Windows 8, released to the wild last October, seems stuck in a no-win situation.
On the one hand, it is not catching on with Android- and iOS-loving consumers turned off by the Windows 8 tile-based interface and the Windows App Store, which by Android and Apple standards, is anemic and disorganized. And these days, consumer technology is frequently a precursor to enterprise technology as shown by the BYOD (bring your own device) phenomenon.
On the other hand, the situation for Windows 8 isn't any better in the enterprise. IT decision-makers interviewed for a new Forrester report don't see the Windows 8 experience as an improvement over the stable and well-liked Windows 7, mostly due to confusing behavior between applications running in the "Metro" touch interface and those running in the traditional desktop mode.
In the report, entitled "IT Will Skip Windows 8 as the Enterprise Standard," IT professionals reveal that a top concern about Windows 8 is the "potential for significant user training and support and the need for application redesign to take advantage of the new Windows 8 interface."
Enterprise Still Working on Deploying Windows 7
Also working against Windows 8 adoption: Most enterprises are too caught up in Windows 7 migrations to focus on Windows 8. According to a separate Forrester survey of more than 1,200 IT decision-makers in the U.S. and Europe, 48 percent of current PCs are running Windows 7 and 76 percent of new PCs being deployed in the enterprise are running Windows 7.
"This doesn't mean enterprises will lock out Windows 8," writes report author and Forrester analyst David Johnson. "Some will support it for specific segments of employees, but it is not likely to displace Windows 7 as the platform standard."
Yet it would be a mistake for enterprise IT decision-makers to let Windows 8 slip off the radar. Despite enterprise IT trepidation, employees are more interested in Windows 8 than you might think.
Forrester's Forrsights Employee Survey in Q4 2012 showed that 38 percent of employees would prefer to use Windows 8 on their work computers, compared with 35 percent for Windows 7. Windows 8 may have a confusing user interface, but it is unquestionably more modern than the three-and-a-half-year-old Windows 7.
"Windows 8 opens up entirely new use cases for Microsoft customers," writes Johnson, "which will only gain momentum as the app ecosystem ramps up development and hardware vendors offer new designs that blend the lines between tablets and traditional PCs."
In short, IT should give employees freedom to work on Windows 8 PCs as the BYOD trends continues. Here are five ways enterprise IT should prepare, according to Forrester.
1. Complete Those Windows 7 Upgrades
Microsoft is ending extended support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014, so Forrester recommends that IT pros ignore the Windows 8 hype for now and finish enterprise-wide Windows 7 migrations.
"Rest assured that this laborious effort will ultimately pay off with greater compatibility if or when your organization decides to support Windows 8," writes Johnson. "If you're already on Windows 7 today, then consider adding incremental support for Windows 8 and new devices, starting with pilot groups to better manage the change."
If your organization is still on Windows XP and hasn't begun the migration to Windows 7, then a Windows 8 migration is worth a look, but you must consider the broad effect it will have on your employees and applications, writes Johnson.
"If you find it's manageable, then moving to Windows 8 will put you ahead of the curve."
2. Get a Formal BYOD Policy in Place
Whatever Windows 8 adoption demand there is, it's coming mostly from employees, so it's a good idea to formalize your BYOD policy and begin with a pilot program that helps you figure out which employees are the best fit for a BYOD initiative.
"Early BYOD programs focused exclusively on smartphones and tablets but it's inevitable that they extend to Macs and PCs, and Windows 8 may serve as the start for PC inclusion," according to Forrester.
3. Move Your Apps to the Cloud and Embrace Open Web Standards
Most of the cost and labor of an OS migration involves taking inventory of all your apps and testing for compatibility. If application developers shift apps to the cloud quickly, it will reduce future migration efforts while providing employees with better access and more devices.
Forrester also encourages the development of apps on open web standards such as HTML5 instead of for specific browsers like IE, Chrome or Firefox.
4. Expand Use of App and Desktop Virtualization
Client virtualization technologies-hosted and local -can speed up BYOD programs by allowing IT to provide a managed environment on personal devices. App virtualization also takes incompatible legacy applications out of the picture by detaching them from the hardware and OS and putting them in a virtual machine, thus giving employees more flexibility.
5. Organize a Pilot Program to Test Windows 8 Hardware
Begin with a small pilot group of workers, each of whom represents the company's different business units. Forrester recommends that companies buy and distribute all the different Windows 8 devices such as tablets, ultrabooks and all-in-ones. Match the form factor with specific worker needs and collect feedback sooner rather than later.
Shane O'Neill is the Assistant Managing Editor for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Shane at email@example.com