Windows 8 may prove a hard sell in a world of BYOD

Microsoft has arrived at another benchmark on the path to Windows 8, announcing it has delivered its RTM (release to manufacturing) version of its new operating system. Conceived of for a world of mobile-first computing, the user experience of the new operating system marks a radical departure from previous iterations of Windows.

Microsoft is also entering its first refresh cycle where consumer choice will be influenced to a large extent by the consumer experience of non-Windows smartphone platforms, particularly Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Given the ubiquity of smartphones, and the fact that mobile phones are usurping desktop systems as the preferred Internet channel for consumers, this is the first time in a generation that the majority of Microsoft’s target audience is using someone else’s operating system on their primary personal technology platform.

That will also feed into the corporate refresh cycle. For organisations that have gone down the BYOD path, while Microsoft’s promise of easier and safer management through end-to-end Windows integration from the desktop to the tablet to the phone is appealing, it is no longer so straightforward. Indeed, the very idea of trying to unwind a BYOD policy and having to explain such a shift to staff might rightly fill CIOs and IT with dread.

According to Telsyte, “43 per cent of Australian businesses allow BYOD for notebooks, 40 per cent for media tablets and 54 per cent for smartphones.” And beyond this, it also says consumers are actively engaging in a bring-your-own-application (BYOA) trend due to the efficacy and availability of services like Dropbox.

According to Telsyte senior analyst Rodney Gedda, organisations that have been conservative with mobile tech and are heavily tied to investments in Microsoft enterprise software – from Exchange to SharePoint – are the most likely early candidates for Windows 8.

CIO Australia asked Gedda what he saw as the potential wins for corporate IT and what issues to be careful about. “The wins are potentially an integrated, support client OS that is relatively consistent across numerous client form-factors – from large screen all-in-ones to portable ARM-based smartphones and tablets.” However, “Enterprises need to be careful about legacy application compatibility [especially across ARM and x86 architectures], the radical change in user experience of Windows 8 compared with previous generations and the onslaught of BYOD that can obsolete traditional client machine refresh cycles.”

Gedda also held with the view that tactical deployments, rather than wholesale upgrades, are more likely, partly because many organisations are still yet to upgrade to Windows 7 or are currently happy with having just upgraded to 7.

“Given we are moving to a BYOD world and mobility is expected to be early driver of tactical W8 deployments, [IT departments have to consider] how well W8 will work with non-Microsoft devices, IOS, Android, and BlackBerrys,” Gedda said.

Yes, given Windows Phone 7 is already available and Windows 8 mobile devices are on the way, including Microsoft’s own surface tablet, portable computing is a likely entry point for Windows 8 in the enterprise, according to Telsyte.

“A lot of adoption will continue to be driven the way it always has – from OEM agreements with hardware makers.” Gedda said. “Microsoft still has the strongest presence on the desktop and given Microsoft is offering a low price for an upgrade to Windows 8 we can expect to see good adoption levels. As always, Microsoft has the option of ending support for previous generations of Windows which makes the decision to upgrade [or migrate away] a lot easier.”

Gedda offered a cautionary take on the new interface. “Once upon a time in IT there was a perception that you had to upgrade your systems every few year when the next version of Windows came out. And Microsoft to its credit has done a good job of backwards compatibility but it hasn’t been that innovative in refreshing the user experience – it’s all been pretty much the same. Windows 8 radically changes that,” he said.

“It might cause some disruption amongst the user base in some companies as users might be less comfortable using that kind of interface.”

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