Windows 8 is not about enterprises -- it's about the next 20 years of Windows
Gartner warned today that Windows 8 will probably be a failure in the enterprise. The research firm argued that IT managers will hate the touch-centric interface, and said that there are enough other issues with the OS to cause enterprises to pause as well.
But that's not as big a disaster as it might sound. That's because Windows 8 was never conceived as an enterprise play. It's a stepping stone to the next 20 years of Windows.
Check out what Microsoft's head of investor relations, Bill Koefoed, told an audience of investors and financial analysts back in February:
One of the things that I talked about on -- I can't remember whether it was me or [CFO] Peter [Klein] who talked about it on the earnings call, was that one third of businesses have upgraded to Windows 7. So, just as a reminder, I think it's less than 800 days that XP goes end of life. That would require that two-thirds of the business PCs that haven't upgraded to Windows 7 need to do that in a relatively short period of time. And we've been working very closely with businesses to focus on an upgrade path from XP to Windows 7. There's hardware that will be involved with that. There's some software that will be involved with that. But, the path for the enterprise the path to Windows 8 is through Windows 7. And we're working very closely with them on doing that. [emphasis ours]
This may not be the marketing message Microsoft will push for the next few months -- you can't tell half the world to ignore your most important product -- but numbers don't lie. There are still hundreds of millions of WIndows XP PCs in businesses around the world. Microsoft stops supporting Windows XP in April 2014. All of those businesses will have to upgrade or lose support (including security patches) for Windows. Microsoft is perfectly fine if those businesses upgrade to Windows 7.
So who is Windows 8 for?
One could argue it's mainly for consumers -- that Microsoft is grabbing onto the consumerization strategy that helped the iPhone, Android phones, and the iPad find their way into enterprises.
That's partly true. The two-in-one tablet/laptop Surface and its brethren from Microsoft's OEM partners could appeal to business users who live in Office and use other Windows apps, but also like the tablet form factor for home use.
But there's a riddle here. If Microsoft is serious about this two-in-one approach, why is it pushing the new-style (don't call it Metro!) interface so hard? Why is it forcing laptop and even desktop users to boot into and start apps from a UI that was obviously designed for fingers and frankly doesn't work that well with a mouse or trackpad? Why not let users choose?
Because the most important audience for Windows 8 right now is neither enterprises nor consumers. It's developers.
Long-term, Microsoft believes the personal computer UI is shifting to touch. Apple and Android have a huge developer base for touch-screen apps because of their dominance in smartphones. The only way Microsoft can get developers on board for its own touch interface is by distributing it through Windows.
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