Analysts don't expect Windows 8 to establish enterprise dominance -- but Microsoft's real problem continues to be lack of enthusiasm from consumers.

Michael Endler, Associate Editor,

February 14, 2013

6 Min Read

Microsoft Surface Pro: Is It Right For You?

Microsoft Surface Pro: Is It Right For You?

Microsoft Surface Pro: Is It Right For You?(click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Even before Windows 8 launched, analysts were skeptical about the new OS's prospects in the enterprise. Since then, the re-imagined version of Microsoft's flagship product has posted a mixed record that compares modestly to the debut of its wildly popular predecessor, Windows 7. The upgrade has been available for less than four months, so Windows 8's fate is far from written, especially with the Surface Pro just becoming available and more powerful Ultrabooks on the way. Even so, trends suggest that businesses will continue to wait on Windows 8, and that Microsoft might have to wait until Windows 9 to reassert its enterprise status.

In an email, Paulo Camara, head of mobility services at IT firm Ci&T, said that it's possible Windows 8 adoption will pick up later this year, but because the "next Windows version certainly will include the strengths of Windows 8 and fix its main gaps," it "will have a faster adoption by enterprises." The important question, he said, is when this more persuasive OS might arrive. In the meantime, he stated that Windows 8 devices will exist primarily within specific business verticals that can benefit from mobility, such as retail departments.

In an interview, Forrester analyst David Johnson similarly said that some companies are investigating Windows 8 in "pockets" but that few have found anything urgent enough to compel a widespread deployment. "Everyone seems to like Windows 7," he said, adding that the reaction to Redmond's new OS among Forrester clients has been "a mixed bag" and that "most of the time, the iPad is perceived as simpler and more secure to support."

"Windows 8 is still perceived as complex, as requiring user training and app redevelopment," Johnson said.

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It's important to point out, though, that Microsoft's leaders surely foresaw weak enterprise sales when they devised their Windows 8 strategy. Leading up to the product's launch, most businesses were still either recouping Windows 7 investments or in the process of migrating to Windows 7 from Windows XP. Given these conditions and the fact that Windows 8's touch-centric interface could only be enjoyed on new hardware, it made more financial sense for enterprises to upgrade conservatively, and businesses have since found additional reasons, such as compatibility with existing workflows and resources, to stick with their current OS deployments as long as possible.

It's not that Windows 8 doesn't offer IT-friendly enhancements; rather, as Johnson noted in a Nov. 16 blog post, it's that the enhancements only add value for employees whose jobs involve mobility. For most purposes, Windows 7 remains good enough. In another post, Johnson argued that consumers would drive Windows 8 adoption, echoing a point Gartner research director Gunnar Berger made in July.

Indeed, with the computing landscape tipping toward mobile devices, touchscreens and BYOD, Microsoft found itself without a strong foothold in the markets that will matter most in the future. It needed to establish a presence in the consumer-driven mobile space while both supporting traditional users and conditioning them to the new touch interface.

"It's a strategy of hope that people want to gravitate toward the new interface," said Johnson. Unfortunately for Microsoft, Johnson said, "initial signs are not positive." Redmond might not have been banking on enterprise sales, but it's likely the company hoped for better traction from consumers, whose initial enthusiasm for Windows 8 tablets appears to have been dampened by experience with the available options.

Forthcoming devices could still reverse this trend, of course. Microsoft could still win by focusing on tablet mindshare over enterprise adoption rates. Even so, if consumers are currently a more meaningful barometer than businesses, the progress hasn't been auspicious.

But what about the enterprise? Rumors have been circulating for months that Microsoft is prepping an update called Windows Blue, and chatter has recently suggested not only that the release will include interface tweaks but also that Redmond intends for Blue to galvanize adoption. Blue is essentially vaporware at the moment, based on gossip and tips more than anything Microsoft has said. It's not even clear if Blue is a codename for Windows 9 or some kind of service pack.

Nevertheless, recent rumors published by ZDNet suggest Blue will extend beyond PCs and tablets to other Microsoft platforms, such as Windows Phone 8, SkyDrive and Windows Server. This supports the idea that Microsoft is more interested in laying groundwork for the future than in anything else; the cohesion a multi-platform Blue portends would bring it a few steps closer to an Apple-like ecosystem, and as Johnson remarked, "Apple has the customers everyone wants."

The update is also rumored to initiate a move toward incremental, annual updates that more closely resembles Apple's OS X updates than the multi-year refresh cycles Microsoft has favored in the past. Such a move could position Blue as a de facto Windows 9 in the same sense that OS X Lion is a dramatic leap from earlier OS X versions. It could also mean that Microsoft is done with radical design changes, and that annual upgrades will focus on incremental refinements to the user experience.

Johnson said there's "not a lot of expectation" for Blue among Forrester clients but that the research firm's "perception" is that Microsoft will adopt annual updates. Still, he expressed misgivings about its strategy, even if it was crafted to accommodate soft enterprise sales.

"It's far from proven that people want one device that does everything," he said, adding that convergence devices such as Surface Pro could be too compromised to thrive. "Microsoft may have to recognize that it needs one OS that's fantastic for tablets and another for laptops," he said, though he qualified that it's "too early to know."

Johnson said he'd like to see Microsoft focus on simplicity and ease of deployment, even if it means rethinking Windows again. "I think they're protecting the Windows franchise on desktops in a way that could damage them in the future." He said Microsoft's value will come not from Windows itself but from apps such as Office, which he said should be made available to other platforms.

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About the Author(s)

Michael Endler

Associate Editor,

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 and, pending the completion of a long-gestating thesis, will hold an MA in Cinema Studies from San Francisco State.

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