Windows 8 Enterprise: Signs Of Life

Enterprises never adopt new Windows versions right after they ship, right? Times may have changed. IT may now have good reasons to move quickly with Windows 8, at least for some deployments.

It's a truism of the PC business that large enterprises don't buy into new Windows versions quickly. They take their time getting their money's worth out of installed versions and testing new versions to make sure they work well in the company environment. Caution would seem to be all the more necessary with Windows 8 because it's so different that it must present many challenges, in training if nothing else.

And yet, one surprising message to come out of last week's Dell World was one of interest in Windows 8 among enterprise customers. Why would enterprises want to dive into Windows 8 when they're mostly in high gear on their Windows 7 deployments?

I'm not saying that there's hard evidence of this. In fact, I've written before about how enterprises should hold off on Windows 8 — at least on non-touch systems — until Microsoft addresses certain problems in it.

But Windows 8 is not your average new Windows version. It launches a whole new class of hardware, or several new classes depending on how you look at it. The argument Dell makes — dismiss it as marketing if you wish — is that enterprises are intrigued by the new Windows tablets and hybrid systems, and for those Windows 8 is the way to go. I read most of Rob Enderle's writing with skepticism, but he makes a coherent argument that Windows 8 has many features that work well for enterprises, and that there is, in fact, a lot more interest than you might think.

It's all because of BYOD: Employees are bringing iOS and Android devices into the office and demanding to use them. Would IT rather have that, or would they prefer having employees use Windows devices that run the most important software the company uses, are more manageable and securable through standard tools already used by IT, and have some new and useful security features specific to Windows 8, such as virtual smart cards (TPM hardware in the device is used to turn the tablet/PC into a smart card for strong authentication), secure boot (prevents unapproved privileged code from running at boot time, making rootkits far more difficult to implement), and Windows To Go (a full, bootable version of Windows 8 that can run off a USB key; see the video below).

(Note: few, if any of these advantages come with Windows RT, the ARM-based Windows in the current Surface product.)

So there really is a logical argument for enterprises to be interested in Windows 8 deployments soon — on new touch-based systems. There's an argument for using Windows 8 on conventional notebooks too, if only for the security features mentioned above, but that seems to me to be a harder case to make.

The usual reasons for going slowly with Windows upgrades are not as valid in a BYOD world where employees are bringing in strange, arbitrary devices anyway. For an IT department trying to retain control, Windows 8 may be worth an early look.

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Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer