The Enterprise Is Unlikely to Jump on Microsoft's Metro

Microsoft recently released a developer preview of Windows 8, which Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows division, called a "bold re-imagination." For once, corporate hype is accurate; this new version of Windows is dramatically different from Windows 7, Vista and XP. Not that different always means better. Enterprises are going to be especially hard-pressed to see improvements in Windows 8. In fact, they might skip the upgrade entirely.

To understand why, let's take a brief look at the upcoming operating system. Windows 8 introduces an interface, which it calls Metro, that's completely different from anything ever seen in Windows before. (Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has more to say about Metro.) Based on the Windows Phone 7 tiled interface, Metro is clearly designed for tablets. When you boot Windows 8, you're dropped straight into the Metro interface, which is made up of many large, brightly colored tiles. The tiles can display changing information such as stock prices or social network updates -- whatever you prefer.

The tiles run full-screen, just like tablet or smartphone apps. They lack the usual Windows menus and controls and can't be resized. They're simple to use and clearly designed for consumers.

So where's the familiar Windows desktop? It's just another app. Click the Desktop tile, and you're sent into what looks very much like the familiar Windows 7 desktop, with the usual clickable icons for running apps, a taskbar with thumbnails and so on. There are some changes -- the Start menu has been ditched in favor of a Start button that brings you back to the Metro interface -- but in general, what you'll see there will be very familiar.

For enterprises, though, Metro is a problem. Upgrading to Windows 8 could require a significant amount of time to retrain people on how to use their computers. It could mean a lot of reprogramming. It could put a burden on help desk personnel. In short, it could be a migration nightmare.

And to what end? Metro doesn't seem to have any clear benefits for corporations. Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, told Computerworld that Microsoft hasn't "made the case yet that enterprises will want this."

One possibility is that Microsoft will allow enterprises or hardware makers to turn off Metro, or at least relegate it to the background and have users boot directly into the old, familiar Windows desktop. But in that case, what would enterprises get out of Windows 8? In the Developer Preview, at least, there's nothing new in the desktop and thus no reason for enterprises to upgrade.

It may well be that Microsoft is purposely ignoring enterprises with the release of Windows 8. Gartner analyst Michael Silver says that "Microsoft has implied that [Windows 8] would not drive an upgrade cycle. After all the work on Windows 7 deployment, organizations [are] looking for a little respite and [are] planning to take a break because of migration fatigue."

If that's the case, then Microsoft took this opportunity to design a consumer-centric operating system that's optimized for tablets -- an area where the company needs to play catch-up -- not for enterprises, where it remains strong and where migration fatigue may have set in.

So don't expect to see Windows 8 on your enterprise desktop. For a new version of Windows, you may have to wait for Windows 9.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

It’s time to break the ChatGPT habit
Shop Tech Products at Amazon