A recent Forrester report was entitled “IT Will Skip Windows 8 As The Enterprise Standard.” It said that most IT shops are still too focused on deploying Windows 7 to tackle Windows 8.
There are a couple of clarifications to be made here. First this statement is most likely true for the enterprise-class shops but the Small and Medium Business (SMB) shops don’t have much choice. The enterprise-class shops have Microsoft Enterprise Agreements (EAs) or Software Assurance (SA) that give them downgrade rights from Windows 8 to Windows 7. And their PC hardware vendors offer this downgrade service before the new PCs are delivered to the enterprise so the enterprise likely has not seen Windows 8. SMBs on the other hand have to buy through the Value Added Reseller (VAR) or even the retail market. The entry Windows 8 edition does not have downgrade rights.
Secondly, enterprise-class shops should be well on the way to replacing Windows XP systems with the looming end of support of April 8, 2014. With a 5 year replacement cycle they would have just 20% of PCs left on Windows XP. Even that is probably an acceptable risk and there’s still a year to go.
But back to the topic. What will be Windows 8’s role in the enterprise down the road?
Clearly Microsoft has hit some resistance in the forced march of Windows 8 to use the Modern UI (formerly known as Metro).
During a recent earnings call Microsoft's outgoing CFO Peter Klein said that Windows 8.1 (“Blue”) will address customer feedback that Microsoft has been collecting about Windows 8 and Windows RT. Subsequently Microsoft has stated that they will restore the Start button and provide a boot to desktop option.
This seems to address the biggest training issue that Windows 8 is facing in the enterprise but unfortunately it’s a day late and a dollar short. Enterprises are hunkered down doing their Windows XP to 7 migration and don’t want or need to look up.
Windows 7 end of Extended Support is January 14, 2020 so looking at a 5 year refresh cycle, enterprises don’t have to commit to a replacement until early 2015.
Microsoft seems to be on a much more rapid upgrade strategy with Windows 8 so this will give enterprises several opportunities to see where Windows 8 will be delivering business value before committing to an upgrade choice.
Microsoft has an advantage over Apple in that Microsoft’s strategy seems to be to converge the kernel and UI for Windows across PCs, tablets, and phones. Apple still has no extant strategy to converge Mac OS and iOS. Clearly Microsoft’s strategy will lower their development and maintenance costs but it is not yet obvious that that will give them a competitive advantage given the diminutive market share of Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT.