Windows investigate

Does Windows 8 make sense on business desktops? Tech chiefs are split

Microsoft is preparing for its biggest operating system launch for two decades - but tech leaders aren't convinced they need to jump on the bandwagon, at least not yet.

Microsoft has described Windows 8 as its most important new operating system for nearly two decades - a 'generational change' with a completely new user interface and a new emphasis on touchscreen computing.

Alongside the launch of its new smartphone operating system and its Surface tablet, Windows 8 is Microsoft's response to the vastly changed technology landscape it now inhabits. Tablets - most notably the iPad - are eating into sales of laptops and PCs and Microsoft is playing catch-up on both.

The commercial pressure on Microsoft demands that it responds with a new operating system that has the feature firepower to take on its rivals. And while consumers will have little choice but to adopt the new operating system because it will come as standard when they buy a new PC, that doesn't necessarily mean corporate customers will be rushing to adopt it.

Many businesses are still using Windows XP - a sturdy workhorse of an operating system launched way back in 2001. Others are just completing upgrades to Windows 7 which went on sale in 2009. Businesses tend to upgrade slowly because of the scale of their infrastructure, for example the need to ensure that other business applications will still work post upgrade. And the cost associated means CIOs need a good reason to upgrade in the form of clear business benefits, especially when budgets are so tight.

And IT chiefs polled by TechRepublic are split on the prospects for Windows 8, with some suggesting that the new features are actually off-putting rather than attractive.

When asked 'Does Windows 8 makes sense on business desktops?' TechRepublic's exclusive CIO Jury panel was split evenly suggesting that Microsoft will have to work hard to make a case for upgrading.

Cost is one issue that will hold organisations back. "Not in the current financial climate," said Richard Storey, head of IT at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust.

One of the most striking aspects of Windows 8 is a new user interface (UI) - gone is the Start button and applications are presented in a way that is similar to the Live Tiles seen on a Windows Phone device.

While smartphone users are used to this sort of user interface, Kevin Quealy, director of information services and facilities at Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia warned this change might put off enterprise customers.

"The new UI would inhibit users who are used to the traditional UI. I believe businesses will turn their backs on Windows 8 unless major changes are made. Users do not want a tablet experience when working on a desktop or laptop computer."

Similarly Mike Woodford, executive director of IT Technical Services USANA Health Sciences, said there is little interest for business in yet another upgrade so soon after Windows 7. "Our internal testing shows that there is little in the way of additional business value that comes with the very large learning curve for the average user due to the new UI, which lacks the intuitiveness (perhaps the familiarity) of the Windows interface that everyone is comfortable with.

He added: "We are seeing very little functional value for the cost of change and pain of user transition and training."

Microsoft may find that IT departments will need good reasons why they should take the time and effort needed for such a significant upgrade. Jeff Canon, CIO of Fire and Life Safety America said a company-wide upgrade to Windows 8 would be too disruptive at this time and said: "Test users in our company didn't like losing the Start button. Users stated it didn't feel as useable as Windows 7. They struggled a little bit adjusting to the new interface. Users are still excited about the potential to use the same OS and apps on their desktop/laptop and the Surface tablet but there's significant risk to short term productivity."

He added: "It's more likely that we'll deploy the tablets and then upgrade to Windows 8 on their laptop/desktop as users become comfortable with the new interface… if at all. Windows 7 works very well for us - no one here is jumping up and down to swap it out."

However, many of the CIOs said it will be the use of Windows 8 by consumers that will finally lead to enterprise adoption.

Afonso Caetano, CIO at J Macêdo has been testing Windows 8 for several months and said that while it will deliver "more advantages than any other version before", the impact to the regular desktop users will be "profound" which means a well-structured implementation project, including training and internal "selling" of the new productivity and integration features is needed. He also said use of the operating system is likely to start with mobile devices - such as Surface and cell phones and then after some time, spreading through the corporate desktops and notebooks.

Meanwhile Mike Roberts, IT director at The London Clinic, said success depends on the uptake of mobile devices: "As users turn to the new version, businesses must follow," while Tim Stiles, CIO at Bremerton Housing Authority, said "It will first become pervasive in the mobile environment, then migrate to the business desktop."

Adam Gerrard, CTO at Laterooms.com, said given that more of the workforce are using the latest technology at home, as well as bringing their own devices to work, it makes sense that they should be more productive using the newer interface that ships with Windows 8. In turn, he said, this should reduce the burden of training for new employees and the cost of providing support to them.

John F. Rogers, IT manager with Nor-Cal Products, said while he was not looking forward to another upgrade cycle and all the work it entails, he is intrigued to see how this particular operating system will fit into the business desktop ecosystem "since it is really a hybrid OS of sorts".

He explained: "Whether it makes sense will be dependent upon how well the two interfaces work together and whether the end user will be able to successfully make the transition and make it work for them. I'm sure there will be some resistance to change as there always is, but I do think that as computing moves toward other input mediums such as touch it will gradually become more the norm."

Kevin Leypoldt, IS director at Structural Integrity Associates, said he sees some "compelling features" for the enterprise in Windows 8 "the Refresh and Reset feature could cut down on reimaging time and costs, [plus] Windows to Go for portability, client-side Hyper V, Secure Boot and File History (to name a few)". But he added: "It's my opinion that this is a transitional OS for Microsoft. As so many technology pundits are saying Windows 8 may fall into the same pattern as ME and Vista."

But for Jerry Justice, IT director with SS&G Financial Services, it's an inevitable move for Microsoft: "They have to get away from the 'legacy' app delivery model to a more cloud-centric app model and touch is one requirement."

And John Gracyalny, VP IT at SafeAmerica Credit Union, said: "It makes as much sense as moving from Win2K to WinXP or from WinXP to Win7. Then only question is when, and that is driven by when my software vendors certify it."

This week's CIO Jury was

  • Jeff Cannon, CIO of Fire and Life Safety America
  • Afonso Caetano, CIO at J Macêdo
  • Dan Fiehn, group head of IT at Markerstudy Group
  • Adam Gerrard, CTO at Laterooms.com
  • John Gracyalny, Vice President - IT with SafeAmerica Credit Union
  • Jerry Justice, IT director of SS&G Financial Services
  • Kevin Quealy, director of information services and facilities at Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia
  • Mike Roberts, IT Director of The London Clinic
  • John F. Rogers IT manager with Nor-Cal Products
  • Tim Stiles, CIO at Bremerton Housing Authority
  • Richard Storey, head of IT at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust
  • Mike Woodford, executive director of IT Technical Services USANA Health Sciences

About

Steve Ranger is the UK editor of TechRepublic, and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, business and culture for more than a decade. Before joining TechRepublic he was the editor of silicon.com.

25 comments
Alan West
Alan West

I don't get it! Am I missing something here? I'm still using the traditional Vista Business platform for our business with a standard desktop background and "click-to-open" application icons. What's up with the silly childish tiles? That might be okay for kids who want to go right to Facebook, Instagram, play games or listen to music. But this new IU with it's ridiculous tiles for "games, photos, music, people, ect" may be great for my 12 year old daughter, but has no place in a professional business setting. Not to mention that graphic artists worked very hard to produce fantastic colorful desktop icons for all these programs, only to be replaced with a basic tile and very generic fonts to label the programs? Sounds like a step backwards to me! I understand you can minimize or customize the tiles and create your own desktop with these tiles. But you still got tiles! Really?

Looks like Microsoft was just trying to emulate the Android (Google Play) and appeal to kids or teenagers. It's a wonder they didn't call the system "Lollypop" like Android did with "Ice cream sandwich" or "Jelly Bean".

What, are we all kids here?

Ram Todatry
Ram Todatry

It is bad enough with bad furniture, poorly placed monitors, keyboards, mice, etc. Even with fully ergonomic setups, lots of people have back, neck, shoulder, wrist and other problems related to using computers. Now Microsoft has thrown another curve ball at their users. Bravo.

Arphenion
Arphenion

Stardock .com has it for 5 bucks called Start8. Complete with booting directly to the desktop and turning off "hot corners." Really, if anyone needs it, it's there. I'm sure more 3rd party programs will become available in time. It makes sense especially for a Desktop pc that does not incorporate a "touch" interface. It's so much more efficient as well (having the original Start Menu). Anyway, you want it? It's there. Go get it.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Wrong branch. Sorry; new puppy and not enough sleep.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

in this article is - 'They'll get used to it at home and want it at work.' Well, if that's the case, with all the people getting used to iPhones and iPads at home, why haven't the organisations they work for converted to iMacs at work to get the same feel? The answer is simple, the way you work standing in the street doing something quick and simple like check the bus timetable on the Internet, is NOT the way you work at your desk with lots of documents around you as you check them, be they electronic or paper. The need to have multiple documents open where you can see significant parts of them at the same time is a key work factor today, and has been for many years. Yet this is NOT something Win 8 allows you to do. Win 8 was designed solely for smartphones and tablets with a total disregard of the desktop environment needs, thus it fails big time in the desktop environment and Microsoft are making NO effort to fix that problem beyond saying 'Stiff, get used to it.' To date, the enterprise answer has been NO, and they're staying with what they have. The question will be what happens in several years when new hardware won't work with the older OS, as has happened with Win 9x and is now happening with Win 2k and Win XP. The computing environment at that time will be different, but how different? And it will be interesting to see what happens then. Some people are already looking to leave the Microsoft environment with its vendor lock-in, but how many will jump ship?

andrew.baker
andrew.baker

All the talk of bulk "migration" is a bit out of place for many SMEs as they will generally only upgrade to a new operating system in a piecemeal fashion when buying replacement computers. This, of course leads to a mix of operating systems within the same workplace which is not ideal but is workable so long as there is not too much difference between the systems. It is a sad fact that many businesses cannot contemplate migrating all of their workstations not only due to the exhorbitant costs of Microsoft software but also because of the simple logistics of having someone implement the upgrades and guide the users through the learning process as a sinlge exercise. During the migration process there wil inevitably be a drop in efficiency whilst users are getting to grips with the new OS and this also has to be factored in. If there is no overwhelming reason to upgrade, the SMEs will certainly not be tempted to upgrade and I can foresee a sitaution where computer suppliers will be offering Windows 7 "downgrades" for those who do not want the complication of mismatched operating systems.

jeffteach
jeffteach

I don't like the desktop interface for Windows 8. Are the Gods crazy? Microsoft desperately needs to add a well-placed option to "Revert to Classic Start Tab Style." - Jeff Teachworth IT Consultant, New Orleans

henfetchit
henfetchit

The XP users I've talked to don't see a reason since XP is stable and see it as an expensive/painful migration. Windows 7 users aren't interested since they just went through a long road with a LOT of pain/expense moving to 7. And they're finally feeling comfortable with W7. Their view of 8 is more cost again (time & training) plus added disruption to their business. Both groups tend to view 8 for tablets only.

NexusSloth
NexusSloth

"Not in the current financial climate" it's priced ridiculously cheap. the upgrade, minus media, is 45 bucks. "The new UI would inhibit users who are used to the traditional UI. I believe businesses will turn their backs on Windows 8 unless major changes are made. Users do not want a tablet experience when working on a desktop or laptop computer." You can switch to a normal desktop with normal icons on it, and that kind of environment is going to be common soon, so get your employees used to it now. "We are seeing very little functional value for the cost of change and pain of user transition and training." Security is Windows 8's boon. That and the fact that it supports all the same programs as Windows 7 in an office environment are ample reasons to upgrade and train.

Slayer_
Slayer_

99% of peoples complaints would have been solved. Let people have a classic mode complete with start menu and no metro start screen. I look forward to seeing if this bombs as hard as Vista and ME did (or maybe even harder if we only look at desktop figures rather than sales in total which will include tablets)

mkoelsch
mkoelsch

We are still less than halfway done with our Windows 7 migration. Windows 7 does what we want very well, so why would we change now? To use a touchscreen interface would mean swaping out thousands of monitors, and that makes no sense to me. Also, this tile interface throws away literally decades of ingrained user experience neccessitating many hours of user education. For what gain? Frankly, having played with the RC a bit I see no benefit on the desktop at this point. Conversely, I am very interested in the Surface tablet. This really seems the strong suit of the interface, and may well help Microsoft in this market.

Skruis
Skruis

Just to keep things familiar until users get a hang of Windows 8 on their own but primarily because most of our clients have only recently upgraded and standardized on 7 in the last year or so. After working so hard to get our clients on a single and stable OS, I want to keep things as stable as I can until at least the next Windows version. That being said, we are planning on rolling out Windows 8 tablets where it makes and sense and do plan on upgrading any of those particular users associated Windows pc's to Windows 8 to help unify their experience but only where the tablets do not also replace the users traditional PC's.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Damned if I paying extra to replace a capability that was TAKEN OUT.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

to start with. Also, want to bet Win 8 Service Pack 1 or 2 has something in it to stop such third party software working properly.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"The need to have multiple documents open where you can see significant parts of them at the same time is a key work factor today, and has been for many years. Yet this is NOT something Win 8 allows you to do." W8 does allow you to do that. It just requires additional steps to do it. "Win 8 was designed solely for smartphones and tablets with a total disregard of the desktop environment needs..." I disagree, because we KNOW the traditional desktop and Start menu are in there. We saw them in the first beta, once we learned the registry work-around. I do agree with you that removing that registry trick is indeed MS's way of telling us to bugger off.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

at least, not in the workplace. First there's testing, to see if existing applications and equipment will work with the new OS, especially home-grown and legacy apps. Then there's training the IT staff to support it. This should come before deployment, with its own costs - support staff time, user downtime during rollout, upgrade of existing equipment and software if needed, etc. Then there's user training, and the loss of productivity due to inefficiency while learning the new OS. You can't switch to that 'normal desktop' on a fixed, permanent basis. Users will always be stuck booting into Metro, an unnecessary inconvenience for most of them. That kind of environment is going to be a lot longer coming to the business world than to consumers. XP and W7 are pretty darned secure now, especially in a properly managed corporate environment with WSUS and locked down users. A minimal upgrade in security isn't a reason to go to the trouble, especially across hundreds or thousands of systems.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I am not aware of any real security improvements, can you name some?

NexusSloth
NexusSloth

it's a new interface with robust security. it's being vilified because people aren't used to doing desktops this way, or simply because they're hopping on the win8 hate bandwagon. give it more of a chance.

Skruis
Skruis

The metrics will be kind of difficult to decide upon for what qualifies it as a 'bomb' since this one OS is trying to answer so many questions: tablets, improving the desktop, etc. I'm guessing that they'll push Metro on us with 8 to force Store and Metro familiarity and then will back off a bit once they're comfortable with the usage and allow 'boot to desktop' as an option in Windows 9.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

design, just something they forgot about but will close off later. Just saw some of the ads on YouTube and it's clear they only want Win 8 used the way people use a smart phone.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Its a full screen program running on top of explorer. All the same windows vulnerabilities are still there, the base system is essentially Windows 7.