Microsoft brought on stage IT executives from Take Care Health Systems (a subsidiary of Walgreens), Rooms to Go (online furniture seller) and Seton Hall University, all of whom plan to roll out Windows 8 aggressively. Why? The new OS addresses critical problems these organizations are having with Apple and Google platforms.
Given that most of us in the room believe that IT would likely deploy Windows 7 and skip Windows 8, this was a fascinating discussion. It also points to a unique problem IT is having-the Apple and Google tablets employees bring into companies aren't secure enough, can't be managed and don't integrate well with Microsoft-centric IT environments.
The Tablet Wave, Part 1: An iPad Tsunami
When employees bring these devices (mostly iPads) to the office, they demand that IT make to work. The problem is, these tablets were designed to browse the Web, consume media such as movies and games and, in short, entertain users. They weren't designed as productivity tools-that simply wasn't their purpose. While Apple and Android tablets can in fact run business apps, they don't integrate well with existing systems and are vastly different in every critical respect to the notebooks that users increasingly want to replace with tablets.
Survey: More Than 97 Percent of Enterprise Tablet Users Got an iPad in Q1 2012
As a result, IT departments are between a rock and a hard place. They are being asked to make these products comply with company security and management policies, but the vendors haven't designed them for this purpose, so those efforts are quietly failing. (This has become particularly painful in schools, where students often do things to render hardware unusable and fixing each tablet individually is creating an IT nightmare.)
What IT needs, the panelists say, is something that's as easy to use and as compelling as the consumer tablets but, at the same time, can comply with company policy.
In Testing, Windows 8 Tablets Measure Up to the "Others"
Each of the three panelists is in deep test with Windows 8, primarily using variations of the Samsung Galaxy Tab. What they reported out of the test was that the tablets were a godsend, easy to integrate with existing management systems, from focused apps such as sales force automation and customer relationship management, to productivity apps (Microsoft Office), to remote terminals for managing servers and security. From a business perspective, these advantages hit all the high points-and, since the tablets were basically PCs, the companies' existing desktop security and patching systems worked.
News: The Best Windows 8 Tablets, Hybrids at Computex 2012
What was particularly interesting was how passionate these folks were about the platform. The panelists had used the "other" tablets, and you'd expect them to find the Windows 8 tablets wanting in some of the consumer areas.
But they didn't.
In fact, it was very much like seeing the kind of user passion typically associated with Apple offerings-but, in this case, on a Microsoft platform running on Samsung hardware. (Given that Samsung is one of Apple's historic partners and that the Galaxy Tab is arguably the most popular Android tablet, maybe this shouldn't be such a huge surprise after all.)
What also became very clear across a number of TechEd sessions is that Windows 8 performs best on hardware designed for it. Those using the Samsung test products had great experiences, while those using older products not designed for Windows 8 were not. Some of the user stories from people using old Windows Tablets were downright frightening. In short, don't expect this platform to work well on older hardware.
The Tablet Wave, Part 2: Time for Windows to Shine?
What also fascinated me is that, when the three panelists were asked where they were going to deploy Windows, 8 it was virtually all mobile and tablets. Laptops weren't that interesting to them, and they didn't even want to talk about desktop computers, suggesting that Windows 8 will likely come into businesses on a huge wave of tablets, largely replacing older form factors. If these folks represent what others think, too, then the hardware employees carry on the road is going to massively change with this launch.
These speakers also raved about Windows To Go, which boots off a USB drive and provides a sandboxed IT approved image to any recent generation PC hardware. It looks like they may roll that out so employees can use the new OS on older hardware or personal systems. Windows To Go very well may be one of the big sleeper IT successes when this OS launches.
The most powerful Windows rollouts, and the most aggressive, have been tied to a critical IT need. Windows 2000, perhaps the biggest release of all, was designed specifically to address the Y2K threat. Now the market is under the threat of a wave of Apple and Google tablets that apparently represent increasing security and manageability threats to IT. At least as far as the desktop is concerned, the level of this threat appears to be in line with Y2K. That could result in a Windows 2000-like forced march to an OS upgrade, not to mention an unprecedented number of IT-approved Windows tablets flowing into a broad cross section of companies, led by those with the strongest compliance policies or subject to the strongest compliance-based regulation.
Suddenly, Windows 8 is getting interesting.
Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance and Security. Currently, Rob writes on emerging technology, security and Linux for a variety of publications and appears on national news TV shows that include CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg and NPR.
Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.
Read more about windows 7 in CIO's Windows 7 Drilldown.