Five years ago I wrote an article for Clarion Magazine on why Clarion developers should care about Vista and why they should be checking their apps for compatibility with Vista.
With Microsoft releasing Windows 8, it's deja vu all over again. So here's my rant updated for 2012.
Rose colored glasses
If you're looking at Windows 8 as just another giant hassle cooked up by the friendly folks in Redmond (you know, because it's their job to make your life miserable), try again. Frankly, if Windows 8 truly makes your life miserable, your business model could use some work, but that's a story for another column.
Ok, wise guy...
So how do I think you should view Windows 8? In my view, these products present a huge opportunity for some vendors right now, and a pretty good opportunity for most everyone else for the next year. Why? Because one thing that sets any business apart from others (it's not like a software company is "different") is doing things that competitors are too stupid, too ignorant, or too lazy (or some combination of all three) to do.
Here's why I think Microsoft's new products present an opportunity:
If you're ahead of the competition, the last thing you want to do is slack off and coast because you're the leader. The more things you do that your competitors are too lazy, ignorant, unimaginative, or unwilling to do, the more likely they will fall farther and farther behind you.
If you're in the hunt for the lead, but not yet the leader, you are apparently doing a number of things right, or at least you're no worse off than the rest of the leading vendors in your market. You still need to differentiate yourself from the leader, unless you like your view of the lead dog. Being first to market with an app that is tested and ready for Windows 8 is one way to do this, and demonstrates several things.
It shows that you are the up and coming vendor to watch. You are the first to market.
It shows that the leader is being complacent, compared to you.
It (more or less) forces your competitor to consider altering their development plans, or face the pleasure of having you "poke the bruise" about being the new leader in the. Either way you win because when they react they have to divert resources and alter their plans. Meanwhile, you are moving forward as planned, not as a reaction.
If you're substantially behind the competition, do you really expect to catch up with them by doing the same thing they do? I doubt it. You have to stand out. You have to be better than they were in every way you can conceive, and you have to invent new ways to be better. You have to create apple-orange comparisons, because you can't (yet) win the apple-apple comparison. Being lazy is no way to catch up, much less take and keep the lead.
A not-so-short Clarion bedtime story
Finally, let me tell you a true story that illustrates why your choices in dealing with these new releases during the beta cycle (or otherwise) matter.
A few years ago when Windows XP was in beta, I installed it on my laptop as soon as it became available on MSDN. My primary development machine was a desktop at my office so this wasn't a huge inconvenience to me, but it still provided plenty of testing opportunities in the evening and on weekends when I was working with Office, messing around on the 'net, or coding.
I took that laptop home in the evenings, and I always kept it in sync with my desktop, at least as far as Clarion and my source code were concerned. This gave me an extra offsite backup, a ready-to-use development center in case of a fire, theft or other disaster at the office, and it allowed me to work from home or out of town as necessary on an exact copy of the current "gold" code.
The lessons learned and fixes made during the beta cycle on that laptop allowed my company to be ready for XP the day that the gold release was put up on MSDN, a full two months before it came back from manufacturing and became available to the public. It also allowed us to tell clients who also were testing XP betas that we were testing, we were ready, and not to worry. Those clients were the ones calling to ask what we were doing and if we had said "waiting for XP Gold" that would have left them wondering about how serious we really were about our business.
Why should I care if my clients worried?I don't know about you, but I care about my clients' worry level a lot. I look at it this way: If my products and services cause my customer to lose sleep, or cause them to wake up at 2 am thinking about me, I'm in big trouble. You don't ever want to be that vendor.
The payoff came at a trade show during the XP Beta 2 cycle. My laptop was also used for driving the demonstrations that we performed in the booth at trade shows. We were in Biloxi doing a show and a prospect came up and started crowing to my salesperson about his use of XP Beta 2 and how he was ahead of his competition and so on. I heard this and since we hadn't started the demo yet, I decide to have a little fun. While he was talking to a salesperson I quietly switch the XP beta into "Windows 2000 mode", i.e. no pretty menus, no big red X in the corner of the screens, etc.
The demo started and soon the prospect began to complain about all the software vendors at the show, how they were so lame because they couldn't tell him when they would be ready for XP and so on. Finally he started riding me about it, because I was "obviously" doing a demo on Windows 2000 just like all the other lame vendors.
I let him dig his hole for a few more minutes, and as he started to rag on me a little bit more about XP I asked him to hold on for a moment. I hopped over to the control panel and told Windows to start running XP in "pretty mode" (the red X, fading menus and all that). I shared with him that I've been testing with XP since Beta 1 and that we will be there with a new build the first day that XP Gold is available on MSDN, two months before most people would even have XP. All along he thought we were in Windows 2000, but in fact we had been demoing all weekend in XP Pro Beta 2. He started doing a little dance in the booth. No, there wasn't any music.
As you might expect, I got that guy's two grand and change right then and there, plus he brought other friends (who were also in the same business) back to our booth to show them how smart he was to buy from the only vendor who was ready for XP before it was even released.
The good part?
The good part is that this client became an unpaid evangelist. Everywhere he went, it was "us, us, us". Sure, he wanted his peers to know that he was smarter than them, but we were the real beneficiary of his evangelism, evidenced by the number of people who mentioned his name when they spoke with us.
If you are waiting, waiting, waiting and thinking "well, none of my competition is ready, so I don't have to be either" or "all my clients are still running windows 98 and 2000 so I don't care", you need to turn that logic around. It really wasn't that hard to turn a negative (having to retest everything, redo all the screen shots in my docs to include that red X, etc.) into a big positive and a competitive advantage. Set yourself substantially apart from your competition as the "vendor that is always ready, so we don't have to worry".
Rub your hands together
Maybe 95% of your clients are on Windows98 right now, but what happens when that request for 2000 seats comes in? You know, the one that requires Windows 8 support? It does happen. Your reaction is either <expletive deleted>, or "heeheehee" followed by rubbing your hands together because you know your stuff is the only product that matches the requirements.
I'm absolutely not suggesting that you upgrade every machine in your shop to Windows 8 right now. That's not the approach to take. I'm suggesting that your lead developer (or your only developer) switch to Windows 8 on at least one of the machines they use regularly so that they can start learning the issues, feeling the pain and solving the problems before they become problems to your clients. These days, it's easy to fire up a new virtual machine and test Windows 8 without impacting other systems.
The bigger picture
You are more than a software vendor of a product or system to your clients, or at least you should be. You should be the vendor they ask first about changes in the industry because they simply assume that you are ready, based on your past behavior. You must become known as an authority in your industry, because if you aren't, someone else will be. Position yourself through your behavior as the indispensable expert and you become the one whose solutions everyone thinks they have to have. Or you could be the other vendor. It's your choice.
This isn't about being the smartest person in the newsgroups. You simply have to be better prepared, more experienced and more up to date on what's new and what's coming around the bend than any client or prospect. There's an old saying that describes the situation perfectly: "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." There's a lot of opportunity in being the only vendor who is ready for Windows 8.
Preparation has several other benefits:
If your competition is one of those "wait and see" vendors who will test Windows 8 when they start getting complaints about it (maybe), then you have another slight edge with which to weaken their pitch and strengthen yours.
It's not just about Windows 8, but about being there for your clients in general. You're the vendor who makes sure that your stuff works when your client has to buy a new PC that comes with Windows 8 on it.
You're the vendor who can proactively give your customers purchasing advice and talk about your experiences with Windows 8 in your newsletter (and you have to have a newsletter, even if it's just an emailed one), giving them the clear impression that you are on top of things in your industry and eventually, the only one to trust.
Keeping on top of important software releases like Windows 8 gives your customers confidence, confirms to them that they made the right choice, and makes it easy to get that next year's support/upgrade contract payment.