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Windows 8 In The Enterprise

Although I have been accused on both fronts, I am not a Microsoft "homer" and I am not an Apple "homer". I spend a significant amount of time talking to customers about how organizations are innovating through technology. Microsoft continues to be a big part of this story as the undisputed leader in productivity and collaboration, and Apple is certainly a big part of the story as the undisputed leader in mobile. I should at least mention Google, who is pushing both Microsoft and Apple, but Google has yet to penetrate the enterprise in significant numbers and isn’t particularly relevant to the message of this post.

Customers have asked my opinions/predictions on Windows 8 as an operating system. I have read many posts predicting amazing success for Windows 8, and I have read as many predicting its demise. In my opinion, Windows 8 is a tremendous step in mobilizing Windows on a variety of devices. However, Microsoft took a risk in introducing a stunning user interface that addresses a broad set of device profiles from phone to desktop, since the downside is the most significant learning curve of any product update from Microsoft (significantly more than the Office Ribbon). Given this learning curve, organizations might choose to wait in terms of enterprise desktop/laptop deployment.

I have seen, however, some early adopters in the enterprise for Windows 8 from a mobile perspective. Over the past few years, Cardinal has implemented numerous enterprise mobile applications. Frequently, the use case has revolved around some remote worker, enterprise process (e.g. field sales, plant worker, relationship management). Although the implementation has largely been native iOS, some of these same customers have started evaluating Windows 8 as an alternative to the iPad. Here’s what is driving that decision.

  1. Productivity - Although there are rumors circulating that Office 2013 will eventually be available on the iPad, currently it is not. Nearly all enterprise field worker scenarios involve at some point presenting Office documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint). The native viewers provide some support here, but nothing near the native Office applications inherent to Windows 8. Further, Windows 8 users will be able to modify downloaded documents (since they are running Office) and will benefit from a tight integration with SharePoint.
  2. Manageability - The rise of mobile and the consumerization of IT has challenged IT organizations from a device management perspective. Organizations have established processes and tools for desktop, laptop, and server management; but mobile device management (MDM) is still relatively new. Some organizations are clinging to their dying Blackberry Enterprise Server instances, while some early adopters have procured MDM software such as MobileIron or AirWatch. Windows 8 allows IT organizations to leverage tools and processes already within the organization. Further, System Center 2012 Configuration Manager provides powerful MDM capabilities for corporate control across a wide range of devices.
  3. Security - Since remote workers are potentially accessing sensitive information on a device that is easily lost or stolen, security is paramount. Windows 8 provides numerous security features surrounding passwords, encryption, anti-virus/anti-spamming, auto updates, group policies, VPN, etc. This post on TechRepublic does a very good job explaining the numerous security options, as the features vary based on an organization’s licensing. Note: unfortunately many of the security features are limited to the Pro or Enterprise Editions of Windows 8 and are not yet available for Windows RT, the version specifically for ARM-based tablets.
  4. Cost - The popularity of the tablet has created a 3-device ecosystem (phone, tablet/netbook, and laptop/desktop). For many remote worker scenarios, the tablet has not replaced the need for the laptop. Therefore, organizations have faced significant new hardware cost in procuring hundreds to thousands of $400-$500 tablet devices, although this price point is expected to drop. I am not going to declare that Windows 8 hardware will be less expensive, but Windows 8 does provide a significant level of cost flexibility. With Windows 8, organizations can choose from a variety of hardware to meet specific needs - a netbook with an attached keyboard running Windows 8; a tablet experience running Windows 8 or Windows RT on a Surface; or a variety of hybrids, detachables, and rugged devices. Further, since USB is supported, a variety of external hardware will be possible to address specific use cases (e.g. health care devices). The cost of the devices is not entirely known and will vary based on need, but some organizations are optimistic of the 2-device ecosystem, the Microsoft OEM ecoystem, and reusing tools and management processes that are already in place within the organization.

There’s a fifth reason that is worth mentioning for some use cases - User Experience. I am not going to declare that either the iPad or Windows 8 has a superior user experience, however there are some interesting features in Windows 8 that customers are taking advantage of. One example is Snap. On the iPad, only one application is in the foreground at one time, which usually is not that big of a deal. However, frequently a remote worker will need to refer to another application for information – the most common being an individual’s email. On the iPad, the user must switch context and bring the desired application to the foreground. Through Snap on Windows 8, users may bring two applications into the foreground side-by-side where one application takes up roughly 1/3 of the screen real estate, and the other takes up the other 2/3rds. Note: since Windows 8 is responsive in nature, most of the resizing is handled without writing any code, however, a developer may also create a custom view optimized to the specific use case.

The next two months are going to be very interesting as we approach the 10/26 General Availability. Will enterprises jump into Windows 8 given the flexibility in consumption/creation devices, the manageability from an IT perspective, and the variety of mobile applications; or will the new user interface and associated learning curve lead to a wait-and-see approach? 

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About The Author

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In his role as CTO, Brandon focuses on strategic delivery efforts and new technology initiatives for Cardinal.