Windows 8 earns a second chance in enterprise after changes

Windows 8.1's boot-to-desktop, Start button restoration removes businesses' biggest objection, argues analyst

Microsoft will have another shot at tempting businesses to try Windows 8 after it rolls out the "Blue" update later this year, analysts said Thursday.

Windows 8.1, as the free update has been branded, will ship as a preview on June 26, the first day of Microsoft's BUILD developers conference, and release in final form later this year -- probably in October, a year after Windows 8's launch.

Among the changes debuting in Windows 8.1 are an option to boot directly to the "classic" desktop, bypassing the tile-style Start screen, and the restoration of the iconic Start button, which will be visible by default on the Windows 7-esque desktop.

Those changes, along with the update's appearance, will be enough to tip the scales for enterprises, argued Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

"By putting the Start button on the desktop, and offering boot-to-desktop as well, Microsoft is removing the major objections of enterprises to Windows 8," said Moorhead. "The basic objection is that Windows 8 requires [employee] retraining, but with those in place, you won't have to retrain."

Moorhead's argument relies on the fact that with Windows 8.1's modifications, companies can set Windows 8 on traditional PCs to be much more like Windows 7, the veteran enterprise operating system that powers an estimated two-thirds of all corporate computers worldwide. It also allows them to minimize, although not avoid, the "Modern" user interface (UI) and its radical, touch-first design.

He also pointed out that Windows 8.1, the first update to Windows 8, is in some ways analogous to a service pack, the term Microsoft previously used for bug-fix roll-ups. Historically, enterprises waited until SP1, or Service Pack 1, before beginning deployments or aggressive testing of a new version of Windows.

That rule of thumb still applies, Moorhead said. "By removing that major objection [of retraining], along with this 'service pack,' you will have many more businesses comfortable deploying Windows 8."

Moorhead expects that enterprises will start testing Windows 8 after the launch of Windows 8.1, and begin deploying the upgrade in numbers in 2014.

Also yesterday, Wes Miller, of Directions on Microsoft, expressed some optimism about Windows 8.1 and its impact on businesses. "It will ... possibly help corporations or businesses that may have hesitated," said Miller. "It may be enough for some to skip Windows 7 and upgrade straight to Windows 8. It may be enough of a change that they look at that. If so, it would be a huge win for Microsoft."

Moorhead and Miller, however, are at odds with other analysts, who have said that enterprises will bypass Windows 8 for multiple reasons, not least because many are in the midst of an upgrade to Windows 7 or have just finished that expensive chore.

David Johnson, of Forrester Research, for instance, recently said Windows 8 is a "non-starter" because IT managers see little value in switching from the proven Windows 7.

Windows 8.1 and the second-generation tablets that it will spawn should also improve Microsoft's mobile chances in the enterprise, Moorhead maintained, citing devices from Hewlett-Packard and Dell powered by Intel's Clover Trail architecture. "A more mature OS, and lot better tablet platforms could gain some tremendous share of the tablet market [for Microsoft]," Moorhead said.

As a pair of analysts from Directions on Microsoft did yesterday, Moorhead said Microsoft should be praised for reacting to user complaints by making changes in Windows 8.1, and applauded for moving quickly -- for the giant developer, at least -- to ready the update.

He also echoed the Directions analysts -- Miller and Michael Cherry -- in his hope that Microsoft would aggressively recruit developers for Windows 8 Modern apps at the BUILD conference a month from now.

"Microsoft really needs to make its case to developers at BUILD," said Moorhead, who has been a long-time critic of the Modern app ecosystem and the quality of the apps that have so far reached the Windows Store. "There's no better venue than BUILD to make their case, especially to tier-2 developers, like the Comcasts, the Time Warners, the apps that are important to people."

Moorhead even saw Microsoft's strategy in its bit-here-bit-there revelations about Windows 8.1 and its contents. "I think this communication [the disclosure Thursday of some of the update's changes and new features] was timed to take a major objection off the table before BUILD," said Moorhead. "It goes a long way to give some assurances to app developers, and will make them willing to take action and willing to change their thinking about Windows 8."

BUILD will run June 26-28 in San Francisco, and if Microsoft follows past practice, the conference will kick off with a live-webcast keynote Wednesday, June 26.

This article, Windows 8 earns a second chance in enterprise after changes, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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