Windows 8.1 may have resurrected the Start button but won't be the trigger for enterprise deployments of Microsoft's latest operating system, according to TechRepublic's exclusive poll of tech decision makers.
Windows 8 is Microsoft's attempt at building an operating system that can be used for both standard desktops and also the tablets and touchscreen devices that are proving increasingly popular with consumers and (to a certain extent) with business.
But its new tiled layout is a major departure from previous versions of Windows because it replaces the traditional desktop view. The new design, and in particular Microsoft's decision to do away with the 'Start' button as part of the redesign caused an outcry among users.
Many businesses, meanwhile, have been concerned about the need to retrain staff and lack the touchscreen hardware to make the most of Windows 8. As a result there currently seems to be limited enthusiasm for the new operating system among business customers.
Windows 8.1, due before the end of the year, sees a number of business friendly tweaks to the operating system: the Start menu will be reinstated as will the option to boot straight to the desktop, for example.
But when asked "Will the arrival of Windows 8.1 be the trigger for businesses to start their roll-outs of Windows 8?" TechRepublic's rapid response tech decision maker panel voted no by a margin of nine to three, suggesting that Microsoft still has much to do to persuade CIOs of the business benefits of a shift to Windows 8.
"I don't think it will make too much of a difference in terms of accelerating CIO's decisions in rolling this out," said Alan Bawden, operations and IT director at The JM Group, while Ian Auger, head of IT and communications at ITN, said: "It will help but I cannot see us jumping straight into the unknown!".
Business adoption of new operating systems tends to lag consumers (there are still a sizeable number using Windows XP) and many are more focused on Window 7 than Microsoft's latest. Derrick Wood, Group CIO at Wood Group, said his organisation is still working through a global migration to Windows 7, due to be complete by the end of this year.
"This has taken us far longer than anticipated/planned due to incompatibility of core business and engineering applications, tie in to client contracts, and significant effort/cost to migrate a 25,000-plus user base! No plans to migrate off this platform for at least 3 years."
Other tech chiefs are waiting for their vendors to take account of Windows 8 before making any plans. John Gracyalny, VP IT at SafeAmerica Credit Union, said: "I cannot upgrade my workstations until my key vendors certify their software with Windows 8."
The success of Windows 8 is also tied into a wave of new hardware – tablets and hybrids, including Microsoft's own Surface device. And as IT departments start to deploy these devices to workers this could become a reason for Windows 8 deployments rather than a broader enterprise desktop refresh, which is increasingly hard for many organisations to justify.
Matthew Oakley, group head of IT at Schroders, said: "The trigger is Windows 8 tablets rather than any desire to roll out W8 on the desktop. Until the new UI is properly enterprise controllable, no-one is going to look seriously at this for the mainstream desktop."
However, some tech chiefs point to the benefits of the new operating system. Jerry Justice, IT director with SS&G Financial Services said: " The 'add back the start menu' was just the most obvious visual change and was significantly overhyped in the media. If you actually spend some time using it, you will see the merits of the 'hybrid' O/S to business quickly and not really miss the start menu. It is a solid replacement for Windows 7 and part of the overall transitional endpoint delivery plan."
And Jürgen Renfer, CIO at German insurance organisation Kommunale Unfallversicherung Bayern, said: "All enterprise XP users - some think still about a quarter of all enterprise Windows users - are now able to upgrade to a stable system which seems to be usable by keyboard as well as by touchscreen."
This week's CIO Jury is
- Neil Jones Head of Information Services, Newport City Homes
- Brian Wells, associate CIO, Penn Medicine
- Ian Auger, head of IT and communications, ITN
- Brian Stanek, VP of IT, Namico
- Jerry Justice, IT director with SS&G Financial Services
- Jürgen Renfer, CIO, Kommunale Unfallversicherung Bayern
- Delano A. Gordon, CIO, Roofing Supply Group
- Richard Storey, head of IT at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust
- Matthew Oakley, group head of IT, Schroders
- Dale Huhtala, executive director for enterprise technology infrastructure services at Service Alberta
- John Gracyalny, VP IT at SafeAmerica Credit Union
- Alan Bawden, operations and IT director at The JM Group
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Steve Ranger is the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic. An award-winning journalist, Steve writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture, and regularly appears on TV and radio discussing tech issues. Previously he was the editor of silicon.com.