Windows 8 adoption among enterprise IT users in sub-Saharan Africa is likely to be slow and patchy, with most of the appetite for the new operating system to be found among organisations with large mobile workforces.
While analysts and Microsoft business partners said Windows 8 offers a compelling bridge between consumer devices and enterprise IT infrastructure, they questioned whether the value of the new operating system is persuasive enough to prompt enterprise users in Africa to migrate in the short to medium term future.
Mark Walker, director for Middle East, Africa and Turkey at IDC, said that the excitement of a new platform may help to bump PC sales in the region for the fourth quarter after a sluggish third quarter. But he said that it is unlikely that many enterprises who have not already been testing Windows 8 will adopt it straightaway.
"The ecosystem is more complicated than it was when companies were migrating to Windows XP or Windows 7. There is a lot of pushback from the businesspeople, a lot of confusion about the impact on the architecture. The decision to migrate is not a straightforward discussion," Walker said.
African companies grappling with the management and security implications of the cloud and bring your own device (BYOD) are ones who may find Windows 8 most compelling, said Walker. "From a technology point of view, Windows 8 is an impressive platform. But the on-ramp will be slower."
Walker said that adoption rates will vary markedly among different African countries, with faster adoption of the platform in those such as Kenya and South Africa where bandwidth is greater since some many of the key features of Windows 8 are designed for an always-online world.
Availability and cost of bandwidth are key, agreed Paul Conradie, MD of southern and eastern African distribution group Comztek. Kenya, for example, can be expected to adopt Windows 8 faster than Zamibia, where speeds lag and costs are still high.
The speed of adoption of Windows 8 will depend on the nature of the business, said Conradie. Those with large mobile workforces will adopt the platform quite fast to take advantage of the commonality it will bring between tablet, smartphone, desktop and notebook platforms. "They are going to say, 'our security and infrastructure has been set up for Windows 7', so moving to Windows 8 is not a big leap."
With more wireless devices shipping in Africa than traditional PCs, Microsoft needs to focus on the apps ecosystem for Windows 8 to compete effectively with the likes of Google and Apple, said Bradley Bunch, chief innovation officer at Dimension Data, a systems integration and outsourcing firm with a presence in more than a dozen African countries.
Windows 8 may lag Android and iOS in apps availability, but Microsoft’s large powerful OEM, distributor and reseller base across the continent will prove to be a major advantage for the company, he added.
"Windows 8 represents an interesting bridge from enterprise to consumer devices. Google and Apple have been winning the race because Microsoft has been slow to respond to the changes in how consumers use technology," said Bunch.
"Consumerisation is affecting companies' operational costs because the number of devices and platforms [to be managed] has increased. Offering mobile devices and PCs on the same platform is a good strategy, but is it too late?"
Many of Dimension Data's big African customers are still using Windows XP and the company is involved in a number of migrations from XP and Vista to Windows 7. Dimension Data expects Windows 7 to be the enterprise operating system of choice for the foreseeable future, with Windows 8 coming into many organisations through tablets and smartphones, said Bunch.
One observer who is upbeat about the prospects for Windows 8 in Africa is Traci Maynard, GM of the software division at Tarsus Technologies, a South Africa-based IT distributor with branches in Botswana, Namibia and Mauritius. Windows 8 introduces a range of long-awaited a number of security features that CIOs will want to embrace, said Maynard.
These include key enhancements to the BitLocker and AppLocker features as well as the RemoteFX technology that allows Microsoft Virtual Desktop Infrastructure remote desktops to run graphics-intensive applications through a virtualised graphics card hosted on the server.