Analysis: What does Windows 8 have to offer the enterprise?

By Stuart Sumner
05 Jan 2012 View Comments
Windows 8

The next version of Microsoft's operating system (OS), Windows 8, is widely expected to be on sale later this year, and although Microsoft has yet to reveal the release date, it has stated that the latest beta version will appear next month.

An early beta version released last year to help developers build apps for the environment, revealed an user interface (UI) that appears to owe much to Apple's iOS, designed for mobile touch-screen devices.

Further reading

But should the new OS be regarded as a necessary and urgent upgrade for enterprises?

Richard Edwards, principal analyst at Ovum thinks not.

"I don't think the enterprise is the ideal place to be experimenting with a new OS. The traditional, more hesitant IT manager will wait to see how it pans out on the consumer market."

He added that he expects Microsoft to roll out to one or two early adopters, most likely recognisable firms, but that the majority will wait until well into 2013 before deciding whether to deploy it.

Edwards believes that this is partly because Windows 7 is doing a good job running corporate laptops and desktops. However, he argues that the new OS could see some traction running enterprise tablets.

"Large organisations have a wide range of business and user requirements, a significant portion of which can be catered for by the tablet market. IT managers will be looking at Windows 8 with this in mind."

One problem that Microsoft will find is that the tablet market has become a battle of two giants; Apple's iOS and the Android OS. Edwards argues that breaking this duopoly could be a challenge for the software giant.

"It's going to be very tricky for Microsoft to compete. The user experience will be fundamental to the success or failure of the OS. If the experience doesn't surpass that which we're already used to, Windows 8 will be regarded as a lame duck."

He added that the issue will be compounded by the fact that Microsoft will need to provide ongoing support for the OS, whether it succeeds or fails.

"Since they'll need to support it for years to come, the lame duck could quickly turn into a white elephant."

End-user experience

Fast food outlet McDonald's is one firm intending to try out Windows 8. UK IT director Mark Fabes said that he has already been trialling the developer version.

"We have been trialling Windows 8 on a couple of devices using the developer version, so it is likely that we'll trial the full version this year, but only on tablets," said Fabes.

He added that his experience with the OS so far has been positive, praising its interface and performance.

"We are starting to look at the opportunities and benefits that Windows 8 might deliver and our key focus will be in the mobile worker space, particularly with regard to tablet computing."

The fact that Fabes has not yet considered the OS for his desktops chimes with Edwards' view that the OS will mostly be used to run tablets, at least initially.

Relying on the ecosystem

Ultimately the success of the OS will come down to the Microsoft ecosystem. Unlike Apple, which provides both the hardware and OS for its devices, Microsoft relies more heavily on its partners for the end-user experience.

Edwards explains that this can be a strength, as it encourages more diversity.

"That choice and flexibility within the ecosystem allows more market segmentation and choice. There's plenty of opportunity for Microsoft and the ecosystem to do well."

So what are the implications for Microsoft if Windows 8 proves not to be a success? Edwards believes the company itself is safe, but that this is not necessarily true of its leaders.

"If it fails to deliver the kind of experience that investors were expecting then this will be significant in the long term. Microsoft is affluent enough to survive in the short term, but the failure of Windows 8 could lead to the early retirement of some senior management.

"One could not imagine Steve Ballmer receiving full backing from shareholders if Windows 8 turned out to be a flop like Vista."

He added that 2012 is also likely to reveal whether the firm's £5.2bn acquisition of Skype in May 2011 was strategically wise.

"Ballmer is playing the blackjack table and the roulette wheel at the same time. If one is successful then shareholders might forgive him the other, but if both flop then he might well go into early retirement."

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