Windows 8 is already available to enterprise users, but does that mean they'll use it? Lifehacker chats with Gartner analyst David Mitchell Smith for an insight into how Windows 8 will penetrate larger workspaces, and why IT departments still don't like tablets.
LH: How much interest in Windows 8 are you seeing from larger organisations?
DMS: People are interested in understanding it right now, but I think in most enterprises they either have just finished their Windows 7 migration or they're in the process of it, and it's a little early for them to be thinking about anything broad like actually going to 8. The interest is in bringing in tablets. It's not mass upgrade of the entire organisation; it's 'let's bring in the tablets and integrate it to our environment and kick the tires and see what they do for us'. If they show there's a lot of value and the apps appear and people like it, then eventually they would look at more broad upgrades.
Microsoft faces a problem that is not necessarily a bad problem to have: a lot of people actually like Windows 7. It's the best system Microsoft has ever come out with, it works very well, and it's still pretty new, and it's even newer for enterprises. A lot of times it takes 18 months or more for enterprises to even consider going to something new, and when they do decide to move, it takes even longer.
But part of the issue is Windows 8 is optimised for tablets. It really is. The desktop is not what it was designed for and sometimes it gets in the way. It's a very good tablet environment; when you put it together with the desktop, it's what Microsoft tries to do: be all things to all people. When you try to do that, you have compromises.
Will we see the same trend of BYO Windows 8 tablets that has been evident with the iPad?
I don't see that happening any time really soon. There's one thing that could make a huge difference, which is if they come out at a very aggressive price point. But what drives consumer demand? Apps, and they won't have more apps than iPad. Music entertainment and games? They're not going to have more of that. Plus, the iPad has two to three years start. It's hard to visualise a scenario where a lot of people are going to bring Windows 8 tablets in overnight unless the price is extremely aggressive. It would have to be an order of magnitude better than an iPad for people to say 'I don't want my iPad anymore'. But there are still a lot of people that don't have iPads, and for that kind of an audience, it makes sense.
Will the emphasis on cloud storage (through SkyDrive) also create resistance within larger business deployments?
What Windows 8 offers with cloud integration may not necessarily fit with what enterprise IT wants, but it may well fit with what the users want. Certainly the main competition — Apple, Google — are doing the same kind of thing, so it's going to be the mainstream way eventually. Enterprise IT is going to have to deal with that, but if it were up to them, that isn't the way it would go.
What kind of adaptation strategies can enterprises use to control the proliferation of BYO devices like the iPad and apps like Dropbox?
There are a lot of different strategies. Most of them tend to take a 'don't ask, don't tell' kind of approach. They know it's going on, they don't actively encourage it but they don't actively block it. That's not necessarily the best way but it's the path of least resistance a lot of the time.
The more forward-thinking companies not only acknowledge it but they try to build it in and build procedures and policies around it, accepting it and managing it. The really forward-looking ones will try to find out ahead of time, before people go en masse to those kinds of services, to try and co-opt it to say: 'hey we have this too — if you need this capability we offer it and it's secure'. Sometimes that works better but it requires a lot of foresight.
Is Windows 8 a potential inflection point where that might happen?
It could fit that kind of a strategy. I think some companies are thinking about Windows 8 as an alternative to things that they don't necessarily want end users to adopt. They may think 'If we go with Windows 8, they won't want to bring in iPads anymore — they get it all there and by the way we can continue to manage it as if it were a Windows PC'. I don't know how successful that strategy will be. I think it's a reasonable thing to think about, but the reality is you're not going to be able to manage those systems the same way. You'll be able to manage them somewhat, but not the same way .
That's not necessarily a good approach. I think corporations need to let go a little bit and not necessarily manage things as tightly as they typically have.
Security is the usual reason for resisting BYOD and giving end users more choice. Has that ship now sailed?
There are a lot of reasons businesses don't want to let go. Often times it's job security more than data security. It's just the way they've done things and they don't trust and they don't want to let go. There's a lot of that. There are legitimate reasons in terms of data security for certain kinds of data and certain kinds of applications and industries. I don't want to belittle it and say its unimportant, but it's not always important as people would have you believe.
Businesses have often adapted to tablets through some kind of virtualised or hosted environment to access existing secured resources. Will that continue in a Windows 8 environment or will we see fresh solutions?
You can certainly continue to use those; people use Citrix and other kinds of remote access on Windows today. So there's no reason to believe that they wouldn't continue to want to use that in those kinds of environments when you have Windows 8, especially if you have certain requirements that may not be able to be supported natively in Windows 8. You go to a new browser, IE10, for instance, and you may have applications that require earlier versions of IE like 8 or even 6. If you have that, you're not going to be able to run those Windows 8 natively — you need some kind of a solution.
Are IE6 holdouts still a big problem?
There are still some. There's a lot less now than there were just a year ago. In the last year we've seen a big migration to Windows 7 which cut people off from IE6. That actually delayed a lot of organisations because it required them to address issues that they weren't planning for. A lot of them did their planning and just worried about native apps and they weren't necessarily looking at the web apps and they don't realise a lot of their web apps weren't really web apps, they were IE6 apps, which were Windows XP apps essentially.
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