Sysadmin Blog Griping is easy. Solving problems in an acceptable way is not. I've had a year to chew on what exactly it is about Microsoft's recent moves that bugs me, so it's time to put my money where my mouth is and try to be constructive. Here is my wish list for the next iteration of Windows, offered in the vain hope that someone at Microsoft might listen. Dear Microsoft…
Tech Support Mode
My chief complaint with the Windows 8 UI is that it is a pain for tech support. I propose a "tech support mode". Give those of us doing remote support work a way to toggle the interface into something far more friendly.
For this to work it can't be something that needs to be installed on the end user's PC, it can't be something that requires us to log on as a different user and it can't be something like RSAT that presumes we have network access. This has to be a tool that works over VNC, LogMeIn, TeamViewer and instant messenger screen-sharing applications - the standard remote support tools for those supporting family members and SMBs.
That restricts us to a UI change. We need a way to force the UI into a mode where all the tools we need to configure and administer a computer are in one easy location, as is the ability to see which programs are installed and launch said programs. We also need the ability to browse the file system, connect network drives, manipulate removable media and so forth. Basically everything you could do from the start menu.
I don't particularly care if you need to call it something else in order to preserve corporate pride and not have to concede previous errors Extend the "computer management" MMC with additional features, or incorporate an information-dense, hierarchical "all programs" style app launcher into Control Panel alongside an Explorer launcher that takes you to My Computer.
However you need to do it, just get it done. Those of us doing tech support need a way to get access to an interface that is identical on every single instance of Windows Next that we touch and we'll need it inside an individual user's profile so that we can make changes to that profile. Power users will be pinning this to the task bar as their new start menu, so don't try to nerf that unless the goal is another PR disaster.
Don't try to change the Start Screen to suit this purpose. The Start Screen is a replacement for quick launch. It is emphatically not a replacement for the Start Menu, nor is there really a way for it to be without a major overhaul.
Revisit VDI licensing
We the end users will grant you a concession in that we accept the fundamental idea that the ability to access Windows, Office and other Microsoft applications remotely enhances the utility of the endpoints we are using as thin clients. You will grant us a concession by accepting that the concept that each endpoint should be treated as though it were suddenly as useful (as if the total suite of Microsoft software we are remotely accessing were locally installed) is patently ridiculous.
We will also grant you a concession in that we are willing to pay significantly more for our software up front if we intend to remote access it. In exchange we ask for the concession of accepting that the idea of counting how many endpoints are used to access a centralised instance – or limiting the legal possibility of even using centralised instances to enterprises with SA agreements – is absurd.
Please just let me go out and buy a copy of Windows Endpoint Next Datacenter Edition. The client OS is what I am discussing here, not the server. For various reasons the server OS is an unacceptable alternative for many small businesses and power users. (That's a discussion for another day.)
You can get away with charging an obscene amount of money per instance if you feel the need. $500 or even $1,000 per instance – or per user – is fine, so long as it is predictable and doesn't involve metering your endpoint usage. I'll buy one copy for each user without hesitation as long as I never have to count how many of which kind of endpoint is used to access it. Offer Datacenter versions for Office, Visio and all the rest of your software as well.
Understand that power users and small businesses want this - not just large enterprises! We are willing to pay for the privilege of remote use, but only so much. I have personally used over 300 endpoints to access my home Windows XP VM in the last year (I counted). Were I to upgrade that VM to Windows 7 or Windows 8, your existing $100/endpoint/year licensing would bankrupt me. How does that help either of us?
Give up on the subscriptions
We've seen what happened with Office 2013. Can we have a grown-up discussion about the subscription model now, please? What you want and what customers want are quite obviously at odds here. And if we don't find a compromise soon then things are going to get ugly for everyone.
So meet us in the middle. Offer one-off purchases to those of us who don't want to beta test your next major product change (including the above-discussed VDI versions.) This helps out customers on budgets who buy systems that they won't refresh for six or 10 years. It also helps those of use who want to maintain version coherence over time even if the hardware changes. For that matter, subscription versus licensing does have tax implications for SMBs in some jurisdictions that can also drive the desire for fixed licences.
In exchange, we'll agree to pay more for the one-off licences than we do now. Those buying them are going to amortize the cost over longer periods of time than a three-year refresh cycle anyways, so pin the cost somewhere in the four or five years of subscription and let's call it good.
You might also consider setting up your subscription programmes so that users can keep using older versions of the software for as long as they want. Those who wish to pay for being beta testers can charge merrily on ahead. Those who don't can sit on their aging software until after official support ends.
I think the above compromises are the optimum risk/reward point for Microsoft. The price of the concessions hurt end users and SMBS, but not so much that it becomes worth it to start building massive coalitions of like-minded businesses and power users to develop alternatives or start poking governments about antitrust.
The costs are also high enough that they don't become viable alternatives for larger enterprises, keeping your SA revenue stream safe and secure. Instead, they give smaller businesses the ability to take advantage of the ongoing innovation and excellent software that Microsoft delivers, allowing power users and small businesses to compete with large enterprises on a level playing field.
I realise that of itself that could be a bit of a problem: large enterprises don't want small businesses to be able to compete. Ultimately, however, I believe that Microsoft is far better tooled up internally to meet the PR concerns of large enterprises than to weather the absolute shitstorm that could result from ignoring the needs of power users and SMBs. The last time you made that mistake you handed the entire mobility market to Apple on a silver platter.
So what do you think, Microsoft? Can we use the above as a basis for a meaningful compromise? I'm sure The Register's readers will provide their thoughts on the matter in the comments below. ®