Windows 8 is an enterprise 'non-starter' because IT sees no value in changes

Sticking with Windows 7, but companies must prep for BYOD presence, says Forrester

Windows 8 faces a number of hurdles in the enterprise, but the biggest reason it won't replace the current corporate champion, Windows 7, is simple.

"Enterprises just don't see Windows 8 having value," said David Johnson, an analyst with Forrester Research. "They don't see the value in the changes in Windows 8 [compared to Windows 7]."

Johnson, who authored a recently-published report that concluded enterprise IT will skip Windows 8 as a corporate-standard operating system, wasn't saying much new: Analysts have been predicting Windows 8 would face a tough sell long before the OS shipped last October.

Those prognostications cited everything from "upgrade fatigue" caused by ongoing efforts to purge networks of Windows XP machines to shortages of compelling hardware to stiff competition from Apple's iPad.

Johnson ticked off all of those.

But the value proposition was top on his list. "Windows 7 is proven," he noted, and fair or not, Windows 8 would have had to demonstrate major productivity improvements over that workhorse to have a chance at supplanting it.

And that's not something IT decision makers see in the upgrade, instead viewing it -- and its radical overhaul -- with suspicion. Their top concerns about the OS, according to Forrester's surveys, are the potential for significant end-user training and support, and the need to design in-house applications to leverage the new "Modern" user interface (UI). Just 7% of the nearly 1,300 IT professionals polled said that they believe the Modern UI is an improvement over Windows 7 and its traditional desktop.

"Windows 8 is a non-starter in the enterprise because of the UI changes," said Johnson.

However, Johnson acknowledged that Microsoft's problem in the enterprise did not entirely stem from the Modern UI, and its welding to the desktop. Timing was important, too. "This is an off-cycle release," he said, referring to the fact that companies have already spent capital on hardware refreshes for Windows 7.

This is an issue Microsoft has faced before: Many corporations have taken to adopting every other edition of Windows. For example, although Windows XP was already long in the tooth when Windows Vista debuted for enterprises in late 2006, businesses stuck with the former and largely ignored the latter.

The same will hold true with Windows 8, relegated to an also-ran.

But while IT decision makers are down on Windows 8, workers were much more positive about the moves Microsoft's made. More than a third of 9,800 workers surveyed in the fourth quarter of 2012 -- 38% -- said they'd choose Windows 8 as their preferred PC operating system, while 20% picked it as their preferred tablet OS.

While Johnson didn't go so far as to call those employee preferences -- and the ensuing PCs and tablets they might take to work -- a Trojan Horse, he urged enterprises, even those with no plans to adopt Windows 8, to prep for its support and inclusion in any bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy.

Windows 8, however, even if it's not widely adopted by corporate, will have an impact on IT, Johnson acknowledged, specifically Microsoft's decision to speed up the release tempo with its "Blue" project. The first of what Microsoft plans will be annual updates to Windows, named Windows 8.1, will release later this year, reportedly in October.

Blue may not affect enterprise IT immediately, not if Windows 8 is shunned as Johnson believes, but the annual cadence will at some point. Like other analysts, Johnson was unsure how enterprises would take to Blue, or even handle the annual updates.

"Blue gives Windows 8 a better chance of adoption," Johnson admitted. "But the success of that strategy depends on whether enterprises accept the new value in each update, and has much to do with the amount of differences from release to release. That's the central question."

If the differences between each update are relatively minor, Johnson said, enterprises would be more likely to accept those updates. But Microsoft will have to earn the confidence of corporate IT in its ability to deliver a solid product that doesn't break current workflow practices or applications.

That confidence building may take several update iterations, another rationale IT may use to distance itself from Windows 8 while it waits for the next major upgrade before considering dumping Windows 7.

Other analysts, such as Michael Silver of Gartner, have said much the same.

But Windows 8's rejection by enterprises, cautioned Johnson, does not mean that either Microsoft or PCs are destined for the dustbin. "PCs are not going away," he maintained. "And there will be a Windows OS in enterprises for years to come."

It just won't be Windows 8.

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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

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