Windows, the decades-long darling of most businesses, has come face-to-face with a brave new world in enterprise computing as Windows 8 launches.
It didn't happen overnight but the BYOD (bring your own device) trend that developed with the arrival of sophisticated non-Windows tablets like the iPad and smartphones like the iPhone and Android phones, has in many ways hijacked enterprise IT. It has put the power of device choice in the hands of employees.
It doesn't help Microsoft that the iPad is being deployed at many enterprises due to user demand and that the PC-only OS Windows 7 is well-liked by businesses and consumers who are in no rush to upgrade to Windows 8.
"Windows 7 is the OS of choice for enterprises right now, and most are in the middle of their transition from XP to 7 and not ready to invest in another migration," says David Johnson, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "Our data show enterprise IT interest in Windows 8 at half the level that it was for Windows 7 at release."
No Windows Vista to Spur Demand
The arrival of Windows 7 in Oct. 2009 came under much different circumstances; it was the follow-up to the scorned Windows Vista, so there was pent-up demand for Windows 7 in the enterprise. In addition, when Windows 7 came into the world, there was no iPad and smartphones were not as sophisticated as they are now (Android was in its infancy in 2009). Windows 7 was not competing with an assortment of touch devices, but Windows 8 is.
As a result, Windows 8 will face more scrutiny, say Forrester analysts. Because consumers have more viable non-Windows tablets, smartphones and Macs to choose from, Windows 8 will be assessed by customers in a different light with little patience for Microsoft's usual complexity, as Forrester vice president and principal analyst Frank Gillett recently wrote in research report entitled "Windows: The Next Five Years."
"Until smartphones arrived, Microsoft ruled the PC industry roost," writes Gillett. "Now smartphone and tablet sales, where Microsoft has little share, vastly outnumber PC sales. Microsoft has made bold technology, business and design choices for the Windows 8 launch. But the two user experiences [Windows 8 and Windows RT] and four processor choices will be difficult to digest."
Indeed, there will be growing pains as Microsoft tries to sell Windows 8 on touch devices and distribute apps in a new way through the Windows Store, writes Gillett.
Based on these and other challenges, Forrester predicts the following:
The choice of four CPU architectures between Windows RT and Windows 8 devices and the resulting tradeoffs will confuse users and slow tablet and laptop uptake.
Tablet and touch buyers will like the Windows 8 UX ("Metro") but many conventional PC buyers will be put off by it.
It will take a year for ISVs to fully stock the Windows Store with a range of apps.
Microsoft will struggle to communicate the richness and complexity of Windows 8, and that messaging will have to go through several iterations while Microsoft, OEMs and retailers work through how to create a message that works.
Such challenges will lead to slower than usual Windows upgrade cycles, writes Gillett.
Businesses, ISVs Will Wait for Windows 8 to Mature
"Enterprises will simply wait on Windows 8 for the next year or so, except for trials with tablets that will produce a flurry of attention but won't stimulate early large-scale migrations to Windows 8."
Yet by the same token, calling Windows 8 "Vista part 2" is wrongheaded, according to Gillett, because there is little sign of compatibility problems, which was one of Vista's major shortcomings.
Instead, Gillett predicts, Windows 8 will take a year or so to penetrate the market. In 2013, he writes, ISVs will work through the new Windows 8 UX and wait as the apps ecosystem and the Windows Store mature; hardware makers, meanwhile, will hedge their bets on Windows 8 and hold out for the next generation of Intel chips, codenamed Haswell, and release new Windows 8 devices with new Intel chips in the fall of 2013, writes Gillett.
"We believe it will take a year for customers and the Microsoft ecosystem to digest the transformation of Windows and that 2014 will be the year that Windows 8 gains firm market traction in conventional and touch devices, and by 2016 it will gain almost a 30 percent share of tablets."
But today, Microsoft's greatest challenge lies in enduring a year or so of Windows 8 growing pains on touch devices and while it continues to motivate developers to create Windows 8 apps against stiff competition from iOS and Android (which it is doing this week at its annual BUILD 2012 developers conference).
And then there's that whole BYOD phenomenon.
"I think, in the end, Microsoft's greatest risk still lies in whether or not consumers and BYOD employees will like Windows 8 well enough to choose it over the alternatives for tablets," says Forrester's Johnson.