SINGAPORE--Enterprises are generally slow to deploy new operating systems, but ongoing trends of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and shadow IT will be main drivers for Asian businesses to take up Microsoft's Windows 8, albeit in limited use cases.
In fact, market conditions currently seen in Asia such as the high penetration rate of mobile devices and small and midsize businesses (SMBs) scaling up their operations mean it is a "logical assumption" the region could lead in Windows 8 adoption globally, say Microsoft executives.
Speaking to ZDNet Asia during the Windows 8 launch here Thursday, Alvaro Celis, vice president of Microsoft Asia-Pacific, acknowledged for many enterprises in this region, Windows 7 rollouts are still ongoing and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. The slow enterprise uptake is not new and it has to be for companies looking to maximize their IT investments, he added.
However, Celis noted for many regional organizations, the BYOD phenomenon is a real concern for CIOs and their IT departments. Existing personal smartphones and tablets used by employees lack the security and manageability functions that help internal tech staff sleep better at night, he explained.
This is where he feels Microsoft can come in and offer a better alternative with Windows 8, as well as its mobile OS Windows Phone 8 which will be launched on Oct. 29. As these operating systems are better integrated with companies' existing IT systems, the software vendor and its device partners are better positioned to offer the management and security tools inbuilt within the tablets that enterprises are demanding, he said.
One local CIO agreed with Celis. Maybank Singapore CIO KS Lim, who trialed Windows 8 for over three months, was "impressed" by the improvements Microsoft made to the new OS.
Celis added companies can continue to deploy Windows 7 across their organizations, as the interoperability between both operating systems (OSes) is "good". But for new and mobile device deployments, the executive believes Windows 8 will prove to be the more compelling option.
He went on to highlight the impact of shadow IT, or what he calls the "appification within enterprises".
Celis noted more employees today have or are keen to develop their own internal software without going through their IT departments, but these apps pose security, compliance and manageability issues.
Windows 8 can help companies address these issues in two ways. First, aspiring developers in the company can create their own apps but publish it via the Windows Store instead of deploying it to other users within a business unit. This way, the IT department has a platform to track the introduction of new applications and these are made available on a third-party ecosystem, he elaborated.
The second way would be for staff to develop the app first before getting the internal IT teams to "sideload" it--whether through remote delivery or using USB sticks--to other users in the organization, the executive added.
Asia could lead adoption
Asked if the growing number of SMBs and volume of people in the region accessing the Internet with their mobile devices will result in Asia leading the global enterprise uptake of Windows 8, Celis said this is a "logical assumption".
He did say it is difficult to know for sure whether this will become reality, but the level of interest and demand among business customers is "very positive and encouraging".
He did not give figures to support his observation, but the executive said Microsoft had recently introduced enterprise Windows 8 pilot deployments in Asia that was supposed to run for 12 months. Due to overwhelming interest, though, the software giant had to close the application for companies to join the program within three months, he noted.
Todd Cione, chief marketing and operating officer for Microsoft Asia-Pacific, told ZDNet Asia in a separate interview Thursday there are currently 1.4 billion Windows users worldwide, of which Windows 7 make up 600 million.
In Asia-Pacific itself, there are 185 million Windows users, although he could not recall how many of these are using Windows 7.
Based on the number of people downloading the beta version of Windows 8 in the leadup to the actual launch, which came up to 16 million worldwide, Cione believes this level of interest is a good indicator of how well the new OS will do. He did not know, however, how many from this number were from Asia-Pacific users.
Analyst: BYOD a beachhead
Ian Song, a research manager in the client devices practice group at IDC Asia-Pacific, agreed BYOD will be the toehold Microsoft needs to establish to capture enterprise businesses in Asia.
He said enterprises, particularly in this region, will not be too receptive to Windows 8 as their migration to Windows 7 only got into full swing in early-2012.
"IDC sees many organizations in Asia-Pacific will opt for the tried and true Windows 7 instead of the unproven Windows 8," Song stated.
Among SMBs, he believed some may give the new OS a try, but only as a new PC purchase. They will not upgrade to Windows 8 on existing PCs as there are no tangible benefits to do so, the analyst noted.
Where the opportunity for Microsoft lies is in next-generation tablet and hybrid devices, and users who practice BYOD at the workplace, he said. This is because Windows 8-based tablets will effectively mitigate the shortcomings of existing tablets from the hardware usability and software perspectives, Song said, echoing a point Celis brought up.