Microsoft's Windows 8: The enterprise case

Summary:A panel of technology executives outlined their early rollouts of Windows 8, including Windows RT.

Technology executives will kick the tires on Windows 8---despite prognostications that enterprises will run away from it---but one size won't fit all companies. The key word when it comes to Windows 8 and Windows RT is nuance.

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A panel of guinea pigs relayed their early Windows 8 experiences at the Gartner Symposium in Orlando. Microsoft's early access program includes about 50 customers, who get early access to Windows 8, training and support to build apps.

First, let's get the caveats out of the way. Microsoft wouldn't bring these customers to Orlando if they hated Windows 8.

Also:  Microsoft's Windows 8: Pondering the launch scenarios  |  Hands on with Microsoft's Surface RT: Can it hit the sweet spot?  | TechRepublic: Does Windows 8 make sense on business desktops? Tech chiefs are split

Nevertheless, the Windows 8 early adopters had some insights for enterprises considering the OS. It's worth noting that the room was packed so there's interest---at least curiosity---revolving around Windows 8.

Here's a look at the use cases.

Rooms to Go, a furniture retailer primarily in the Southeast.

Andrew Smith, project manager at Rooms to Go, raised a few eyebrows---including mine---by deploying Windows RT in his enterprise. Here's the breakdown of his rollout:

  • Moving from what: Windows XP. 
  • Business case: Rooms to Go is a Microsoft shop with limited development research. The goal is to sell furniture faster and get 1,800 salespeople better technology in the field. 
  • Why RT: Salespeople needed better battery life and something lighter than a hybrid tablet/laptop. "One of the things we found at the stores was older tablets and the hardware that wasn't caught up. The salespeople with 8 hour shifts found the RT battery life better," said Smith. 
  • Deployment plans: There will be a 1:1 ratio between tablets and sales folks. 
  • Hardware: Actively considering the Surface tablet. 
  • Backend software: Headquarters will have Windows XP. Smith didn't see the benefits of going to Windows 7, but now has to move. Windows 8 will be deployed in 6 to 8 months. 
  • On apps: Rooms to Go did a Silverlight pilot that didn't go so well. Now the Smith is redeveloping apps that were created in 2001. The plan is to make these apps a service that can be consumed via Windows 8 RT. Biggest challenge was app workflow in a new layout. 
  • App delivery model: Smith is evaluating virtual desktop technology.
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Seton Hall University

Stephen Landry, CIO of Seton Hall, oversees a program that hands out computers to every student. Has conducted multiple pilots with tablets to see if they can replace laptops. Guinea pigs for these projects include

freshmen, the science and business departments and the honors program.

  • Microsoft OS today: Windows 7. 
  • Previous efforts: Ran pilots with iPads and Android tablets. Has also issued Lenovo XT tablets. 
  • Why Windows 8? Standardization. "We believe access to good technology is a prerequisite. Standardization allows us to provide the highest level of support. A lot of campuses look at bring your own device, but our students want us to support the device," said Landry.
  • Why Windows 8 part two: Landry has polled students on whether tablets can replace laptops. Students wanted both because laptops had Microsoft Office. 
  • Deployment schedule: In May, Seton Hall deployed 25 tablets. In June, a third of incoming students got Samsung slates. All incoming freshmen---450 students---got Windows 8 devices. Juniors were also refreshed. 
  • On apps: Seton Hall has apps for iOS, Android and BlackBerry. Windows 8 apps will attach to the backend and allow students to check financial aid status, get grades, class rosters and contact information. The data is pulled from the student information system. The Windows 8 app is called internally the freshman app since that's the audience getting it.
  • Training: Training for freshmen was relatively easy and Windows 8 took a half hour. Juniors got an online tutorial. Faculty needed more handholding. "Faculty struggled. Where's the start menu?" said Landry. "I can't require faculty to do anything."
  • Results so far: Of the 450 students with Windows 8, 75 percent of them liked it over Windows 7. Two thirds thought they didn't need a laptop. A third wanted a convertible device.

BT

Peter Scott, director of end user computing at BT, used to deploy Toughbooks and rugged devices with to a large engineering workforce. Scott found that engineers wanted a convertible type device that could do touch and keyboard.

  • What's there now: Windows 7.
  • Deploying: Windows 8 in phases over time. "It's never realistic to say you'll move the whole lot to any one system," said Scott. "It will take time." Windows to Go sticks will be self-serve retrofits for employees. 
  • Why not Windows RT? Scott said he wanted to reuse what he had with Windows 7. RT would require too much backend work. "RT would require a different System Center. The appeal for me is taking the old world and bringing it to the new. RT would be more challenging," said Scott. 
  • Deployment: 4,000 Windows 8 convertible devices in the field. 
  • Business case: Windows 8 supports virtual smart cards, a feature that saves engineers times. The smart card can be put into the PC.
  • On apps: BT has ported iOS apps to Windows 8. Eighty percent of the work is turning features into Web services then "the actual code is straightforward," said Scott. Field engineers will install apps from the Windows Store.
  • Training: Scott said training wasn't a big deal. "Once you've done Windows 8 for a few minutes and then a few days you get the hang of it," he said. "Also remember that people will be buying PCs in the shop."


PCL Constructors, a family of construction firms.

Shane Crawford, manager of infrastructure for PCL, already upgraded to Windows 7. Now he's looking to get more technology into the field.

  • Why Windows 8? The aim is to give the field staff more capability in the field and do more at a job site.
  • What will be on the back end? Windows 7. 
  • Benefit: Crawford said that he tried a bring your own device program, but there was "one of everything."
  • Deployment plan: Rewrite older apps as new to cover things like safety inspections. Roll out Windows 8 devices. Use Windows to Go sticks to allow groups to try Windows 8 on their own and collect feedback.
  • Backend: Deployed Windows Server 2012 to provide direct access to systems.

Topics: Windows, Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Mobility, Tablets, Windows 8

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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