The touch-screen revolution will have to wait. Six months after Microsoft released its Windows 8 operating system, which was designed to work with new touch-screen form factors, solution providers say many customers still are unwilling to upgrade or even include it in new PC purchases.
The biggest hindrance for solution providers trying to sell Windows 8 is the perception --and perhaps reality -- of a significant amount of training necessary to get users educated and comfortable, according to more than 10 solution providers interviewed by CRN.
"Our customers are saying they're nervous about Windows 8 because of the training requirement that's going to go with it, to make that leap from that typical interface that they're used to with the Start button," said Phil Fortmeyer, partner at Clear North Technologies, a Plymouth, Minn.-based solution provider. "We've certainly seen a slump in PC sales. And I'd say it's been a small percentage going with Windows 8. The majority still want to do Windows 7."
Mark Ashe, computer manager at Mega Computers, a Portage la Prairie, Manitoba-based solution provider, agreed that training is a big concern for customers. The differences between Windows 8 and previous versions of Windows are just too much for many office workers to pick up without a noticeable and sometimes significant loss of productivity, he said.
"Even turning the PC off is not 'easy' at all. And that's just one small thing. Give it to an end user that doesn't have all the years of expertise in IT behind them, they're going to get frustrated. We don't want frustrated clients. We want happy clients," Ashe said.
Kris Shoemaker, a marketing and development executive at Eleven Consulting, a Waterloo, Ontario-based solution provider, added that Windows 8 is an even more difficult proposition for customers not wanting to invest additional money in touch devices.
"The learning curve is a little difficult for non-touch [users]. That's today's world. Tomorrow's world might be a little bit different and it might be a little more suitable for tomorrow's world. I just don't think we're in tomorrow yet," Shoemaker said. "I don't know if [Microsoft is] going to get the traction that they are anticipating in the enterprise space because of the learning curve. It's going to be another Windows XP, in that people are going to cling to everything they have with the [previous version of] Windows."
PC sales slumped mightily in the first quarter, with global shipments down 13.9 percent according to research firm IDC and 11.2 percent according to research firm Gartner, both figures compared with the year-ago quarters. IDC analysts placed blame on the radical changes to Windows 8 for users failing to embrace the new OS, and many solution providers agree.
One solution provider, who asked not to be named, said his customers are proactively dismissing any notion of buying Windows 8.
"I just had one customer who wanted to order a couple of new desktops and they put on [the order] in bold 'No Windows 8.' I think a lot of customers don't understand it and don't want it right now," said the solution provider. "It's different, a lot different than what they know with the Start button with XP or Windows 7. I know I've been using Windows 8 for months now and I'm still not used to it either."
The chasm between Windows 8 and user demand seems to impact both small and large customers. There are, however, some small-business and SOHO customers willing to try it because of the more limited risk, said Lester Keizer, CEO of Business Continuity Technologies, a Las Vegas-based solution provider.
"The smaller businesses keep asking us about it. They're intrigued. They're usually early adopters. Medium-sized companies are cautious. They've always been cautious. They're taking a wait-and-see attitude. I find that those have had the Apple experience are more likely to jump on board with it or are more intrigued by it, but we haven't seen a mass flow into it," Keizer said. "The training has been a big barrier. From a cost perspective, from engineers, from labor, from resources, it's a barrier."
Paul Benson, president of Virtual Communication Specialists, an Athens, Texas-based solution provider, completed a large PC rollout for a customer in the first quarter on Windows 7 and the customer had to bring in extra help-desk resources for that project. And that's for an OS fairly similar to the client's previous version. A Windows 8 rollout would have been cost-prohibitive compared with the benefits, he said.
"We have mostly medium and large enterprise customers. They're all avoiding Windows 8 right now. They view it as more consumer-[oriented] and even though the market is going that way and we're all in a just-in-time, connected and ready environment, they think it's not ready for corporate yet so they're passing," Benson said.
Microsoft reportedly spent more than $1 billion on its Windows 8 marketing campaign, but to some solution providers it was money wasted.
Scott Skidmore, sales manager at Dymaxion, a Halifax, Nova Scotia-based solution provider, said he hasn't sold Windows 8 to any clients yet at the enterprise level.
"People with personal devices are playing with it, but I haven't seen it in a corporate infrastructure at all yet. There's no reason to if you don't have a touch [need]. There are neat features but as far as improving functionality, there's no real story to tell there yet," Skidmore said. "People are not going to proactively buy hardware [to get a new OS]. They're going to wait for new hardware and then bring [the new OS] along. And they're not going to pay for a new OS on its own. The productivity benefits don't justify the benefit costs. There are no extra business benefits of Windows 8 right now."
Microsoft trained more than 26,000 channel employees on Windows 8 capabilities and is counting on solution providers to help drive sales, even if that takes some time, said Eric Martorano, senior director of Microsoft's U.S. SMB channel group.
"SMB is a patient community. Our channel partners have been with us the whole way and the adoption of Windows 8 is meeting expectations and it's just the beginning of what the future holds for us and our partner community," Martorano said.
Microsoft is banking on the integration of multiple applications, such as Office 365, which was recently made available to channel partners, to spur growth around Windows 8, Martorano said.
"The one thing I hear, the feedback from people who look at Office 365, is that they want all devices on Windows 8, to bring Office 365 into the Windows 8 platform," he said.
Rob Moyer, vice president of cloud computing programs at Synnex, said the Fremont, Calif.-based distributor has a number of training initiatives around Windows 8 for solution providers and their customers to highlight the user experience, including videos, training sessions and getting Windows 8 seed devices out to the market. He believes customers will see the benefits of Windows 8 once they are shown how smartphones are integrated with tablets and PCs to create a seamless experience.
"Everybody acknowledges it takes a little longer to get used to the new user interface. We do demos on Windows 8 but one button takes you to the desktop," Moyer said. "It's a great integrated experience. My usage of SkyDrive Pro has gone way up. You're starting to see how the Microsoft strategy is coming together. The one thing we know about Microsoft is they're a patient company. They have a great long-term strategy. The user experience, once you get it in front of people, people like it."
PUBLISHED APRIL 22, 2013