I was interviewed recently about Windows 8 in business by Wired (For Business, Windows 8 Can Wait). They seemed to have picked up the least interesting part of my comments, which focused on the pattern of business adopting every other version of Windows. That was a bit of a through away, but it has to be mentioned as a historical artifact given that its been pretty true.
The final major reason that Windows 8 won’t find its way onto many businesses’ hard drives is that corporations tend to skip every other Windows operating system release, says former Microsoft director of business insights and now independent analyst Daniel Rasmus. We’ve seen it with Windows Millennium Edition, where businesses held on to Windows 98 or 2000, and now with Vista.
Beyond that observation I said the following:
- Windows 8 is a major departure from Windows 7. Businesses are risk averse, so they are likely to wait until they see how Windows 8 plays in the consumer market, or among early adopters in their industry, before making the shift..
- Desktop operating system upgrades are usually tied to hardware refresh. Most PC’s today, even if they can run Window 8, don’t need Windows 8 to support business productivity. As the operating system design influence hardware design in the future, and mobility within the enterprise continue to mature, the features of Windows 8 may become more compelling. Practically this means that businesses will, over the course of time, adopt Windows 8 within their own, varied hardware refresh schedules (unless Microsoft replaces it swiftly as it did with Vista).
- The consumer market, which is where Microsoft has focused Windows 8 development and marketing will be highly influential, either direction, for enterprise adoption. If it is a hit and people start demanding it at work, that will accelerate enterprise adoption, regardless of IT’s plans. If the mixed mode of tiles and desktop confound and confuse, it will cause delays.
- Windows 8 will need to attract significant numbers of app developers to its Windows Store in order to demonstrate a vibrant and viable development platform for next generation business applications. As the world evolves from “Bring Your Own Device” to “Bring Your Own App” and supporting Cloud services, operating systems will be adopted not just for traditional reasons (those will be a given), but for the innovative apps that run atop them.
I also said that things like the lack of a start button may be an intentional design shift, but that clever developers will create tools if users demand them. Even before shipping, Samsung seems to have sensed consumer demand for the comfort of a start button (well, sensed in the sense that it was probably the most talked about, and written about, feature of previous Windows versions left on the cutting room floor) so they ship one with their implementation of Windows 8 (see Start menu resurfaces on Samsung’s Windows 8 PCs at C|NET) – see Note.
Finally, I said, as a scenario planner, I can’t predict what will happen. Windows 8 comes at a pivotal time in the PC era as desktops and laptops increasingly give way to tablets and smart phones. Of course, Microsoft knows that and is poised to enter the market with Surface devices, but just to put an exclamation on the transition, Apple announced new iPads the same week as the Windows release, creating new market expectations. Much to the dismay of some customers (notably recent buyers of the new iPad) and to the fear of other manufacturers, Apple was able to significantly revamp an entire product line in less than six months. The market is moving fast. Has Microsoft spliced in an agility gene? Microsoft doesn’t traditionally make major enhancements in point releases, with Windows 8, they will have to abandon that philosophy. The real test of Windows 8 won’t be this first release, it will be how quickly Microsoft can incorporate lessons learned from the field in the next release, and perhaps even surprise and delight with new features. For Microsoft, an uncertain future provides the opportunity for reinvention and customer re-engagement. I hope they take this moment to listen as much as they are likely to talk.
Note: Start was a major part of the Windows 95 launch when they licensed “Start Me Up” from the Rolling Stones, followed 10 years later with the “Start Something” campaign. Start is more than a button to Microsoft, and its removal signifies a departure that needs to be monitored.
If you need to be reminded of how far Windows has come, watch this Windows 95 commercial: