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Of the roughly 1.1 billion copies of Windows deployed throughout the world, only about 48 percent are running Windows 7 -- the newest edition prior to Windows 8 -- with 45 percent still running on the decade-old Windows XP and 7 percent on Windows Vista, according to Net Applications. Many of the businesses using older editions should be ready to take the plunge and upgrade.
Just how quickly they will do so, however, is the billion-dollar question.
While the IT culture differs from one company to the next, more conservative companies will be cautious about upgrading to Windows 8 too quickly, predicted Paul Szemerenyi, vice president of North American channel sales at 1E, a New York-based IT efficiency solution and service provider. "There's going to be lots of watching, lots of waiting to see what happens," he said.
Forecasts are decidedly mixed. A Gartner report being issued later this week predicts that 90 percent of enterprises will hold off on broad-scale deployment of Windows 8 at least through 2014.
On the tablet side, the report forecasts that Windows-based tablets will account for only 13 percent of worldwide media tablet sales in 2013. While that's up from 3 percent this year, it's still far behind the Apple iPad, with 44 percent in 2013, and Android-based tablets, with 40 percent.
For those still on Windows XP, "they should be looking to go right to Windows 8," said Sandys at Catapult Systems. But, what about those who have already moved up to Windows 7? "That may be kind of a hard sell," he acknowledged.
Still, Catapult has taken its "Intro to Windows 8" show on the road, briefing customers and prospects in Dallas, Houston, Austin, Washington D.C., Denver and Tampa, among others, to demonstrate the new operating system's capabilities. About 70 turned out for a recent meeting in San Antonio and, to Sandys surprise, about 20 had never seen a Windows 8 demonstration.
Many will upgrade almost automatically, receiving Windows 8 as part of their Software Assurance contracts and through their Windows Intune subscriptions. But, there will still be lots of work for service and solution providers, such as helping customers migrate data and applications to Windows 8-based computers.
"It's not just about delivering Windows to offices," Szemerenyi said. "The pull-through revenue that partners get has been immense." He should know. His company recently completed a 90,000-seat Windows 7 deployment at a major telecommunications customer.
One service that Szemerenyi expects to be in demand is helping businesses migrate applications and user data to Windows 8 from older versions of Windows. While much of that process has been automated, he said there is a lot of planning and decision making needed to decide which applications need to be moved quickly and which ones can wait.
"It's not a trivial thing to load an operating system onto a PC when all that user's data is sitting on that computer," said Sandys. "And app compatibility is a huge piece of the job."