Will the real Windows for the enterprise please stand up?

Will the real Windows for the enterprise please stand up?

Summary: Take a bow, Windows Server 2012.


The last several weeks have been a bumpy ride as Microsoft's latest OS, Windows 8, prepares for its general availability landing at the end of October 2012.

A Gartner analyst declared the new desktop experience in Windows 8 as "Bad" (only to retract those words after being embarrassed into clarifying the context of his statements by undergoing a Bott Beating) and a CEO of a major online game software portal company, Valve, has derided it as a "catastrophe."

And now we're hearing that at the last minute, the "Metro" user interface that we're all just starting to understand is going to be renamed or simply not referred to by name altogether, right just before launch.

Look, Windows 8 is definitely going to be a big transition for everyone. I myself have expressed my doubts regarding user acceptance issues of the new UI in the new OS, whatever "Metro" now destined to be called.

But as I've been spending more and more time with it, Windows 8 is definitely not "Bad" or even a "Catastrophe." It's simply just different. Way, way different than what we are used to.

There are two targets for this desktop operating system -- consumers and the enterprise. Both of which have distinct and different challenges to incorporating it into their environments. 

I think it is safe to assume that there won't necessarily be a lot of upgrades to Windows 8 on existing personal computers in the enterprise, this despite the relatively low upgrade costs and incentives that Microsoft is offering to large companies and individual users.

You can attribute this mostly due to the fact that many enterprises have only just completed or are still in the midst of displacing Windows XP in their environments for Windows 7, and there is no compelling reason to upgrade to Windows 8 because no applications exist off the shelf yet which take specific advantage of the new Windows 8 UI.

Microsoft's Office 2013 is included in this list of legacy apps, which is "Metro-like" in terms of general aesthetics but still runs in the good-ol' Windows 7 desktop.

Ok, a pure Metro version of Onenote exists, but that's hardly a reason to upgrade entire office suites. The fact of the matter is, the cloud-enabled components in Office 2013 are really the reason to move over to the new productivity software.

And as if the lack of commercial off the shelf apps which run on the Metro UI are a problem, let's not forget all those legacy in-house Win32 apps which only run in the conventional "Desktop" mode.

Many of which have been written in 3rd-party development tools and in languages and frameworks that do not have or may never have counterparts for transitioning them over to the new WinRT API set. 

The infamous graphic below (of which there have been many conflicting variants) points out the disparity of the application programming interfaces in the two different types of apps.


I wrote about these challenges at length in September 2011, when the very first Developer Preview of Windows 8 was released during the BUILD conference. If you haven't read that peice, let me extact the meat of my arguments:

Everything in the green is the "New" Windows stuff that will release with Windows 8, which includes programs and sub-systems which run under the new "Metro" user interface, or the Windows Runtime, also known as WinRT.

Everything in the "Blue" on that diagram is the old-school Windows we are all currently using. This represents almost 20 years worth of legacy Microsoft technology that originated with Windows NT 3.1 from way back in 1992, namely the Win32 Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and also successive iterations of the  .NET Framework which were introduced in 2002.

I won't even get into 3rd-party programming environments such as Java and Adobe Flash/AIR, because it will get far too complicated.

Software developers use these APIs in order to write major desktop applications such as Office or even PC games like World of Warcraft, and they have over time been enhanced and grown to tens of thousands of API calls in total.

While both the "Green" side and the "Blue" side share common programming languages, such as C, C++, C#, Visual Basic, HTML and Javascript, the APIs which you use to write the applications to -- the frameworks, the function calls, all of the things which make up a complex software program such as Microsoft Word or Excel are completely different.

What this means is if you've written a complex application on the "Blue" side, you will need to completely re-write substantial portions of your application if you want to move to the "Green" side.

Depending on how old the legacy code in these applications are, moving line-of-business enterpise desktop apps to the new WinRT APIs may be a long and difficult process. And that itself is the primary reason why enterprise adoption of the new desktop OS is likely to take a very long time, not user acceptance.

Because as we all know, users can be trained to learn new UIs fairly quickly. Developers being trained to use new tools and to port applications? That takes a bit longer.

So with all of this uncertainty over application porting, is there a place for Windows 8 in the enterprise?

Well, yes. But not as a desktop operating system yet. What enterprises really need to be looking at is Windows Server 2012 (formerly referred to as Windows Server "8"), which is Windows 8's less famous but no less important datacenter sibling.

And there is indeed a lot to get excited about with Windows 2012 Server. Hyper-V 3.0 alone is worth the cost of admission, specifically if you want to substantially lower your virtualization costs and start building componentized shared virtual infrastructure as well as high-performance VDI-based apps.

The new role-based management functionality in Windows 2012 Server is also far better than anything Microsoft has released in the past.

There's also a lot of new storage and networking technology integrated into the OS which you would otherwise have to spend oodles of IT dollars on if you tried to buy the same functionality through the 3rd-party vendor route.

All of these features in Server 2012 are tangible benefits that a CIO at a major corporation would be just plain foolish to ignore, especially if there are no plans yet to bring in Windows 8 beyond lab testing or limited pilots.

For Windows 8 to succeed in the enterprise, the underlying server infrastructure must be brought in first. And Windows 2012 Server is that key infrastructure, especially if line-of-business applications are being ported to Web-based apps running on IIS first before eventually being converted to Metro-enabled ones that take advantage of web services.

So is there an Enterprise Windows this time around? Absolutely. But this time, it's not on the desktop.

Will your enterprise move to Windows 2012 Server before bringing in Windows 8? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Windows, Enterprise Software, Microsoft


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Need vs utility

    There is no real *need* to upgrade to windows 8 from windows 7. Both will do whatever an end user needs.

    Windows 8 has a new interface that may or may not appeal to someone, but beyond that it just offers more.

    More speed, more security and cheaper to upgrade. It will also offer a very attractive option for mobile devices that are business ready.

    For some businesses that will be attractive. For others there is no need to upgrade. Win8 RT apps are about the least of any concerns for a business unless they plan to role out a lot of those devices.
    • I don't get your argument

      You're saying that nobody "needs" to upgrade to Windows 8, yet you extoll the virtues of doing so by hitting almost every need of users and enterprises today, ie:

      1) More speed
      2) "More" (better) security
      3) Cheaper to upgrade to
      4) Better mobility
      5) Best option for BYOD for business

      Other than "I hate Windows 8 for the same reason I hated Windows 95 and Windows XP when they both came out", what argument is there for choosing Windows 7 over 8?
      • Same reason some waited for W7 instead of Vista

        "Other than "I hate Windows 8 for the same reason I hated Windows 95 and Windows XP when they both came out", what argument is there for choosing Windows 7 over 8?"

        Many see W7 as the "validated" NT6 due to its v2 makeover, while W8 appears to be a beta in progress, with many rather glaring kinks yet worked out. Metrosoft isn't doing anything to alleviate those concerns, or buttress its sales hype, by abruptly dumping the Metro tagline five minutes to midnight (short of appeasing the apparently miffed Metrosexual crowd).
        • I didn't adopt winXP

          Until they FINALLY had it "worked out" with service pack 3. Anyone who's going to Win7 or Win8 should wait for the same, so it will finally be usable. Pretty much I won't adopt a new MS OS until the next version comes out. I finally got Windows 2000 (NOT WinME) after XP came out, for instance.
          • SP3?

            XP was awesome after SP1.
          • I didn't adopt winXP

            You ran Win dows 2000 until 2007? How'd that work out?
          • SP3?

            You missed the best of XP, i.e. SP2. SP3 was purposeful sabotage by Microsoft to make Vista not seem so bad.
          • Windows SP3

            Some people have computers because they need them to run a specific application. An application that is fixed in time may or may not require a particular O/S version. In my experience a clean install of SP2 was/is highly stable with applications written 8 to 10 years ago. Upgrading from SP2 to SP3 has not proved so successful and seems to have introduced instability issues that I cannot quite put my finger on. Sabotage by Microsoft? I never thought of it like that but I will only upgrade to SP3 if the application really needs it e.g. Sage Payroll.
      • And it goes without saying

        that the same thing applied to the qualms of adopting Vista over XP earlier. In all fairness, XP wasn't really "validated" to its broadest acceptance until security based SP2 came along, which transformed it. So while W8 may have some impressive new features, it is its deficits -- of which all-things-Metro tops the list -- which give many cause for concern.

        Apparently MS now thinks so too, after rolling the dice? [Ballmer: "Snake eyes! Snake eyes! Snake eyes!"] You tell me.
        • The difference between Windows 8 and Windows XP before it:

          Windows 8 didn't break software and hardware compatibility with the version before it, whereas any customer on Win9x saw major pain upgrading to Windows XP. Ditto for Windows Vista from XP, but that was due to the improved security model and software developers that did strict version checking.

          Everything that runs on Windows 7 runs on Windows 8. Hardware support is there because they didn't change the driver model ever since Vista came out (aside from video drivers, but those aren't really an issue for Vista Premium-supported GPU's). There are more architectural changes in Windows 8 that benefit desktop users than Windows 7 introduced too.
          • Differentials

            "Windows 8 didn't break software and hardware compatibility with the version before it, whereas any customer on Win9x saw major pain upgrading to Windows XP."

            For some machines, but not for all. The NT kernel stability made up for the additional push. We're going back now but my vague recollection is an extra stick of RAM often covered the new demands. Win2000 presented a more difficult upgrade, due to even more limited compatible drivers available by comparison.

            "Ditto for Windows Vista from XP, but that was due to the improved security model and software developers that did strict version checking."

            Again, considering XP had been around some five or six years by the upgrade point, we're looking at quite a range of hardware setups. Therefore YMMV.

            "Everything that runs on Windows 7 runs on Windows 8."

            One of its star selling points -- along with that $40 Pro upgrade bribe. ;)

            "There are more architectural changes in Windows 8 that benefit desktop users than Windows 7 introduced too."

            That's debatable, but there are distinct improvements (as always with new releases). But that's not the crux of the problem or biggest uptake issue: Metro AIO is.

            And therein lies the trouble, something that Metrosoft is possibly (wisely?) steering away from. The question remains: Why at five to midnight?

            [Back to the fights. Machida just took out Bader by KNOCKOUT *ouch*]
          • Microsoft

            Isn't steering away from Metro, they just need to rename it apparently.

            I absolutely starting to love metro, not only the startscreen (which I started using when the DP was released), but some of the excellent WinRT (or metro) apps that are available.

            The fun thing is, even if you somehow cannot stand metro, there is no reason to use it, none at all. Classic shell and other tricks enable anyone to completely avoid Metro, and yet still enjoy the benefits Windows 8 bring to the table.

            Silly to even try imho, as metro and the WinRT api quite clearly bring advantages to Windows 8, and yes that includes Windows 8 running on a desktop pc.
          • Ok Sparky

            So all the negative things we keep hearing bandied about re W8 + Metro are simply vapor, right? Gotchya. Thanks for clearing that up.

            And please tell us how you have determined that MS isn't steering away from Metro. I guess dropping the tagline this late in the game is par for the course when you play up "bleeding edge" concepts from the get-go. Is that part of the MS Way?

            PS. Many of us prefer to avoid third party visual drapes for a slew of reasons, more so when built-in native toggles ought to be a click away. But then, Sinofsky and his boys couldn't manage to keep the start menu directory functioning correctly with all the new gadget hooks and pipes they introduced, so why does this surprise me?
          • start menu directory

            start menu directory is still supported for legacy compatibility with older apps.
            If you really wanted, you can create a "START" button shortcut on the taskbar to open this start folder and have access to installed apps that way without any 3rd party start button apps.
            But then again, MS telemetry obviously told them that people don't use start buttons to launch programs anymore, and that people launch DATA FILES thru explorer and/or shortcuts which in turn launches the associated apps. This is certainly my experience with a lot of users, a lot of which NEVER touch the start button.
            Win8 is simply a superset of Win7.
            Even if you hate Metro, you can still love Windows 8.
          • not using the start menu...

            How do you launch and app without the start menu? Only an idiot has their desktop covered with icons. I only put things on the desktop if it is a new file and I am actively working with it, then I move it to the appropriate directory when I am done. So most times there might be 1-4 icons on my desktop no computer or trash is ever on my desktop), and other times when I am working with older files, or if I created the new file in its already organized directory hierarchy then there won't be any icons on my desktop.
            The first thing I do when I help someone else with their computers is move all the desktop icons to a folder in their my docs, easily accessible from... you guessed it, the START menu!
          • Why should I have to create a patched directory

            when one has long been placed at my handy disposal by default? Oh that's right, because it took a tad bit of work to manage and maintain one cleanly.

            "But then again, MS telemetry obviously told them that people don't use start buttons to launch programs anymore, and that people launch DATA FILES thru explorer and/or shortcuts which in turn launches the associated apps."

            Ah, everything is reimagined as data files now, and those shortcuts that formerly comprised the SM directory no longer serve any metrofied purpose (doubtful they can connect many new gadgets!). Thanks for clearing that up [knocks self in head for being so blatantly obtuse].
      • @Joe_Raby

        I know my opinion seems confusing, but yet I think both versions of windows are fine.

        If someone is running windows 7, then they will be perfectly fine running that. There isn't a huge need to upgrade to windows 8 unless they want to get involved in metro apps (or whatever they are called).

        New machines and upgrades will most likely be better server by windows 8 for the reasons we both list.

        There is so much focus on the new UI that everything else seems to be overlooked or that windows 8 is somehow incompatible with enterprise.
      • Not like 95 or XP more like ME or Vista

        I did not hate Win95 or XP. I did hate Win ME and Vista, remember those? Win 8 shapes up to be a lot more like Vista.. a lot of changes with no obvious benefit. Maybe Win 9 will be the refinment we are waiting for. Until then I stick with Win 7.
        • Windows 95 was a first

          I found Windows 95 more stable and useful than Windows 98/98se/Me. In fact, each time I tried a "new and improved" Windows 98 version, I ended up reverting back to Windows 95 - until Windows NT 4.0. That is when I made the jump to NT.

          I went from there to Windows 2000 (NT 5.0) and then to XP (NT 5.1).

          I was the "first kid on my block" running Vista (literally, with the Vista public beta) and (despite the learning curve) I had no compatibility problems after March of 2007.

          I did the same with Windows 7 beta, RC, and RTM - no problems.

          I have also used Windows 8 CP and now RP without problems.

          As soon after 15 AUG as I can, I will installed Windows 8 RTM on my production systems and retire Windows 7 (still an excellent operating system), once and for all!

          Then again, I am an early adopter. You want to stick with Windows 7? Go right ahead. but don't reject change just because it is change.
          M Wagner
          • On the other hand...

            I do indeed reject change just because it is change when there is no compelling reason for it and several against it. I will learn to use whatever UI I need to use, but I won't pay money to M$ to get what I see as an inferior UI when I don't need to. I am fine with Win 7. By comparison, the Lion to Mountain Lion upgrade was a snap and very intuitive. Spending under $20 for a painless OS upgrade that adds improvements while not forcing me to learn how to do things all over again... priceless.