To say Windows will be at the center of U.S. military action is wishful thinking

The U.S. government, which usually is very slow to adopt new technologies, signed an agreement to move much of the Department of Defense to Windows 8. The three-year, $617 million deal for up to two million seats is a good proxy for where American business users are headed. Or is it? Microsoft of course hopes it is, but I think that’s far from a sure thing.

This isn’t just trading Windows XP for Windows 8. The U.S. Navy, which isn’t (yet) included in this deal, only recently signed its own agreement with Microsoft to take the fleet to Windows 7. But Windows 8, being touch-enabled and running all the way from smartphones to super-clusters, is something more. It represents the U.S. government’s best guess as to how it will embrace mobile.

You can read the announcement here. Access to all Microsoft products, blah, blah, blah, but what stands out is the continual use of the term "mobile". This is new.

Windows-to-Go

Here is how this revolution plays out, according to my friends who watch this stuff all day every day. Microsoft has a long relationship with the government as a trusted vendor that will do what's to make its products secure. Microsoft has had FIPS 140-2 certification for RSA and AES since Windows 7. The Windows 8 you and I get with out HP or Dell PC doesn’t include the special security stack that will come with these new government PCs. So Windows, however pedestrian, is viewed by the government as good from a security standpoint.

Android, Linux, and to some extent OS X, are viewed as bad.

iOS, while just as bad as OS X in the view of internal government experts, is in a different category because of internal politics. If you combine phones and tablets iOS is the number one platform in both market share and customer satisfaction. That means if the general loves his iPhone he’ll get to keep his iPhone. Same, probably, for Blackberry. Look for the military Windows environment of the future, then, to allow the use of these devices in an otherwise Microsoft-centric world.

Traditional PCs play a relatively minor role in this emerging view of military computing with the most common device being a tablet or a smartphone. The military, which has played with Windows-based tablets for months, really likes them but hardly anyone else does.

Where a traditional desktop is required it will be with the use of Windows-to-Go (WTG), a USB keychain drive that carries a complete personalized Windows desktop. Every soldier and civilian DoD employee will have his or her personal WTG thumb drive. Desktop PCs will be effectively blank and shared by anyone who is allowed in the room.

What enables WTG is Bitlocker, which is FIPS 140-2 certified. Kingston, Spyrus, and Imation all have workspace USB drives.  These and Clover Trail tablets from Intel are viewed as the game changers.

Now this view of the future is very hopeful for Microsoft, but how likely is it to either succeed or become an archetype for non-military organizations?

Personal LAN

I’m not sure many non-military organizations will embrace WTG. It makes sense from both a security and an efficient hardware utilization standpoint, but other than consulting companies I don’t see private employees wandering deskless through their workdays.

I see, too, a possible source of delusion here for Microsoft. Redmond just announced that it has 20 million Win8 users, for example, but how many of those are from this DoD contract? That number could be up to two million yet not a single Win8 copy has yet been shipped under the contract. And those rave tablet reviews coming-in from the front lines, those are compared to what?

If there’s a big picture here I think it has been missed by the military itself. That big picture says that CPUs have reached the price point where we can all afford several of them. The new soldier with his smartphone, tablet, and WTG key will travel with at least three microprocessors where he or she had before at most one.

Soon everything will have a CPU and each soldier will be a LAN of one. In this regard I think the emerging military situation mirrors private industry. But to say that Microsoft will inevitably sit in the center of all that action may just be a lot of wishful thinking on the Pentagon’s (and the company’s) part.

What do you think?

Reprinted with permission

Photo Credit: Joe Wilcox

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