Microsoft is about to make one of the boldest leaps in the company’s history with the launch of Windows 8. It’s a move that could redefine the way we look at an operating system that most of us have managed to stick with through thick and thin.
At the heart of Microsoft’s push is the slow but steady decline of the PC business as nimbler, mobile devices start to win over consumers and enterprises. The company’s answer to this mounting challenge has been to give the Windows workhorse an almighty reboot with a new interface, an emphasis on applications, security and most importantly, mobility. Windows 8 is going to be one of the biggest software launches of the year and with Microsoft set to give consumers a sneak peek into Windows 8 at the end of this month in Spain, the real question is how quickly will businesses look to upgrade?
XP still the runs the show
The reality in the Australian enterprise space is that most businesses are still running Windows XP. Given that XP’s successor Vista was notoriously difficult to deal with and had functionalities that were frankly too much trouble for too little payoff, most enterprise users understandably steered clear of it. The end result has been that most organisations geared their IT infrastructure around XP and have stayed loyal to it.
Surprisingly, the release of Windows 7 in 2009 didn’t really shake this loyalty and XP is still chugging along 10 years since its introduction in 2001. Windows 7 may be superior to Vista and XP but the OS has somehow failed to convince users to come onboard.
One reason for that is that users have so far managed to get exactly what they want out of XP. But with Microsoft set to pull the plug on XP in 2014 and Windows 8 knocking at the door, they now find themselves at a critical crossroads as they wait for the new system: do you upgrade to Windows 7 or stick with XP?
Anecdotal evidence would suggest that many are choosing the latter option despite the increasing presence of tablets and ultrabooks in the enterprise space. According to Rhys Evans, who heads up Thomas Duryea Consulting's Enterprise Information Systems business unit, more than half of his customer base is still on XP.
“The big thing is that XP still just works and those who upgraded to Vista ended up treating it like Vista and really didn’t get any benefit from them,” Mr Evans said.
Not quite up to speed
XP might just do the job but Evans argues that it’s just not up to speed when it comes to handling the deployment of newer applications and technologies. Things will only get harder as manufacturers and vendors start to wind up support.
“There are already some big challenges that organisations have to overcome around the way they deploy their applications and internal management systems and that’s only going to get harder, especially as new technologies are brought in,” he says.
It’s hard to deny the durability of XP and given the cost of an upgrade it’s easy to see why moving to Windows 7 doesn’t seem so attractive, but there are a couple of things to consider here. Firstly, Windows 8 isn’t just going to be a souped up version of the OS, it’s a brand new architecture.
The other is that realistically Windows 8 won’t be available for deployment until late 2013 when the first service pack is released, and by that time XP will be on its last legs.
The path to Windows 8
The final and perhaps most pertinent point is that Microsoft isn’t looking for Windows 8 to make an immediate splash in the enterprise space.
The brand new touch interface, Metro and the Windows on ARM (or WOA) initiative are designed to give users a full Windows experience on tablets but Microsoft’s focus is directed squarely at the consumer market. The mobility message of the new OS is designed to not only take the fight up to Apple’s iPad but also convince consumers that Microsoft has what it takes to stay in the game.
As far as enterprises are concerned, Windows 7 is still the one for Microsoft and will possibly remain so even after the release of Windows 8. That thinking is evident in the recent comments by Microsoft’s head of investor relations, Bill Koefed, who told Stifel Nicolaus analyst Tim Klasell that “the enterprise path to Windows 8 is through Windows 7.”
It really doesn’t get any clearer than that. Windows can’t wait to put XP to sleep and Windows 7 is being primed for enterprises, who are going to have to come on board whether they like to or not. So far there’s been very little incentive for them to do so but support is shrinking and mobile technologies aren’t a good fit for XP. Upgrading to Windows 7 now not only alleviates that situation but allows an organisation to prepare itself for the inevitable deployment of Microsoft’s brand new baby.