Will IT Departments Rush to (or Away from) Windows 8?

The final release of Windows 8 is only a few short months away, and few would argue that Windows 8 isn't a monumentally significant release for Microsoft. The most prominent aspect of Windows 8 is the new Metro UI design approach, which brings the slick, polished interface from the vastly underrated Windows Phone platform to the Windows desktop. Major hardware vendors are prepping a new generation of touch-enabled devices, from desktops and laptops to new ultrabooks and tablets, to take advantage of Metro.

While the excitement surrounding the Windows 8 release as a consumer OS has been palpable, many IT pros that I've spoken with have been lukewarm about the idea of bringing Windows 8 to the corporate desktop. While Windows 7 has been an unqualified success for Microsoft, a large percentage of IT shops are still running Windows XP. Anemic IT budgets and legacy application compatibility problems are part of the issue. But several Windows IT Pro readers I've spoken to say that even XP is still "good enough" to do the job, despite Microsoft's sometimes over-zealous attempts to push Windows XP into the grave.

I spoke to Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, Inc., who suggested that Microsoft has three key obstacles with Windows 8 adoption in the enterprise. First among these is the closeness in release dates between Windows 7 and Microsoft's latest OS. "Windows 7 was only released two years ago," says King. "From a business perspective, what is the value proposition to migrate to Windows 8 already?"

King then mentions that Windows 8 is designed to take advantage of a new generation of hardware devices—like tablets and touch-enabled PCs and laptops—that haven't shipped yet in volume. "The demand for all of these devices [in the enterprise] is completely unknown," says King. “While many hardware vendors have great hopes for Windows 8," says King, "it's up in the air what the eventual desire for these devices will be."

The final obstacle that King mentions is a financial one. "The current global economic situation generates uncertainty in businesses of all sizes. When the economy gets uncertain or goes south, businesses lock down spending and purchase only what they truly need," King said. "That's partly why a sizeable number of businesses are still using Windows XP."

Microsoft recently touted some of the features of Windows 8 Enterprise Edition in an April blog post, which includes the "boot from a USB stick" capability of Windows To Go, VDI enhancements, and updated Windows 8 app deployment and software assurance changes. Yet many of the other features mentioned in the post are largely carry-overs from Windows 7, namely DirectAccess, BranchCache, and AppLocker. The most troubling feature for many IT pros Windows IT Pro has spoken with is the Windows 8 Metro interface, which may remain the default boot option for all Windows 8 clients, a prospect that concerns some IT pros.

"I can say without a doubt there's no way we'll roll out Windows 8 as it exists right now," Windows IT Pro reader Dwight L. recently told Paul Thurrott. "The fact that managing Win8 is essentially the same as managing Win7 doesn't matter...the Windows 8 Metro UI is completely unfamiliar, and for us would be a support nightmare."

Microsoft hasn't definitively said yet whether it will allow IT departments to force Windows 8 clients to boot directly to the traditional desktop interface rather than loading with the Metro UI option. Some Microsoft watchers (including our own Paul Thurrott) have learned that Microsoft is actively removing OS elements that would make it possible to easily enable a default desktop UI option on startup, so concerns from IT professionals about increased training and support costs to help end users navigate the new UI are valid ones.

Several IT professionals I contacted on Twitter shared similar concerns. @Fukawi2 told me that "I'm only just starting Win7 transition. Not enough IT resources to manage the transition or train users on the new (crap) UI," while @JField said "I deployed Win7 right away b/c my XP infrastructure cried out for an update. Win7 is still great, I can wait on this one...that said, I will definitely be installing it on my primary boxes. I want to tinker + I need to know it!"

So on which side of the Windows 8 adoption debate do you and your IT department fall? I'd love to hear your feedback, so drop me a message on Twitter with your thoughts.

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