Although there has been a wide variety of opinion of the merits-or lack thereof-of Windows 8, one thing is certain: Someone, somewhere will glom on to a feature that they absolutely need for their business and will want to deploy this operating system to one or more desktop PCs in the organization.
In the case of Windows Server 2012, which is built upon the same basic codebase as Windows 8, the business benefits are much more clear, and the desire for organizations to deploy this newest server operating system may be very compelling.
For those considering early adoption of either of these platforms, there are some things that you need to watch out for and understand before you take the plunge.
Lack of enterprise management tools from Microsoft
At present, Microsoft has not yet released a version of System Center 2012 that will support Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012. This support will come with the release of System Center 2012 SP1, which is currently in beta.
For those organizations that have standardized on System Center for desktop software deploy an enterprise monitoring, this poses a critical challenge. Is it worth the support costs that will need to be incurred to manage one-off Windows 8 systems without, for example, Configuration Manager? If the business case is compelling enough, that support may be granted, but it's a question that CIOs need to consider.
Once Service Pack 1 is released for System Center 2012, this situation will completely change, but for now, it may be better to, if possible, hold on Windows 8 and Server 2012 deployments until Microsoft's management tools have caught up to the schedule.
Desktop deployment tools are available, but...
As I review the tools that Microsoft has made available, such as the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, I note that the tools are supporting the beta versions of the management tools described above (as of this writing). However, Microsoft itself recommends never deploying beta software into a production environment, so these tools would necessarily be limited to testing and evaluation only.
Early adoption numbers are very low
As has been predicted for quite some time, Windows 8 uptake is not happening nearly as quickly as has been the case in previous versions of Windows. In fact, some estimates indicate that early adoption is five times lower than has been the case for earlier versions.
Generally, early adopters are the pioneers that forge that path that everyone else follows. However, without a critical mass of early adopters, even mid-stage early adopters may find that the intended pathway is not nearly as clear as they like.
Even mid- to late-stage early adopters may find themselves at a bit more of a bleeding edge than they would normally like when it comes to Windows 8. This means that there is less experience and less know-how when it comes to overcoming challenges that organizations may face.
Internet Explorer 10 vs. Internet Explorer 10 for Desktop
Windows 8 ships with two versions of Internet Explorer. One is optimized for tablet use and disallows the use of plugs in of any type, save Flash. The other one is the Internet Explorer that we've all come to know and love. The version of IE that is run is entirely dependent on the location from which the user starts the browser. If the user opens IE from the new Start Screen, the touch-optimized, plugin-free experience is started. If IE is started from the desktop, traditional IE is started.
Fortunately for administrators, there are Group Policies that can be assigned that control which version of Internet Explorer is launched. Administrators are able to indicate, for example, that he traditional IE should be the version that is launched 100% of the time.
Frankly, the IE vs. IE issue in Windows 8 is just a symptom of a larger challenge that lies around administrators having the opportunity to ensure that they truly understand the nuances of the new OS before deploying it into a production environment.
Software compatibility and support
As is the case with any upgrade from one version of Windows to another, there will be some actual and perceived driver issues that pop up. In addition, there will be application compatibility and support issues as well. Even if applications run just fine, there will be vendors out there that will not support their apps under Windows 8 for weeks or months, if ever.
Early adopters will need to understand that, in these cases, they assume the major risk of potentially losing support if enterprise vendors refuse to support the new operating system.
When it comes to driver compatibility, Microsoft has indicated that, if there are no Windows 8 drivers available for a particular device, that Windows 7 drivers should work just fine. At present, not all vendors have Windows 8 driver prepared.
The primary downside to using older drivers is that users may be exposed to warnings about the drivers or the user experience may not be what's expected due to the major interface changes found in Windows 8. For a comprehensive look at how this is handled with just one device class-printers-take a look at this excellent article on the topic.
Microsoft will be making available a tool to help people understand challenges that they may face when upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 8. This article from CNET discusses the Upgrade Assistant and how it can help ease some upgrade worries.
Although there may not be as many as there were with older versions of Windows, those adopting Windows 8 do have some landmines that require consideration and navigation. Over time, many of these issues will be resolved, but for now, tread carefully!
Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.