I was fortunate enough to attend the Microsoft BUILD conference in Los Angeles recently, along with one of my colleagues. Now, I don’t make a habit of regularly attending such conferences as I have a number of talented developers who would get great value out of these sorts of events. But I have to say that I am really pleased (no, read ‘delighted’) that I made the effort to attend this particular event, especially considering that it took me about 28 hours to get to LA (it’s a long way from Johannesburg).
So what’s so special about this event then? For me the event was impressive on a number of levels, and it has caused me to rethink and ‘reimagine’ how our ERP product, SYSPRO, will be shaped over the next few years. Microsoft’s tagline for the event was ‘Windows reimagined’ and this is as succinct a statement as you can get, especially since Windows 8 takes all of the pedigree of the Windows platform and adds consumer-facing applications (and a lot more) to the mix. The actual event was extremely well organized, as were the various keynote and breakout sessions, but I want to focus on what were, for me, the technical highlights:
- Microsoft has made a commitment stating that all existing Windows 7 applications will work in Windows 8. That’s really important to us. Just to prove a point: I already have SYSPRO 6.1 running quite happily on a Samsung slate device on Windows 8 Developer Preview. Here’s a screenshot of SYSPRO running next to one of these new ‘Metro-style’ weather applications:Oh, by the way, you can use any combination of touch, a mouse, a keyboard or a pen in any Windows or Metro application. Do not be taken in by some mistaken comments on the web that Windows 8 is all about touch. It isn’t. It just happens to be new.
- The possibility for creating really engaging consumer-facing applications has taken a new turn with the introduction of what is termed Metro-style applications. These apps run on top of Windows and do not replace anything that has been previously written for the Windows platform. These new types of apps are sort-of what you have come to expect on an Apple iPad. In other words, they work really well with touch (hey, the touch interface on the slate is just as good, I think, as on the iPad) and can be just as engaging. The difference between iPad applications and Metro-style applications are the new Visual Studio development tools. These are simply stunning. I can a hear one of our ERP customers saying ‘so what?”. My response is that it will make our lives much easier to create applications that run on any device that runs Windows 8 and that can interact directly with the native capabilities of that device. Fortunately we have our component architecture (SYSPRO e.net Solutions) which enables these types of applications to interact directly with the SYSPRO database somewhere up there in the cloud.Does this mean that I am going to get rid of my iPad? Absolutely not. It’s all about choice and using the most appropriate device for the job. The iPad is a great lifestyle device but it hasn’t got a great development toolkit - actually, in comparison to Visual Studio, it is almost non-existent.
- The fact that Windows 8 works on a huge range of devices, including ARM-based chipsets, will ultimately mean that you will able to purchase much cheaper devices on which SYSPRO can run. Anything from a desktop PC to the plethora of mobile devices from multiple manufacturers. In fact, the lines are becoming blurred between what is considered a traditional desktop and mobile device. For me, they will become one and the same.
- Talking of mobile devices, there are some rather cool capabilities when it comes to offline features. Creating applications that can work whether you are online or offline is tricky at the best of times. Without going into too much detail, all I can tell you is that the new tools in Visual Studio make it really easy to create mobile apps that work whether you are connected to the Internet or not.
- While cloud computing still hasn’t really taken off in the ERP world (and I mean mission-critical applications here, not CRM systems), it’s clear that there is real value in not just delivering a SaaS offering (SYSPRO BusinessLive does that already) but in making our product ‘cloud-aware’. Enabling our customers to easily connect their business to the outside world continues to be a real priority for SYSPRO and the tools in Windows 8 just makes things easier to do this.
Windows 8 has literally hundreds of new features or enhancements, and I have just touched (pun intended) on some of the changes that I think SYSPRO will be able to use.
You might think I am committed to Microsoft technology, and the answer is you’re right. In the IT game you have to back a single horse to create great applications, and the products coming out of Microsoft are truly world-class. It simply makes sense for SYSPRO to be able to use great technology with top-notch functionality to have a winning formula for its ERP product.
I am, as Microsoft would put it, super excited about our future. It’s a pity I can’t use the tagline ‘SYSPRO reimagined’…