But Microsoft has placed a big bet that Windows 8 will prove to be a more popular mobile platform because tablets that run the OS can connect seamlessly to enterprises' back-end Windows security and administration tools. "You can manage these devices as if they are PCs. Anything you can do with a PC on Windows 7 you can do on a Windows 8 PC," said Erwin Visser, head of Microsoft's Windows Commercial unit.
Windows 8 also features numerous tools that will help IT departments ensure that mobile systems don't present a threat to enterprise security. One such tool is Direct Access, which establishes a secure link from tablet or laptop to Windows Server from the moment a Windows 8 client device is turned on, without the end user having to log in to a VPN.
Windows 8's enterprise compatibility resonates with Rosen. "We do our own development. We're a .Net shop and didn't want to have to learn anything new," he said. Running Rooms To Go's retail app on a Windows tablet also means employees have access to the full array of corporate resources. "There's a ton of things they need access to, and they want to be able to run those things," said Rosen.
Fox decided to roll out its FoxFast app on Windows 8 rather than on an iPad or Android tablet for similar reasons. "Security was a big one," said Tanya Tallino, VP for enterprise information technology for the studio. "It was easy to hook into our existing security solutions, which include watermarks and DRM." And, like Rooms To Go, Fox's development staff was already working in Microsoft technologies like .Net and Silverlight. "It was right along the lines of skill sets they already had," said Tallino.
Microsoft believes hybrid scenarios, in which companies run Windows 7 on desktops and Windows 8 on tablets, will become commonplace in the enterprise. "You can manage Windows 7 and Windows 8 side by side. We have some customers who are looking at the desktop, but their first interest is around mobility," said Visser.
Of course, given that it's early in the Windows 8 lifecycle, not everything will go without a hitch -- that's the risk of deploying a brand new, unproven operating system. For one thing, not all third-party software is ready for Windows 8. Tallino said Fox staffers that manage the company's Oracle PeopleSoft environment have reported some hiccups in getting it to work with the new OS. "That team always seems to be the most challenged," she said.
The bottom line, however, is that there is finally a legitimate alternative to the iPad and Android for businesses that want to bring their services directly to the customer. For many companies, Windows 7 will remain desktop bound, while Windows 8 becomes the road warrior.