Home Is Where The 'Start' Is: Microsoft VARs Say Windows 8 Could Flop In Enterprise4:26 PM EST Tue. Nov. 13, 2012
The Windows 8 "Metro" and touch-optimized interface could make Microsoft's newest and much-ballyhooed OS a bust among enterprise users, some Microsoft partners predict.
According to some solution providers, the new software departs too drastically from past Windows releases, a factor that could deter many enterprise users from adoption. Development for the Windows 8 "Metro" UI was spearheaded by Steven Sinofsky, a 22-year Microsoft vet and head of the Windows division, whose sudden departure from the company was announced Tuesday.
Allan Walters, senior vice president at Saratoga Technologies, a Johnson City, Tenn.-based solution provider and Microsoft partner, believes that the lack of Microsoft's signature Start Menu button in the new OS could make its reception among business users more lukewarm than Microsoft had anticipated.
"Windows 8 would and could have been and even can be the best software Microsoft has ever put out -- if they included a Start button on the desktop [mode]," Walters told CRN.
Windows 8 has two distinct usage models: one that runs the new "Metro" tiled interface and is optimized for touch, and one that allows users to revert back to a desktop mode similar to the interface native to Windows 7 and prior Windows releases. But, even this more traditional desktop mode lacks a Start button, a flagship Windows feature since its debut with Windows 95.
Walters suggested that Microsoft may have nixed the iconic button to boost adoption of the new "Metro" UI, and to prevent users from spending all their time in desktop mode. "I think they [Microsoft] thought 'if we don't force people to use Metro, they won't use Metro,'" Walters said.
"People want choice," he continued. "I think it's going to kill Windows 8 in the enterprise."
To fill this gap, Microsoft hardware vendors are building apps that mimic the traditional Start button experience, Walters noted. Samsung, for instance, recently launched its Quick Starter feature, which adds a toolbar and start button to the Windows 8 interface.
Samsung told CRN it decided to launch the app, which is available by free download on all Samsung's Windows 8-based PCs, because it arms users with that more traditional Windows choice.
"As Samsung is committed to giving our customers choices, we want to offer them the opportunity to use a familiar interface if that's where they're more comfortable, or use the new user interface if they prefer," a Samsung spokesperson told CRN. The number of downloads for the new Quick Starter app is not yet being disclosed, the spokesperson said.
NEXT: Windows 8 Touch UI May Also Be Met With Resistance
Gartner analyst Mike Silver also believes the re-designed look and feel of Windows 8 could make enterprises reluctant to adopt it. New technologies, especially those that look different from what end users are accustomed to, often mean more dollars need to be pumped into training resources.
"[The Start Menu button] is something that other vendors have come around and put back anyway. It created a lot of controversy and maybe that's good thing -- any news is good news," Silver said. "But, it created a lot of controversy and probably has given people some second thoughts about deploying [Windows 8], because in the enterprise, they don't like change that much. Any change that is in front of the user is something that needs to be trained and explained, and that equals cost for organizations."
Microsoft, for its part, told CRN that Windows 8 was designed to "be easy and intuitive," and that usability studies from more than 127 countries have shown that it is easy to learn and use.
"With over 16 million active preview participants, Windows 8 is the most tested, reviewed and ready operating system in Microsoft's history," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Still, some Microsoft partners, such as Joseph Awe, president of Exton, Penn.-based solution provider TechBldrs, feel that the stark differences between Windows 8 and prior Windows releases may hurt its adoption in the enterprise. Awe, specifically, feels that the software's touch-optimized UI may slow adoption, as many businesses will have to upgrade their hardware to ultrabooks and other touch-ready PCs to take full advantage of this feature.
"Windows 8 and ultrabooks have to go hand in hand," Awe told CRN. "Without ultrabooks and their [touch] technology, Windows 8 is dead in the water."
Awe said he hopes the departure of Sinofsky, who drove the marriage between touch and Windows 8, will help Microsoft shake its "myopic view of touch driving everything," or at least blend the new touch experience with a more traditional Windows model.
NEXT: Modern UI: A Much Needed Revamp
Stephanie Dash, a national account manager at Systms of New York, a Rochester, N.Y.-based Microsoft partner and solution provider, feels the new Windows 8 UI won't completely halt enterprise adoption, but could slow it down.
"People hesitate a little bit to move to the new release [of Windows]," Dash said. "They first will maybe try it within a certain group within their company before rolling it out to everybody."
Still, some Microsoft partners, such as Spencer Ferguson, president and CEO of Wasatch I.T., a Microsoft partner and Salt Lake City-based solution provider, believe Windows 8's revamped design was a necessary move for Microsoft to appeal to consumers while prepping its enterprise users for the future of Windows. Ferguson focuses primarily on the SMB space, where he expects Windows 8 to present his company with new growth opportunities moving forward.
"We'll see a bit of an uptick based on refreshes over the next 12-18 months. I believe in Windows 8," Ferguson told CRN. "My bet will pay off if businesses begin to adopt the OS on the tablet and the smartphone. If they don't, we stay where we are. If they do, it could mean higher managed services fees and a more consistent platform across form factors for our techs to support."
PUBLISHED NOV. 13, 2012