We already know that Microsoft is working on Office 15 for use with Windows 8. We know that Office will be largely a desktop application, but will also have some modifications to make it more touch-friendly for use with Metro. We have to assume that this will happen with other applications, too. As of now, all this talk has been with relation to Windows 8 running natively on a device (PC, Intel tablet, ARM tablet, etc…), but what if we could use current technologies to remote those applications to other devices, too?
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Let's use Office in an example. Like most other Windows apps, Office pretty much sucks to use on a tablet. It's not Office's fault--it was made for use with a keyboard and mouse--but it's still a problem. Even though we can get a physical keyboard and fancy things that let us use our iPhones as touchpads for iPads, the end result is still a bit weird and requires us to carry around multiple devices. It passes in certain situations, but not for all-day use.
However, if Office 15, built with touch in mind, has a new interface that makes it easier to use on tablets, that begins to change how we use Office. I'm not saying that traditional Office goes away, or that tablets replace PCs, but I am saying that we no longer have to provide users with a sub-standard solution when they use a tablet.
What if we were able to remote Metro with touch-ified apps using standard remoting protocols like HDX, RDP, PCoIP, EOP, or Blaze? Then we could deploy touch-ified applications like Office 15 to other devices that use touch as the primary interface. iPads, Android tablets, and Windows 8 tablets would then all be able to use Office. All of a sudden we have happy users on tablets, and the users don't have to work so hard to find native apps that can read/write Office files because they have an app that can delivered from the datacenter and used in a native way.
Of course, there are some things we have to work out:
- Is it even technically possible to remote Metro apps? Citrix and Microsoft have been remoting traditional Windows desktops and applications for over 15 years, but is Metro different enough that it just can't be done the way I'm talking about?
- We still have to get multitouch support in these protocols. That seems like a relatively small hurdle, though, and something that we all assume is coming anyway.
- The apps (Office, in this case) won't work offline, so there's still room for the native apps. That's not a new problem by any means, though.
- Microsoft licensing might get tricky. If it all just works like it does today, that might not be the case, but if it requires some extra work, or if Microsoft sees this as a threat to their vision of Windows 8 (and the devices), they may get a little crazy with the licensing. Maybe I just have a bad taste in my mouth at the moment, though.
So, do you think it's possible? Does it even matter? In the case of Office, the fact is that we've been trying to switch to Google Docs or OpenOffice for years, but it's not happening because nothing is as good or as widely used as Office. It stands to reason that any way we can get Office on these devices is good, so I hope it works out. Of course, this could also be an opportunity to guide people towards Office 365, but they'd have to rework the interface there, too.