Many Enterprise Developers Haven't Tested Windows 8
Despite the release of the Windows 8 "release preview," Microsoft may face an uphill battle in convincing the vast majority of enterprise developers to test it -- at least initially.
Arguably the most significant re-architecture of the Windows client operating system ever, many enterprise developers haven't put Windows 8 and its new Metro-style, touch-based user interface through its paces. Interviews with numerous developers of traditional enterprise .NET applications showed that many are yet to take the most recent Windows 8 Consumer Preview for a spin.
In the random and informal sampling of Microsoft-focused developers, who were asked if they've looked at the preview, most said they haven't for a variety of reasons ranging from time constraints, to other priorities and those that simply don't require tablet or touch-based applications.
"I wish I had a touch screen to test it out on and not on a virtual machine," said Walter Sassano, Avon Products, Rye N.Y. "But I am going to say I am non committal at this point. I like Metro on a tablet, though I don't see how on a corporate level it's going to work for enterprise business applications. It's a little too simplified. It's too cute."
Travis Price, a database administrator at Pipeline Testing Consortium, based in Hutchinson Kan., also has reservations about Metro though he has not tested it either. "I don't like the fact that everything is going the whole Metro style," Price said. "I look at PCs as a business platform, not for social, where everything is fun and trendy, bubbly and poppy. It needs to be clean and fresh. You get in, you go through three of four apps and get right back out. That's how I look at it."
One who has tested the Windows 8 preview is Jon Jarnsater, a software engineer in the corporate R&D integration center at Helsingborg, Sweden-based ReadSoft. "Graphically it's OK but I'm not 100 percent keen on it," Jarnsater said, noting he wonders whether it lends itself to line of business applications.
A survey of 1,400 IT pros by Redmond magazine and newsletters was more optimistic. It found 20.7 percent were "very interested" and 40.2 percent were "somewhat interested" in Windows 8. Yet nearly half were unsure when they would deploy it. Reasons many organizations may hold off include concerns about compatibility with legacy applications and dislike of the Metro interface. Also, among other reasons, there's much chagrin about the removal of the Start button on the desktop interface.
That enterprise testing of Windows 8 appears to be off to a slow start is consistent with what industry analysts are observing as well. "We're seeing limited to no interest from enterprise clients -- they are still working through their Windows 7 upgrades," said Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond. "With ISVs I think it's fair to say we're seeing folks working to understand the platform and what they need to do -- folks seem to be prototyping, but are also fairly cautious."
On the consumer side, a report in Bloomberg today emphasized Microsoft's full-court press to train app providers and designers to build Windows 8 apps. While some, such as Netflix, Corel, SigFig Wealth Management and Digital Chocolate, are working on Windows 8 apps, other prominent names, like Facebook and Flipboard, are not. Many have yet to disclose their plans such as Amazon.com, Pandora, Twitter and Zynga, according to Bloomberg.
IDC analyst Al Hilwa said migrating to Windows 8 requires a steeper development commitment than previous Windows OS upgrades. "We have found from polling developers that adapting traditional PC apps for Metro is really hard and might require a complete re-design of the app, including potentially separating the functionality into separate apps," Hilwa said. "What most are likely to do is start from scratch for Metro, but instead bring their apps to the desktop interface, potentially making some accommodations for hybrid touch support such as using larger and more touchable buttons and UI elements."
Ironically, those coming from other mobile developer ecosystems will find it easier to adapt their apps to Metro than traditional PC apps," Hilwa added. "Developers and ISVs already in the Microsoft ecosystem are likely to build new things for Metro eventually," he said.
For its part, Microsoft disagrees with the notion that few enterprise developers have tested the Windows 8 previews. “That is different than what I’ve heard from folks working closely with customers,” a spokeswoman for Microsoft said, in an e-mail. But in a blog post today by Microsoft senior director of marketing Erwin Visser, the company will place a major emphasis on courting enterprise IT pros and developers. Microsoft is urging the many enterprise shops still on Windows XP to consider migrating to Windows 7 and to initiate small proof of concept pilots with the Windows 8 preview. In addition to tablet support, Windows 8 will provide better security and support for mobile workforces than the current release, Windows 7, he noted.
Visser added Microsoft will talk more about how and why enterprises should build apps for Windows 8 at next month’s TechEd 2012 North America conference in Orlando, where corporate VP for Windows Web services Antoine Leblond will give a keynote Tuesday June 12. “We’re hearing overwhelming excitement about the business possibilities with new Windows 8 apps both for internal usage (line of business) as well as the opportunity for organizations to create new innovative experiences for their customers.” Visser wrote. “Windows 8 is a great platform for enterprise developers and we expect a lot of innovative enterprise apps to come.”
But many enterprise developers say their organizations are conservative about deploying new software releases. One developer with a major pharmaceutical firm that employs over 100,000 people said his company is in the midst of a Windows 7 migration and it's unlikely an upgrade to the new OS will happen anytime soon, regardless of its merits.
Pipeline Testing Consortium's Price added that his organization also prefers not to be on the latest software releases. "Our main IT guy likes to stay three to four years behind the curve, for bug reasons," he said. "We never like implementing new software, especially OSes, for our users."
David Blue, senior architect, a senior architect at Westminister, Colo.-based Trimble Navigation, is another developer who said he hasn't tested the Windows 8 preview because it doesn't fit his organization's immediate needs. "Our marketing group is focused on Web-only right now," Blue said, though he admitted he hopes to look at it in his spare time at some point. "I am very excited to see what the tablets will look like," he said.
Others seemed put-off by the radical change in interface, saying they prefer the status quo. Dusan Togner, a developer at OTC, a financial software vendor, said he gave Windows 8 a brief look but preferred the traditional desktop interface, which is also available in Windows 8. "I don't use a tablet or any touch device," Togner said. "I will use the old way."
In the history of new Windows releases over the past two decades, ambivalence over new versions is not unusual. Typically when Microsoft ships a new version of Windows, there are early adopters in the first year and then shipments accelerate both among consumers and enterprises as the upgraded release finds itself on new PCs.
But with the rapid growth of the Apple iPad, Microsoft needs to stem the movement of customers who are considering the rival tablet as alternatives to PCs. Even though iPads are often companion devices, many users are purchasing tablets instead of a new computer, as evidenced in declining PC growth reported by Gartner and IDC over the past several quarters.
That being the case, Microsoft needs to deliver a viable alternative while keeping its vast and still dominant base of existing PC users in its camp. In a speech in Mid-May at the Seoul Digital Forum, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer described the new OS as "a dawning of the rebirth of MS Windows," as reported by the French-based newswire AFP RelaxNews. Indeed Gartner recently said it believes next year, Windows 8 will help propel PC growth.
Yet many .NET and Microsoft-oriented developers remain focused on the current versions of Windows than Windows 8. Rockford Lhotka, chief technology officer of St. Louis Park, Minn.-based Magenic Technologies, said developers need to get up to speed on technologies suited for Windows 8's Metro interface such as XAML and WinRT.
"I think it's pretty early for a lot of developers to test it," said Lhotka. "Let's face it, most companies are just moving from XP to Windows 7 right now so Windows 8 isn't even on their immediate planning horizon."
While it may not be on their immediate agendas, Lhotka has high hopes for Windows 8 and has spent extensive time with the preview. His firm is one of only a few dozen Microsoft National Systems Integrators but it also develops iOS applications for its customers. "When corporations upgrade to the next generation of their desktop corporate OS, unless Apple does something pretty remarkable, it' won't be iOS," Lhotka said.
The bigger question is whether the new Windows Runtime will be compelling enough to woo potential tablet users to its camp rather than Apple's. "There are people that are in love with Apple, and that's fine, but regular people aren't in love with any particular company, they just want something that works," Lhotka said. "And that may be the secret for Windows 8, since the Windows Runtime runs on your desktop, laptop and tablet, when you buy an app for Windows 8 it runs on all of them."
Billy Hollis, a partner at Nashville-based NextVersion Systems, went even further to predict tablets running Windows 8 could be better suited for business applications than iPads because of the different form factors hardware manufactures will offer. A key benefit of Windows 8 tablets will be their support for connecting add-on hardware through USB ports and add-on storage, a capability iPads notoriously lack, Hollis said.
That said, Hollis knows when it comes to tablets, the momentum is in favor of the iPad, giving Windows 8-based tablets a 50 percent chance of achieving critical mass out of the gate. "But Microsoft learns and refines and comes back," Hollis said.
Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.