While Windows 8 is being greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism in many corners of the enterprise, in the tablet space, it’s a hotly anticipated technology. The promise is obvious: run all your existing enterprise applications and content under a familiar OS, with the portability and form factor of an iPad.

Survey after survey has Windows 8 tablets garnering nearly as much interest as Apple’s ubiquitous iPad, even surpassing the myriad of Android-based tablets. With a matter of months until the commercial release of Windows 8, and the likely flood of tablets running the software, here are a few suggestions for preparing for a full-scale tablet showdown in your enterprise.

Rally the troops

We haven’t seen final Windows 8 tablet hardware, but the obvious benchmark will be Apple’s iPad. Microsoft and its hardware partners know this all too well and will need to deliver tablet hardware that’s similar in size and battery life to Apple’s product. Unless Microsoft delivers an exceptionally compelling hardware differentiator, like high-quality pen input, the battle for tablet supremacy will likely take place on the software side of the house.

A large part of the reason CIOs are positively predisposed toward Windows 8 is that it represents the familiar. Despite a massively reworked interface, Windows 8 has the familiar manageability, compatibility, and development environment under the hood. I see this as somewhat of a danger to a well-executed tablet evaluation. If you keep the project IT-centric and don’t involve personnel outside of IT, that predisposition toward Windows might cause you to buy into a solution IT loves and everyone else hates.

Therefore, when planning your tablet evaluation, make sure you have representation in the test community from across your company. Focus on your most mobile users, like sales and field personnel, where tablets could be the primary means of working rather than an ancillary device. Having a wide variety of test subjects will also reveal some of the management challenges you’ll experience on a daily basis, testing remote management, maintenance, and support of your tablet contenders. Ideally, you’ll have key personnel work with multiple tablet operating systems so that they can compare and contrast the various platforms and how they performed in their work environment.

Focus on the task, not the platform

When designing your evaluation, focus on the tasks and processes where a lightweight computing platform can help solve a problem. Forget about the nuances of the operating systems and devices for a moment, and consider computing problems like mobile access to company data repositories, optimizations engendered by mobile devices on the production floor, sales rapidly accessing client information, etc. Once you’ve developed a strong list of scenarios, you essentially have the test cases for the various tablets. By focusing on the problems you’d solve with a mobile device, you’ll not only put each platform through a realistic series of tests, but also validate your underlying assumptions about whether tablets are relevant to your enterprise. Better to discover the winner of your tablet showdown is the “none of the above” option than carefully pick a great platform that doesn’t actually solve any of your computing problems.

This also lets you evaluate what are essentially two very different philosophies on tablets. The Apple iPad in its current guise is a secondary computing platform for most users. Many people will still need a desktop or laptop for everything from word processing to enterprise applications. Windows 8 promises a single device with a split-personality of sorts, where it can quickly browse information like an iPad and then plug into a docking station or wireless keyboard and act like a standard desktop. Android seems to lie somewhere in the middle, with more of a full-scale OS than Apple but lacking the universal compatibility of Windows. All of these usage scenarios have pros and cons, and the key to your tablet decision should be determining which is most relevant to how your company works.