Will the real Windows for the enterprise please stand up?

Take a bow, Windows Server 2012.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

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 Frameworkwhich 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.

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