Windows 8.1 Uptake Will Be Slow for Enterprise

Opinion: Windows 8.1 was officially released on the 18th October 2013. Many people had their hands on it a few weeks earlier, due to Microsoft releasing the RTM version to Technet and MSDN subscribers. People have been waiting for this release, especially with the mixed press around Windows 8. Windows 8.1 seems to address a lot (but not all) of the general complaints out there in consumer land, but for Enterprise it’s a different story.

Windows 8.1 fixes several key complaints – The start button is back to try and lessen the blow in changing how stuff works for users, the Windows App Store now supports a proxy using NTLM Authentication (yes, TMG/ISA!) and many other benefits.

The big show stopper is going to be Internet Explorer. This is one of the main reasons XP has lasted so long in the Enterprise space, when so many companies were stuck with IE6 and couldn’t jump to Vista (OK, nobody really wanted to for other reasons too) as Vista came with IE7 and couldn’t be downgraded. Windows 7 had the same issue, out of the box you get IE8. All it takes is one key Enterprise application that doesn’t support anything above IE6, and you’re stuck on XP until that issue goes away. Now maybe the application works on something newer, but if you run into any issues your huge support dollars are useless, as you’re now running it in an unsupported way.

IE6 finally started to die off and everyone’s now been jumping to Windows 7. The Windows 7 jump forced IE8 onto everyone, and most Enterprise applications touted IE8 as the new standard browser they supported. All was well for a while, and in the meantime IE9 and IE10 were released.

Software developers have been getting better at this overall, and usually IE10 will now be a supported browser. IE10 had been coming since April 2011 and was released September/October 2012 for Windows Server 2012/Windows 8 respectively, and then Windows 7 February 2013. That’s a long window for software developers to start getting on board and supporting it.

Often for support, a product upgrade is required. This can set back a company a reasonable amount, depending how complicated, costly and time consuming the upgrade is – and how other projects are affected.

Windows 8 was brand new when IE10 came out, but Enterprise generally held off due to the major UI change for users, waiting for Windows 8.1 to fix it.

Jump forward to June 2013, and IE11 is first released as a developer preview. Only 3 months from that, and it’s now bundled in with Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2. This is an incredibly small window in comparison to IE10, so hardly any developer will support this for quite some time (many are still catching up to IE10).

So where does this leave the SOE for an Enterprise? Stuck on Windows 7. They don’t want to jump to Windows 8 because 8.1 fixes so much, but they can’t jump to 8.1 either because hardly any Enterprise applications will support the default IE11.

Why not just use another browser? Firstly, you need to use one that all the software developers support, and then you’ll run into similar issues around version support and control. Just because Google Chrome does lots of little updates doesn’t make it more stable, you don’t know which next update could potentially break a function, and again you’re stuck with no support by running a version higher than what’s officially recognised.

Why not just use a different software developer? Enterprise applications are often aimed at particular industries, and often there’s a single leader. That generally means you have to start losing functionality, spend huge dollars and time to move away from the product you’ve used, get all your staff retrained and so on. From someone up top, this just seems like a waste of money if you’ve got something that works now.

So, what’s the real solution here? Hopefully competition will play a factor where more versatile software developers can make great products and beat the slower moving ones, but that often takes a long time to occur (the speed of a glacier comes to mind). Solutions like Citrix XenApp or Microsoft App-V for deploying a sandboxed browser to run the app virtually/hosted is a decent workaround, but adds extra complexity.

I think out of necessity, existing software developers will start to adapt faster. Microsoft’s model is moving towards yearly updates for all their products, and that will keep getting shorter and quicker to keep up with the newer players to the industry. Customers will start making this sort of support as high up on the list of demands, rather than asking and accepting what they’re given.

Windows 7 will still be seen as the new XP for a while, but we shouldn’t see such a huge % of Windows 7 PCs out there when it’s life span comes to an end (2020 if you were wondering).

It is still a long way off, but compared to where we are now versus several years ago, we’re doing a lot better. Windows 8.1 will get there, but not until all the legacy apps support IE11.

Update 04/11/2013 – Interesting writeup from Michael Stum, from his website ‘Not Rocket Science’ called “Google Chrome is not usable in a corporate Windows environment” – thanks @nickstugr for the link!

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