Microsoft's upgrade avalanche a challenge for IT pros

Corporate technology managers must take time when deciding on Windows, Office upgrade path

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In addition to the version for x86 PCs that use chips from Intel and AMD, Windows 8 will also come in a version for devices that use ARM chips. This version, now called Windows RT, will be built on the Windows 8 code base and will probably run mainly on tablets built on chips from ARM licensees Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments.

Like Windows 8 PCs for x86/64, Windows RT devices will be able to run Metro-style applications from the Windows Store created using WinRT APIs. WinRT stands for Windows Runtime and contains the API (application programming interface) library for building Metro-style applications.

However, Windows RT hardware will not run, emulate or port existing x86/64 desktop applications. Windows RT will include desktop versions of the upcoming Office 15 applications, like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, that have been designed for touch-based interfaces and for minimal power consumption.

Despite the broad availability of the beta version since late February, it is still too early for enterprises to be even considering adopting Windows 8, IDC's Gillen said.

"Windows 8 isn't even in Release Candidate code yet, so it's premature for most organizations to make any business decision about replacing Windows 7 with Windows 8. We need to see the finished product first," Gillen said.

Gartner's Silver believes that Windows 8 will largely be bypassed altogether, except in specific cases, such as in organizations that want to deploy Windows-based tablets to their users. It has become popular for users to come to work with their personal smartphones and tablets (mostly Android and Apple iOS devices), a trend known as "bring your own device," or BYOD. Microsoft wants to enter that party, but Windows is currently a small player in tablets and smartphones.

At hotel titan Hyatt, the work to upgrade desktops from Windows XP to Windows 7 began in 2009 and continues today. The company expects to complete the upgrade of all 34,000 desktops in North America by the end of this year.

Hyatt's CIO, Mike Blake, is very impressed with Windows 7, calling it "a great product." While not closed to Windows 8, Blake said there are still many unanswered questions about the new OS.

"I've wavered from one end of the Microsoft spectrum to the other. I was a hater and now I'm more of a proponent, and a lot of it has to do with Windows 7," he said.

Forrester also has found in its surveys that CIOs are moving their enterprises at a very quick and steady pace to Windows 7 and to Office 2010, according to Schadler. Almost 200 million copies of Office 2010 have been sold to date, according to Microsoft.

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