Decision Maker

Beyond the Hype: Why You Should Consider Windows 8

With features like Windows To Go and DirectAccess, Windows 8 can rise above the controversy to be a solid OS for the enterprise.

With all of the hoopla around Redmond's latest OS, it's worth taking the time to look at Windows 8 from a more objective, business-level perspective. Even if you're in the middle of a Windows 7 deployment already (as many companies are), Windows 8 may still have a place. Or not.

The new Windows 8 UI "desktop" has been one of the main sources of love or derision for this new OS, depending on how much you personally like it.

First, it isn't a new desktop. Calling it that was horrible messaging on Microsoft's part, and a mistake the company is going to regret for years. Yes, it's more touch-friendly than mouse-friendly, but it's actually also more keyboard-friendly than mouse-friendly. Think of it not as a desktop, but as a dashboard, not unlike the Windows Sidebar of Windows Vista or the Dashboard in Mac OS X. It's meant to help you locate apps, and to run simple, dumbed-down "applets" that let users accomplish quick tasks -- taking a note, checking the weather, quickly referring to a Web site -- before dropping back to the actual desktop to perform some work. Think of it as a second monitor you can summon, where you can get quick tasks done before turning your attention back to your real job.

Business Features
If Windows 8 hadn't introduced this new Start screen, there would likely have been little excitement about it. That's a shame, because it does have some powerful, made-for-business features under all those colorful tiles. Windows To Go, for example, is an absolute must-have feature. The ability to deploy a BitLocker-encrypted corporate desktop image entirely to a USB key, which users can carry around and actually boot from, is nothing short of miraculous. Yes, Linux folks have been doing it for years, but your users aren't using Linux desktops -- they're using Windows. Which they can now take with them and use even on public hardware (like an Internet kiosk, provided they can reboot it) safely and securely. Awesome.

DirectAccess, the much-maligned and difficult-to-set-up remote-access technology, has finally become a practical choice with Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012. It's easier to deploy, and you can centrally manage the connection elements that live on your users' machines. DirectAccess-enabled clients can be managed via Group Policy even when not directly connected to your network, offering wonderful new management and maintenance possibilities. But you'll need Windows 8 on the client end to really take advantage.

There are other business-level features. The point is, you'll have to dig through the "touch-enabled, tablet-ready, blah blah blah" hype a bit to get to those features.

Side-by-Side
And maybe this is the time to let the whole "we run a single version of Windows" thing go.

Windows 8 is very much a "dot release" of Windows 7, in many ways, which was itself a "dot release" of Windows Vista. They're remarkably similar OSes underneath their cosmetics. They're deployed in much the same way, the Control Panel is remarkably unchanged between them, and they support roughly the same applications. They even have similar hardware requirements, believe it or not.

So why not run them side-by-side? Mobile users, especially, get a lot of love in Windows 8, so perhaps that's your new laptop OS. You might not feel that your desktop users need as many of the new features of Windows 8, so stick with Windows 7 there -- especially if you've already pushed it out. You can run these side-by-side, and doing so will give your IT team a big edge in helping users feel they're getting fresh technology.

About the Author

Don Jones is a 12-year industry veteran, author of more than 45 technology books and an in-demand speaker at industry events worldwide. His broad technological background, combined with his years of managerial-level business experience, make him a sought-after consultant by companies that want to better align their technology resources to their business direction. Jones is a contributor to TechNet Magazine and Redmond, and writes a blog at ConcentratedTech.com.

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Reader Comments:

Tue, Nov 6, 2012

Hyper-V is a non starter. We have over 2000 users and maybe five who might use it, although they are more inclined to work with our existing development environment. Power shell is a non starter because we have been using it for years and that is not a reason to upgrade an OS. Our users have already spoken on the mobile issue with about 75% on iOS. We actually have three or four Windows phones. They are singularly unimpressive. The interface is not all that impressive other than being different, which means more training. When we have to retrain our entire staff to use a new OS it costs money. Perhaps if Microsoft offered to pay for retraining the entire staff, it would be worth consideration, but the reality is, it buys us nothing.

Tue, Nov 6, 2012

Windows 8? meh. 1.) Have you ever tried running an OS and apps off of a flash drive? Painfully slow. 2.) Hypervisor for the client/end user? The percentage of users who will actually use that is easily under 5% and probably closer to 1%. Same goes for PowerShell. Windows 8 is definitely an incremental improvement with an annoying interface. Nothing more. We'll be sticking with 7 for the forseeable future.

Tue, Nov 6, 2012 Iain London

I think it's the new mobile devices that will drive Win 8 in the enterprise, assuming they are any good. Can't see any reason to move our desktop users from 7 to 8 (only just finishing rolling out 7) But our mobile workers are crying out for more flexible lightweight solutions and Win8 hybrid devices might just offer that.

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 Ivan Los Angeles

If your not using Windows 8 you should be, if you like Windows 7 you will like Windows 8 more. If for no other reason than being able to boot from power off to logged in under 23 seconds. This is on my laptop with a virtual machine started as well.. Its a lot more and a lot more fun.. Stuff like Search its not just faster its instant, just start typing and your apps and docs will appear. Windows 8 ROCKS!

Mon, Nov 5, 2012

It seems like Microsoft has to SELL me Windows 8 rather than me being excited to get it. MS has pushed changes on users that they have not asked for. Yes, maybe in time they will but I believe MS should have made a path to a new destination rather then just get up and move. Windows 7 is a stable, solid OS that people will continue to use with no compelling reason to move, unless you require touch. On a personal note since this has forced changes, I have been trying out Ubuntu and I'm very happy and plan to continue in that direction.l

Sun, Oct 28, 2012 viper2391

Windows 8 represents a "clear and present danger" to Android and Apple. Sure it may have received a luke warm welcome now but clearly Microsoft is on to something great. For years we have been taught to accept that a tablet is not a PC and a PC is not a tablet and people were persuaded to buy a tablet for your digital consumption while its either a PC or MAC for creation/consumption where the table falls short. Now, Microsoft has taken a bold step to say why can't one device do that? This is where Windows 8 comes in. Call it a thing that does both by virtue of its dual personality--it can be a tablet and a PC by a simple swing or detachment of a keyboard--this is why i think the old school desktop still exists either in RT or Pro (it tells you it is both PC and tablet). Its not perfect yet but give it time and nurturing and this small fry can become a great white shark. And oh, don't be fooled by some articles that Microsoft has created a mess of confusion to the consumers by releasing an ARM-based Windows -- Windows RT. It is a simple as this your DVD (Windows RT ARM-based) will not run Blu-ray Disc but your Blu-ray player (Windows 8 Pro Intel) will run both. In a more technical perspective Windows RT will not run your old Intel based programs unless they have RT compatible versions while Windows 8 Pro will run the new "modern UI" apps plus your old programs. This is not rocket science on why Microsoft decided to enter the ARM processor world. The answer is simple; Microsoft wants to rule both realms -- the Intel realm and the ARM realm. The big question is when do we see the merging of this two processor technologies. Imagine if a single processor can run both x86 and RAM instructions.

Tue, Oct 23, 2012 Charlie Boston

I will soon be getting a new laptop where I work. It will have a Core i7 processor with 8 GB or RAM, running Windows 7. The first thing I'm going to do is to wipe it and install Windows 8 for one reason: Hyper-V. As Tom says, that is a huge addition.

Thu, Oct 4, 2012 Tom

While I may agree with the premise, I disagree with a lot of the article. Dashboard, maybe, better thought in my opinion, though, is a flat start panel (and it should never have been made fullscreen for desktop users). I believe without this excitement, however, that Businesses would still be excited about it - in fact I think they are less excited about it due to the interface changes. In addition to the features you mentioned, one HUGE feature that will make certain businesses and/or business departments drool would be the inclusion of a client side hypervisor - now developers can spin up, install, run and destroy full virtual networks without waiting for Infrastructure to set up the services and servers for them! Powershell integration is another big improvement that means admins can create script libraries to manage everything (not unlike batch scripts) and run them on any authenticated machine on or off the network. Sure that was available before, but it needed to be installed previously - something not every user was willing to do if IT didn't do it for them. Now it is a non-issue; it is just there. I am sure there are others as well. At any rate, all these make it far more than a "dot release" in my opinion. This is probably the biggest addition of business functionality in a single release since the release of Windows 2000. Too bad it is mired in all the bungled advertising about tablet interface and social integration that no one in business particularly cares about, and consumers will reject unless they find their own reasons to embrace it.

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