Sunday, 28 October 2012 07:49

What Windows 8 means for the corporate world Featured

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Corporate – or enterprise – computing is very different to personal computing. When individuals buy computers they can pretty well please themselves.

When corporates buy computers, they must take many more factors into account.

Windows 8 is now a reality. Go down to your computer shop to buy a PC, and it will come loaded with Microsoft’s new operating system. But large organisations buy PCs en masse, and they can specify what operating systems they run.

Most try to maintain a standard operating environment – an SOE – to simplify maintenance and maintain applications uniformity. Moving to a new desktop operating system is a major undertaking,

Many large users skip one or even two versions of Windows. Many skipped Vista completely – for good reason – and quite a few are still running on Windows XP. With all the talk about Apple’s rise, and all the mobile computing platforms, and iOS and Android and Google net-based computing, and the burgeoning BYOD world, it is easy to forget that mainstream corporate computing is all about boring old Windows based PCs running boring old Microsoft Office and boring old corporate applications.

What does Windows 8 mean for this lot? Because Windows 8 is such a major departure from what they are used to, many will be reluctant to adopt it at first. Windows 7 is a pretty good operating system, and most large organisations are comfortable with it.

Much has been said about how Windows 8 represents a radical departure from the past. It’s a new paradigm that makes all existing operating systems obsolete, and that includes MacOS. So far, Windows 8 is living up to the hype. But is it too radical for corporate users?

Windows 7 had pretty well caught up with Mac, but both operating environments have their roots in the 1990s, or even earlier. Windows 8 makes the break and gives us a sophisticated operating system for the online and touchscreen world.

But it doesn’t matter how good Windows 8 is. Every time Microsoft upgrades Windows, large users must make the decision when, or even if, to upgrade. We will hear a lot in coming months about the difficulties Windows 8 will cause end users because of its unfamiliarity. But the real story, and the one that will make or break Windows 8 – and Microsoft – is its acceptance in the big end of town.

Fortunately, we have history to guide us. The behaviour of corporate computer users is reasonably predictable, because it is driven by underlying fundamentals that don’t change a lot over time. The most basic of these is conservatism – corporates invariably go for the safe option. No one can afford to bet the company – or their careers – on the decision to go with an untried operating environment.

That’s why Apple has never done real well in this market. In the mainframe days people used to say that “nobody gets fired for buying IBM”. Now it’s Microsoft.

So let me tell you what I think will happen. Most corporate users will initially resist the move to Windows 8, because it looks too radical and because Windows 7 is working fine. Meanwhile Windows 8 will slowly gain acceptance amongst consumers, who will gradually come to appreciate its many smart features.

Meanwhile lots of articles will be written about how Microsoft has lost its way and Windows 8 is an interface too far. Microsoft’s financial performance will suffer, and Steve Ballmer might even lose his job (time he went anyway).

But the power of incumbency is a wonderful thing. Microsoft has a virtual monopoly of the corporate desktop. Many corporates will stay with Windows 7 as long as they can, but when they come to their upgrade cycle they will have little choice but to go with Windows 8 (or, by then, its even snappier successor). Gartner believes only 20% of corporates will move to Windows 8 by 2015. I think the figure will be much higher than this - closer to 50%.

Microsoft had to do Windows 8. It had to change the interface paradigm. It has, in a very bold move. I think it will pay off, at both the consumer and corporate level, but not before a lot of pain and angst all round. But the alternative was slow death.


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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire. He is one of Australia’s longest serving and most experienced IT journalists. He is author of the only definitive history of the Australian IT industry, ‘A Vision Splendid: The History of Australian Computing.’

He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time weekly IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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