Why Enterprises Shouldn't Shy Away from Deploying Multiple Windows OSes
A little more than three months have passed since Microsoft released Windows 8, and in talking with dozens of corporate customers, the verdict is: "No, thanks."
Unlike Windows Vista, however, this give-it-a-pass attitude doesn't seem to be reflective of a poor perception of the quality or readiness of the OS. At most, folks are still skittish about the so-called "Metro-style desktop." However, as I've written before (see my IT Decision Maker blog post, "Windows 8: What Microsoft Isn't Telling You"), everyone seems to like it fine in the context of a "dashboard" rather than an "alternate desktop." No, the corporate attitude of "we'll skip this release" seems solely a reflection of modern IT realities. Businesses just aren't going to jump on every new OS version that comes down the line. Most companies have their Windows 7 deployment plans well underway, if not complete, and they're just not interested in making room for Windows 8.
Traditional Windows Upgrade Patterns
I think that might be a bit misguided -- and it might be a strategy born in a world that no longer exists. In that world, more than two decades ago, most corporations deployed Windows 95 pretty widely because it was the first new version of Windows in a long time (and due to the fact it was far superior to the Windows 3.11 it replaced).
Windows 98 got a pretty good uptake too, and used more or less the same management and deployment techniques. Corporations took a pass on Windows Millennium Edition.
Plenty of companies moved to Windows 2000 Workstation when it was released. Most companies were comfortable running mixed environments at the time. They weren't necessarily thrilled about it, but it happened, and they got by. Sure, some companies went as homogenous as possible, usually with the NT-track OSes, but not all.
Then along came Windows XP or, as I like to call it, "the beginning of the end." At least it was the beginning of the end in terms of how IT did business to that point. With Windows XP, businesses had around five years to get comfortable with the OS. Five years is enough time to cycle through all of the client hardware in your environment, too, as even the oldest computer would be fully depreciated by that time. At long last, pretty much everyone could have a homogenous client environment.
Consequently, many companies skipped Windows Vista, which further solidified Windows XP. They liked Windows XP, for the most part. It worked. Most companies only started moving to Windows 7 when it became really, really obvious that Microsoft would no longer extend the Windows XP support lifecycle and something had to be done.
Rethinking Desktop Homogeneity
Now, it seems that every company believes it must have one true version of Windows on the client. No mixed versioning. Windows 7 or bust -- no mixing in Windows 8... except maybe on IT staff machines, and maybe for a few influential executives who just get what they want.
Now, I totally get the benefits of a homogenous client environment. I do.
But who's kidding who? We live in an age where we're more heterogeneous than ever. Why not just accept the fact that we can manage multiple client OS versions -- or at least we should be able to -- and use this as a reason to bring those skills and techniques up to speed? We don't freak out about multiple server OS versions in the datacenter -- I have clients running nearly every version of SQL Server that's been released in the past decade, on a smorgasbord of Windows OS versions. They're fine.
So maybe, just maybe, we should let some Windows 8 sneak into our environments for regular users. Start getting adept at having the right tools, and the right knowledge, to manage it alongside Windows 7. And Windows XP. And whatever else walks in the door.
Don Jones is a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s MVP Award, and is an Author Evangelist for video training company Pluralsight. He’s the President of PowerShell.org, and specializes in the Microsoft business technology platform. Follow Don on Twitter at @ConcentratedDon.