Why Windows 8 won't be an immediate enterprise slam dunk

Scott Lowe is a big fan of Microsoft, but he believes that with Windows 8, the company is about to commit its biggest blunder in years.

I know that there is a ton of material about Windows 8 hitting the intertubes these days, but please brace yourself for one more.  In this blog, I'm going to discuss why I believe that Windows 8 faces a much more significant challenge for Microsoft in the enterprise space than Windows 7.  While I believe that there are some fantastic new features coming from Redmond, there are some factors that will keep Windows 8 from hitting corporate desktops, at least for a while.

Read this blog while keeping in mind that I'm a fan of Microsoft, but believe that the company is about to commit its biggest blunder in years.

The good

As I mentioned, there's a lot of good stuff coming in Windows 8.  For example, Windows 8 will add, among many other features:

  • Storage Spaces. My colleague Derek Schauland did a great job of explaining this feature here.
  • Hyper-V on the client. Later in this article, I'm going to discuss an issue that I believe will hurt enterprise Windows 8 deployments. But, by having Hyper-V on the client, organizations could consider a migration to Windows 8 and deploy virtual machines running Windows 7. Of course, this adds all kinds of complexity and is not desirable, but... it's just an idea!
  • SMB 3.0. Rather than calling the new Server Message Block (SMB) protocol version 2.2 as was originally planned, Microsoft packed so much new capability into this feature that they gave it a major version bump, too, and with good reason. For example, SMB 3.0 contains a new feature known as SMB multichannel. This allows the system to use multiple network channels, increasing overall throughout and adding fault tolerance to the environment. This is just one improvement made to SMB, but it's a big one and
  • Easy Restore. The new refresh capabilities in Windows 8 make it easy for users to return their PC to a blank slate, clear of the cruft that builds up over time.
  • Windows To Go. Now, users can carry their Windows 8 desktops with them in their pocket on a flash drive. They can plug this flash drive into a Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer elsewhere and use the desktop that is provisioned in the Windows To Go environment. I will be writing about Windows To Go in a future post.

These are just some of the fantastic new features that have direct positive benefits for the enterprise, but I believe that they will be overshadowed by Windows 8's massive usability issue.

New challenges

However, when compared to previous versions of Windows, I don't see Windows 8 as having the enterprise uptake that has been enjoyed by some previous versions and I see some Windows 8 features actively working against Microsoft in the enterprise with this latest edition.  In fact, some of these issues might even override the good features that are coming with Windows 8.

  • Metro is a major paradigm shift. Metro is going to be fantastic for the coming wave of Windows 8-powered tablets, but forcing it on enterprise users is a paradigm shift that is going to negatively affect business uptake. I believe as people begin to acquire Windows 8 devices in their personal lives that Windows 8 will become more palatable for the enterprise, but with enterprise users often seriously adverse to change, Metro is going to throw them for a loop. After all, Metro has no obvious way to, for example, close an application and the controls to which people have become accustomed are long gone. Of course, this assumes that vendors actually create Metro apps. Initially, that will be a very slow process. I expect that Microsoft might actually want to make the end user experience painful to push vendors to request Metro apps, but this doesn't seem like a great solution at present, particularly when Metro and Explorer could be integrated well.
  • Removal of Start menu. This one I simply cannot figure out. Microsoft has removed the Start button. This will force users to use the Windows key on the keyboard to open the new Start screen. I believe that this will cause no end to grief in enterprise environments. Microsoft has stubbornly insisted that the Start button has no place in their future landscape, but I believe that they're categorically incorrect. Leaving the Start menu on the legacy desktop seems to me to be something that would provide a bit of comfort in moving to the new platform and would also leave a lot of corporate documentation intact. Personally, I see this is Windows 8's most significant flaw.
  • Windows 7 was a hit before it was released. At this point in Windows 7's development cycle, it was already a hit. Windows 8, on the other hand, is receiving a lukewarm reception because of some of the design decisions that Microsoft has made. While the company is receiving accolades for some under the hood features and for Windows Server 2012, which shares the same codebase but is targeted at the data center, the end user experience is leaving frustration as people adjust to programs that can't be quit (Metro again), a Start screen that requires a keyboard press and other challenges. In this sense, I see major potential for Windows 8 to be dismissed as "Vista 2", which would be unfortunate.
  • Windows 7 is still being deployed. Estimates are that as many as 2/3 of organizations are still in the midst of their Windows 7 deployments. Will these same organizations halt these plans and immediately jump on Windows 8? I doubt it. Instead, I see a very, very long life ahead for Windows 7 as organizations come to grips with the decisions that have been made with Windows 8 and begin compatibility testing with the new operating system.

I believe that the biggest challenges for Windows 8 are going to be usability and the momentum already enjoyed by Windows 7.  Given Microsoft's desire to bring the Windows 8 system to a wide variety of devices, I fully understand the need to incorporate an interface that is touch-friendly, but it seems that this is being done at the expense of a massive installed base.