Taking Windows 8 into the Enterprise: The good, the bad, and the Modern UI

Image Credit: ShutterStock "business people sitting at a table for meeting with copyspace"

Windows 8 is a product that will define a new direction and open up a new revenue stream for Microsoft.  With its unique, hybrid style UI implementation, Windows 8 will dramatically change how we think of Windows going forward.

No matter your opinion on the OS, the direction is bold for Microsoft who for years acted conservatively when updating its Windows product. For many years, Windows updates were evolutionary, not revolutionary. Throwing caution to the wind, Microsoft took new steps in a direction and one customer is looking on with cautious eyes: Enterprise.

Over the past 5 weeks, Neowin had a unique opportunity to take Windows 8 (Release Preview) into the corporate environment and demonstrate the platform to decision makers within the IT department.  Our show-off extravaganza included 5 companies that span many different segments from manufacturing and consumer goods to public service. While we will not list the companies by name for numerous reasons, two of the companies have over 100k employees and bring in billions in revenue each year and the remaining three companies are private sector operations ranging from a few dozen employees to over ten thousand employees.

The point of the demonstration was not a sales pitch, but was simply to gain feedback on how the Enterprise segment was viewing Windows 8. For demonstration purposes, a Samsung Series 7 tablet was used running Windows 8 RP.

The typical meeting/demo would go something like this; I would ask who was familiar with Windows 8, what they knew/have heard about the platform and what their expectations for the upcoming OS would be. After talking through these points, I would then set the tablet on the table and let the folks in the room play with the device and try to understand how each entity could use this type of form factor in their corporations.

We would also try to answer any questions, demonstrate Windows 8 gestures and application process flow. The point of the meetings was to open the floor for conversation in the Enterprise environment, for better or worse, about Windows 8.

Their Background:

One of the first questions we asked was, “what do you know about Windows 8?” The answers varied as some had tried out the platform previews and others had simply read information from the web.

The consensus for Windows 8 fell into two buckets, “It works well” and “I’m really not sure this is for us”. The reason those two different opinions came out were mostly based on what the company was currently doing.

Some were writing off Windows 8 because they had either just finished up a Windows 7 deployment or were still in the process of migrating from Windows XP and the thought of supporting 3 versions of Windows at one time was “hernia inducing”.

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The Good:

During the demonstration process on the tablet, the form-factor/UI was praised as being the missing link between the iPad and the laptop. Nearly all involved loved the idea of docking at your desk, taking the tablet on the plane with you and then docking at a remote office and having everything you need with you at all times. The brilliance, as one individual described it as “one form factor, two UIs and everything I need including a stylus”.

Beyond the first thoughts which revolve around the UI, one IT head said that Windows to Go was the “bonzi buddy killer” that they have needed for decades. The fact that they can use W2G on older Windows installs was also highly regarded as it will help during transition periods where a company could have deployed multiple versions of Windows.

Building on W2G, the simple factory reset options will save time and reduce downtime. When you combine W2G and built in factory reset (some third-party vendors did have this option), it streamlines documentation and workflow to make “re-upping” machines a simple task.

Other positives about the platform was the fluidness of the Metro Modern UI, the easy task switching when being held (tablet), and the ability to jump between the standard desktop and the new UI.  Consistency across the apps was also a positive experience and the versatility of the form factor was described as “refreshing”.

When you put it all together, most individuals enjoyed the Windows 8 in the tablet that we brought. While it was understood that the RP was a pre-release and the final product would have more to love, overall the feeling was positive among the IT folks.

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The Bad:

The other side of the coin resulted in some interesting, but well known, observations. One individual who was generally positive about Windows 8 stated “Our help desk will need more staff if we roll this out” indicating that he expects there to be a significant increase in help desk tickets.

The point was profound, the general consensus was who was going to train all of the staff who are used to seeing the start button as an application launcher and not a dashboard for operating? While most agreed that progression is necessary in the desktop environment, all who attended these meetings hope that Microsoft gearing up for a mass-consumer education spree to ease their transitions into Windows 8, if they make the jump. Even with the RTM video demos on load-up, most pointed out that IT would be doing the installs and the end user will never see the videos showing how to use the new OS.

The cost to upgrade, beyond hardware, was the sticking point for most of the discussion. There was also a disappointment in the lack of Windows 7 having a tablet friendly interface with one IT professional stating “we just upgraded, at considerable expense, our hardware and software; Windows 8, to get the most out of that OS, would require us to go through that same change again in a very short timeframe”.

When posed the question of running Windows 8 tablets alongside Windows 7, the idea was met with mixed reactions. The consensus said that it was plausible, but not practical as supporting two platforms at the same time only adds confusion to help desk staff as well as employees; no single entity would rule out Windows 8 because of this.

The consortium also provided a few new insights saying that the “iPad is what our employees are familiar with” and “we can role them out with little training” and even if it is easier for our developers to build “applications for Windows 8 based on familiarity” it’s “easier to train 10 developers on a new platform than thousands of employees on a new OS”.

Wrap-Up:

The demoing of Windows 8 on a tablet gained a lot of attention as it fundamentally challenges the standard deployment practices for most of the folks we talked too. While there are certain obstacles with the OS,  the consortium agreed, with caveats, that Windows 8 is headed in the right direction and that the platform is built to support growth not legacy.

We will leave you with one thought an IT manager stated during his time with the tablet, he said, “I can see the potential here, the question we have to figure out is how do we take advantage of it and how do we get our staff onboard”.

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