Are businesses planning to skip Windows 8?

With Windows 8 being available to some Microsoft customers already through MSDN and Volume Licensing, it’s already being suggested that businesses are going to stick with the more familiar and established Windows 7.

Almost everyone knows that Windows 8, from a UI standpoint, is a different beast compared with Windows 95 right through to Windows 7. The Start Button and Menu are officially gone, replaced with the Start Screen. While not overly different, it’s going to be a culture shock for most of the users who are familiar with their current version of Windows.

In a corporate environment, the challenges are going to be different from those faced by normal consumers buying a PC from PC World. Training is going to be a necessity, as with the introduction of the Start Screen; it’s going to be the first time since Windows 95 that users will have to be given guidance on where their applications are located, how to access their printers and devices and even how to change the screen saver or desktop background. Although the desktop is available, most users will still need help in operating the Start Screen.

Adam Noble, chief information officer for GAF in Wayne, NJ has said:

The interface for a tablet is very nice. On a laptop, it’s more difficult to use.

It’s true that the interface is designed to be operated on touch devices, and that using a standard desktop does not pose many problems in navigating the Start Screen with a keyboard and mouse, but what side of the fence would laptop users sit? A touchpad or nipple mouse is sometimes awkward and slow to use compared with a standard mouse in Windows, so what’s the experience like in Windows 8? Will speed and productivity be compromised for what some businesses see as simple aesthetics? Mobile users are going to be the most affected by the interface. So how does a company get round that?

Peter Hendel, associate director of the global business services arm of Proctor and Gamble has one idea:

We believe today as a tablet, the iPad gives us a strong combination of functionality, security and price.

Proctor and Gamble already have over 5,000 iPads in use among its sales people, executives and mobile workforce. It’s this trend that’s seeing the tablet, or more specifically, the iPad being adopted by companies instead of a Windows based PC. Also, with companies adopting a more relaxed attitude to the ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) strategy, some users are present their IT departments with iPads and Android tablets, asking them can they use these instead.

Apple's iWork indicating the iPad is ready for the corporate world

Forrester Research surveyed a number of companies and found that about one third planned to adopt Windows 8 eventually, while 57% either haven’t considered it or plan to skip it altogether. Windows 7 was different in that two thirds of companies in 2009 planned to adopt eventually and only 28% either hadn’t considered it or planned to skip it altogether. Is Windows 8 going to suffer the same fate as Vista?

Companies weren’t taken with Vista either. It was notoriously incompatible with older hardware and software, with even some new hardware not having correct drivers. Performance wasn’t great either. This put companies off. But Windows 7 was what Vista should have been, so spending thousands (or in some cases millions) of dollars upgrading software to operate with Windows 7, factoring in the performance gains over Vista, and the security improvements over Windows XP was something that pushed the adoption rate of the OS up. Would companies be willing to spend the money again to get application compatibility?

VMware’s vSphere client doesn’t work under Windows 8 and Citrix Receiver is hit or miss, both most likely due to Internet Explorer 10. Those are two major pieces of software that businesses and their IT staff will rely on to do their jobs. But then the responsibility to update the software lies with Citrix and VMware, not Microsoft. They have no doubt been aware of the compatibility issues in Windows 8, but you have to wonder why they haven’t been updated yet.

But with all the negativity surrounding the OS, it’s not without its fans. Joe Simon, chief technical officer of Advance Publications Inc.'s Condé Nast (New York publisher of Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines) is a fan.

I think it's the best operating system we've seen out of Microsoft for a long time.

To save on costs, Condé Nast stuck with XP for most of its 3000 user base, but according to Simon they plan to migrate to Windows 8 “as soon as possible”. The company have around 5,000 iPads in use and Simon has said that he is “agnostic” about whether to switch the iPad users to Windows tablets.

But Microsoft are certain that the initial resistance can be overcome and that the benefits Windows 8 bring are worth the learning curve. Erwin Visser, senior director of the team who oversee Windows for the corporate environments has said:

We're confident about the value we can deliver.

The Lenovo Twist, a Windows 8 laptop/tablet hybrid

The real benefit to Microsoft will be the holiday season. With the Surface pre-orders selling out quickly and PCs, laptops, hybrids and tablets going on sale on the 26th October, most people who get a new computer from Samsung, Dell or Lenovo (desktop or mobile) for Christmas are likely to get Windows 8. With those sales, Microsoft can only hope that a positive user experience at home will help persuade employers to adopt the OS sooner rather than later.

Source: WSJ | Images courtesy of Microsoft, Windows Blog, Apple and Lenovo

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