Does Windows 8 belong on business desktops?

Summary:Eventually, sure. But how much training and testing does this touch-enabled operating system deserve?

Lawrence Dignan

Lawrence Dignan

Upgrade now

or

Not so fast

Christopher Dawson

Christopher Dawson

Best Argument: Not so fast

31%
69%

Audience Favored: Not so fast (69%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Enterprise plays catch-up

Larry Dignan: There are still many enterprises stuck on Windows XP that have delayed desktop refreshes for a long time, using large numbers of end-of-life systems. In these cases, I think that rather than go to Windows 7 on their replacements, it makes sense for them to go with what is on the OEM preloads -- which will be Windows 8.

And enterprises that have Windows 7 can easily assimilate new PCs with Windows 8 into their existing environments without a whole lot of fuss, since the new OS runs all of Windows 7's applications.

No reason to rush

Chris Dawson: When Windows 7 was launched, businesses that had inexplicably deployed Vista flocked to their nearest Microsoft VAR and upgraded. Vista was a sad little OS and it had to go.

Windows 7 now has widespread enterprise adoption and has proven stable, reliable, relatively secure and generally well-liked by users. Which means that businesses have the luxury of time to hold off on Windows 8 upgrades.

Like Windows 7, Microsoft’s latest OS has met with positive initial reviews and early tests of the release candidate have gone well. But it doesn’t look like Windows 7 and few businesses have a compelling reason (like Windows Vista) to rush into the expense, challenges, and potential pitfalls of a hasty upgrade. Users deserve time for training and pilots and IT departments deserve time for testing and the inevitable first service pack before jumping in to an iconified, touch-centric, very new-feeling OS.

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Good morning, Larry and Chris

    We'll be starting this debate promptly at 11am ET (albeit 24 hours late)...

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Standing by

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Upgrade now

    All set here

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Not so fast

  • Great Debate Moderator

    OK, first question:

    According to a new ZDNet/TechRepublic global survey, 73.7% of organizations have no plans to deploy Windows 8. Does that surprise you?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Not at all.

    Traditionally, early on during a new Windows operating system release, it is not uncommon for organizations to have a "wait and see" approach to determine whether or not they are going to deploy the latest generation. This is consistent with what we saw for Windows 7, for Windows Vista, for Windows XP, and for Windows 2000.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Upgrade now

    Not at all.

    More than a few organizations have only recently made the leap from Windows XP to Windows 7. Plenty of businesses are still running XP. Windows 8 is a great OS, but it's very different, very new, and, no matter how compelling it might be, the cost of an enterprise-wide upgrade is simply untenable for many businesses in this economic climate. These costs go far beyond licensing; the resource costs for IT, training costs, and potential downtime make for a huge impact on a company's bottom line. Just as importantly, Windows 7 is a rock-solid business operating system. It's not as if businesses are trying to erase the mistake of a Windows Vista deployment. When the economy stinks and the current system works well, the old "if it ain't broke" adage unequivocally applies.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Not so fast

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Will they change their minds?

    In that same survey, half of the respondents who said that they won't be using Windows 8 also said they may reconsider deployment in the future. How likely do you think it is that they will change their minds?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    I think it is very likely...

    ...considering that Windows Server 2012 is probably in most organizations' headlights and both the server and Windows 8 client are designed to work best together, in order to make the best use of both feature sets.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Upgrade now

    It's very likely

    As I noted (and many other technology watchers have pointed out), there is a lot to like about Windows 8, especially if you have the hardware, software, and use cases to leverage its native touch capabilities. It's very early in the game, though, with a variety of touch-enabled, enterprise-class hardware just beginning to come on the scene and few businesses have really thought through how touch might be used to enhance productivity.

    Within a year, though, the same consumerization that has brought iPads into the enterprise will be driving touch-optimized business applications and employees will be looking for modern user experiences. Normal upgrade cycles will also provide opportunities for Windows 8 to make its way into the enterprise, as will a wider variety of hardware that can take advantage of the OS.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Not so fast

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Business caution?

    How much does this business caution about Windows 8 have to do with the fact that most companies have just come around to standardizing on Windows 7 (after a long haul with Windows XP) and how much does it have to do with the radical changes in Windows 8 itself?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    I think the haul with Windows XP is much greater than you think.

    While many organizations have made huge strides implementing Windows 7 in pilots or expanded implementations across the enterprise, the fact of the matter is that XP is still in huge numbers in many companies, and moving to Windows 8 from Windows XP would be a very radical change.

    If anything, these organizations have waited too long to move to Windows 7 and are now faced with the very real possibility of refreshing their end of life PC systems running on XP with Windows 8 systems.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Upgrade now

    The biggest driver is the popularity, stability, and relatively recent adoption of Windows 7.

    Given that consumers (and therefore business end users) are increasingly comfortable with touch and non-Windows operating systems on tablets and smartphones, the UI changes in Windows 8 are hardly insurmountable. However, enterprise-wide upgrades, regardless of the operating system, are expensive, resource-intensive projects that are difficult to justify under any circumstances. When the OS being upgraded is highly functional and well-tested, it's an even harder sell.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Not so fast

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The UI factor

    The new UI in Windows 8 is cited as one of the biggest reasons to avoid it. Is the interface that radical and confusing, or do you think most professionals will quickly adapt to it and eventually prefer it?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Users have adapted to main menus before

    Aside from the ability to run a new generation of applications, the UI is really just a program launcher with a new way of representing a menu structure, and there have been many kinds of main menus on operating systems for decades. Users have adapted to main menus before, and they will do it again.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Upgrade now

    When mainstream hardware catches up...

    Most users are already comfortable with iconified, touch-optimized operating systems on their phones and tablets so Windows 8, in theory, should be fairly natural for the smartphone set. That said, most workers are still going to be sitting in cubicles, pointing and clicking through Windows with a mouse. Windows 8 begs to be touched and, when it can't be, there's a disconnect that will be troublesome for a lot of users. How many people would feel comfortable using a mouse with their iPads? Not many.

    When hardware that allows Windows 8 to be used as it was intended (i.e., on tablets, slates, convertibles, all-in-ones, and other touch-enabled screens) becomes mainstream, then users will gravitate towards the new UI and stop missing their cluttered desktops.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Not so fast

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What do you view as the other critical reasons...

    ...why enterprises are digging their heels in and avoiding Windows 8?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    The issue is the economy, period.

    Had we not been in a recession with shrinking IT budgets and diminishing IT jobs, we would all be talking about Windows 8 deployments. IT has a lot of issues on their plate, including a wealth of infrastructure consolidation issues that need to be addressed in order to keep costs down. PC and OS refreshes just aren't on the top of the priority list at the moment.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Upgrade now

    Three words: Service Pack One.

    Windows 7 was the first version of Windows for which analysts didn't recommend waiting for the first Service Pack. This was driven in part by the overall stability of the OS out of the gate but far more by the need to abandon Vista (because it was terrible) and XP (because it was well past its end of life). Most people, in fact, considered Windows 7 to simply be the ultimate Service Pack for Vista.

    In the case of an OS that brings radical UI changes to the table, lots of new capabilities, and replaces a very good, relatively modern OS, then it makes far more sense to wait for that first Service Pack before even beginning to plan an upgrade.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Not so fast

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What about productivity?

    Since business is about productivity, most companies continue to do most of their work on traditional desktop and laptop computers. Meanwhile, Windows 8 is primarily about helping Windows catch up to the iPad in tablets (which have a few use cases in business). Did Microsoft over-compensate by forcing the tablet UI onto the desktop and is it going to hurt the productivity of average workers?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    No, I don't think so.

    Again, most people who buy Windows 8 will do so on a new computer that was designed to run on it. This includes systems with touch screens and multitouch trackpads and mice.

    It was essential for Microsoft to implement these changes in Windows 8 because we cannot dwell on the past, we have to look at the future of human/computer interfaces. While business organizations change their line of business applications and systems slower than consumers change devices, eventually, they will want the very same things that consumers want out of their computers. The alternative was to let Apple and others steal significant market share from Microsoft in the future on enterprise systems, and that was not a scenario Microsoft was willing to risk happening.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Upgrade now

    Microsoft is actually ahead of the curve

    They didn't overcompensate - tablets and touch are clearly the future of personal computing. However, they're definitely up against a chicken/egg problem. It's hard to develop applications that make full use of Windows 8's touch capabilities when people aren't adopting Windows 8. On the other hand, it's tough to get people to adopt Windows 8 when there aren't compelling applications that make use of its capabilities.

    The same problem applies to hardware. Until touch-enabled hardware is more commonplace, users won't be inclined to adopt Windows 8.

    Finally, worker productivity actually stands to improve with these new capabilities and applications that use them.

    In the meantime, though, Windows 8 doesn't add much value over Windows 7. For once, Microsoft is actually ahead of the curve here and it will mean slower adoption.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Not so fast

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Unifying the computing experience?

    What do you think about Microsoft's argument for unifying the computing experience across desktop, tablet, and phone? Are there enough benefits to justify it, or should these remain separate tools for separate jobs?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    What Microsoft is doing is no different from what Apple or even Google is doing.

    The difference is that Microsoft is leveraging its experience on the desktop against its mobile and tablet strategy, whereas Apple (and Google) are doing the reverse, and I would argue it is going to take Apple (and Google) much longer to unify their desktop operating system and mobile platforms than Microsoft will.

    When the next-generation Macs end up running on a new systems architecture with a unified experience with iOS, will users and the media cry foul? I doubt it. But this is exactly what Microsoft is trying to do, right now.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Upgrade now

    One screen to rule them all

    This goes back to the idea of "the screen" -- a sort of Lord of the Rings-style, one screen to rule them all. Ultimately, we will be using lots of screens across professional and personal pursuits.

    It's easier for users if those screens look and feel the same and have the potential to really improve productivity and promote the anytime/anywhere work ideal. Again, though, the hardware and software ecosystems aren't there yet to make this happen. Apple and Google haven't been able to truly unify our screens and computing experiences. It will take Microsoft some time as the newcomer to this space to make this happen effectively.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Not so fast

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Overall, what benefits does Windows 8 offer...

    ... for the average desktop and laptop user?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Windows 8 offers the same benefits that Windows 7 does...

    ... but it adds increased performance and improved security. It's much better optimized for handling more power-efficient laptops and also SSDs, has a much lower memory footprint than its predecessor, has better networking performance and also significant performance improvements in graphics and video rendering.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Upgrade now

    Very few.

    One could argue for some moderate security improvements, but Windows 7 has proven to be fairly secure and highly manageable in the enterprise. Windows 8 also has some performance enhancements, but any relatively modern hardware runs Windows 7 well.

    Aside from the cost and effort of upgrading, this is perhaps the best argument for holding off on Windows 8 roll-outs in the enterprise. Until we leave traditional hardware behind and embrace tablets, convertibles, and all-in-ones, there is very little to be gained by moving to Windows 8. In fact, the OS is really not optimized for a standard desktop computing experience.

    When Office is redesigned for touch, when organizations begin to work more graphically and collaboratively, when meetings become less about PowerPoint and more about interactive, digitally captured sessions, then the benefits of Windows 8 will become apparent and organizations should make the leap.

    Until then, it's just introducing a learning curve and across-the-board expense will little added value.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Not so fast

  • Great Debate Moderator

    New form factors good enough?

    Are Windows 8 tablets, hybrids, and convertibles good enough to draw a significant number of business users away from traditional laptops and PCs?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Logical successors

    I think that as we see more and more Ultrabook and convertible/tablet hardware come out of the OEMs, it will be much more apparent that these are the logical successors to the existing crop of Windows 7 laptops and PCs. Some business users may already find immediate use cases for the products that are available now.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Upgrade now

    Almost.

    The first generation of these devices may not have the performance for which many users are looking. However, in progressive organizations that embrace collaboration, brainstorming, micromobility, and ad hoc productive interaction, tablets can be great tools for getting things done. Higher performance hybrids also allow even power users to manage a single device instead of a laptop/desktop and a tablet.

    This dual-device paradigm has become quite common and is expensive and cumbersome. If prices can moderate a bit, performance can improve a bit, and corporate culture can relax a bit (Death by Powerpoint has to die), then Windows 8 tablets and hybrids will be powerful tools for business.

    Most organizations and users simply aren't there yet, though, and the hardware needs 8-12 months to reach maturity.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Not so fast

  • Great Debate Moderator

    OK, final question:

    What needs to happen for Windows 8 to win enterprise adoption on the desktop?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    The more success stories that Windows 8 has, the better.

    I think the longer that organizations hold on to the Windows XP systems and realize that there's no way out other than to replace their hardware with Windows 8 PCs, laptops and tablets, the more significant adoptions we'll see. But as I said earlier, this is no different than any other Windows upgrade cycle than we have seen before.

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Upgrade now

    The desktop needs to die.

    Cubicles need to be abandoned in favor of collaborative meetings and comfortable creative spaces. In essence, a cultural shift is more important than a hardware/software shift.

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Not so fast

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thank you both for a Great Debate!

    And thank you readers -- for joining us, for contributing your comments, and for casting your votes. Check back later today when Larry and Chris present their closing arguments. And make a final swing through on Thursday when I deliver my final verdict.

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Looks like I have my work cut out for me...

    Lawrence Dignan

    I am for Upgrade now

    Always a pleasure

    Christopher Dawson

    I am for Not so fast

  • Great Debate Moderator

Closing Statements

The circle of life

Lawrence Dignan

Every release of Microsoft Windows has contained elements deemed controversial or not ready for business. Meanwhile, the consumer and end-user world simply moves on with new PC purchases and preloads of the new release as well as upgrade installs. Businesses eventually catch up with the consumer OS upgrade cycle. This is the way it has always been, and it is not going to change anytime soon.

It's true that Windows 8's new Start Screen and accompanying Windows 8 Store applications may not have a ton of drivers to compel business to upgrade right away. And those enterprise that have just finished upgrading to Windows 7 may not see much value in the Windows 8 -- yet.

But there are still many enterprises that are stuck on Windows XP and have delayed desktop refreshes for a long time, using large numbers of end-of-life systems. It makes sense for them to go with what is on the OEM preloads, which will be Windows 8. And enterprises which have Windows 7 can easily assimilate new PCs with Windows 8 into their existing environments without a whole lot of fuss, since the new OS runs all of Windows 7's applications.

Wait until Service Pack 1

Christopher Dawson

This debate isn't about the merits of Windows 8. There will always be resistance to change and Windows 8 has it in droves. That said, most reviewers and early adopters like the new OS and are thrilled about the hardware innovation it's inspiring.

The problem is that all of this new hardware, all of these new approaches, and the overall move towards touch is very much in its infancy. The question isn't whether users and businesses will embrace Windows 8 but rather when they should. Now is the time for pilots, exploration, and testing. However, when so many businesses have only recently migrated fully to Windows 7, even more are struggling in a stagnant economy, and Windows 8 delivers most of its value through touch (which is hardly ubiquitous outside tablets and smartphones), businesses should be sticking to the "Wait until Service Pack 1" rule before adopting Windows 8 en masse.

Windows 8 not ready for business

Jason Hiner

This debate offered two legitimately different perspectives on how the enterprise should approach Windows 8 deployments on the desktop. As Larry pointed out, if you're still on Windows XP, there's an argument to be made for just moving your latest upgrades to Windows 8 and not Windows 7. It could save you some effort later, and Windows 8 does offer security and performance improvements that aren't insignificant. However, because of Windows 8 being so tied to the touchscreen experience, I have to agree with Chris that Windows 8 "is really not optimized for a standard desktop computing experience." And, for that reason, he gets the nod and businesses should be very wary about using Windows 8 on their standard PCs. There's just not enough value to match all of the pain and inconvenience of learning a radical new user interface.

Topics: Great Debate

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

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