrade.
SandHill.com: Small and midsize businesses might just put this off, thinking it’s not going to help them, but are there advantages to upgrading to Windows 8 that they may not realize?
James Morehead: I think it depends on whether their business is built around mobility or largely computers sitting on a desk. If they have desktop computers and mobility is of relatively low importance, Windows 7 remains a very robust OS. For them, I don’t think Windows 8 will be a compelling need in the short term.
If a business is moving to a more mobile environment, where their employees are either on the road a lot or they can take advantage of more of a tablet format, Windows 8 is really targeted at optimizing that experience while still working with a keyboard and mouse. If a business is looking to unleash itself from the traditional computing environment, then Windows 8 could be a very interesting place to focus because that’s what it’s targeting.
Businesses that are more desktop and traditional, if you will, are going to be a little more cautious, like businesses usually are, as far as their installed base goes.
SandHill.com: What do you think are the biggest pitfalls businesses would run into if they try to implement this upgrade themselves instead of using a company like yours?
James Morehead: If it’s a large enterprise with an IT department, they will have people to handle the upgrade and set up the training. A small business doesn’t have an IT department or a training department. They don’t have people that can test things ahead of time and determine what’s changed and what stayed the same. As a result, they are going to start from scratch the day Windows 8 comes out.
SandHill.com: If somebody uses your services as opposed to trying to do it themselves, what is the difference in the time involved?
James Morehead: A small business employee could easily lose a day for this upgrade compared to a couple of hours if one of our partners helps them through it. They would need to go through the process of upgrading, getting devices compatible, understanding where things are, getting stuck, going to the Internet searching, asking a friend, going back to the store.
SandHill.com: You mentioned earlier that there are companies that will benefit from Windows 8 more than other companies. Can you elaborate on that?
James Morehead: I think the key thing is Windows 8 isn’t just something you should do because it’s a cool new widget. It needs to be a solution to a problem. Companies should understand the opportunities with Windows 8 and make sure they can apply Windows 8 to something that will help their business move forward, instead of thinking this is the latest thing and I’ve got to have it.
Small businesses in particular need to be thoughtful about where they are and where they are going with Windows 8. They could leverage it as a tool to do things in a different way, in a more mobile way, take advantage of form factors, to present themselves to their customers in a different way.
SandHill.com: Support.com will help clients train their customers. Who are your customers and what’s that process?
James Morehead: We enable our customers, predominantly large channel partners, to drive new revenue streams and deepen customer engagement and loyalty through our programs. We do that with a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) application suite combined with a very scalable workforce of technology experts and our proven expertise in designing and launching very large and complex programs with our partners. We white label and rebrand that service under our partners’ brands.
We also offer training as part of a technology services subscription and we offer online self-help tutorial content, which is rebranded for our channel partners.
SandHill.com: Do you provide managed services?
James Morehead: We have a catalog of services around setting up new devices, optimizing new devices and troubleshooting problems for devices that are already set up and running. Our partners tailor and bundle those, price and market them in a way that makes sense for their business.
Our programs are a combination of technology services based on interacting with technology experts as well as software products that we install on devices to help address technology problems. We have more than 700 technology experts working from home across North America taking support calls from end users. We’ve hired our technology experts for their ability to troubleshoot and solve problems, and to do so with empathy to ensure the end user feels empowered and smart.
We have spent months working on pre-releases of Windows 8 so we can enable our partners to provide a smooth transition for their end users. Our partners, and their customers, can leverage our expertise so that they don’t have to go through the learning curve. We’ve already done it for them. When the phones ring the day Windows 8 launches, we’ll be ready to answer the questions from the end users of our partners.
James Morehead is VP, Product Management & Corporate Marketing, Support.com. James leads the global product management and user experience team responsible for Support.com’s corporate marketing strategy, product roadmap and SaaS Service Delivery Platform that enables Support.com to deliver technology services to consumers and small businesses via large channel partners (communications companies, retailers and technology companies). James can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Di Freeze is editor at SandHill.com.