Back in October I speculated that the enterprise will have to support Windows 8 whether it wants to or not. If anything, the plain old consumerization of IT will force technology departments to integrate it into employee preferences with corporate solutions. Windows 8 DesktopAt the time, there wasn’t a clear consensus on the what value Windows 8 would add to the enterprise and no one had yet seen the Microsoft Surface Pro, but now things are a lot different. Many of us have had at least a hands-on with the device, and many more have used Windows 8 on a day-to-day basis. Yet the debate continues about deploying Windows 8 in the enterprise. Why, nearly a year after its release, is there no clear consensus about the OS like there was about Windows 7, Vista, XP or ME? The answer is the nature of Microsoft’s flagship software and hardware. Faced with mobile, cloud, consumerization and BYOD, it has straddled the fence perfectly with Windows 8 and the Surface Pro, trying to simultaneously be an OS for tablet and desktop: an OS for consumers on one side and businesses on the other. The confusion encroaches into the enterprise because desktop admins think about Windows 8 upgrades like we did with previous upgrades, i.e., it’s all or nothing, only it's not. Windows 8 can coexist alongside Windows 7 desktops and ModernUI tablets, and that's s how it will be deployed throughout the enterprise.

No Write-Off Yet

Of course Windows 8 isn't a hit like Windows 7 or XP were, but it’s also not a dud like Vista or Me. Like the hybrid OS itself, Windows 8 falls somewhere in the middle. And because it’s not suitable globally, we may think that it shouldn’t be deployed at all. But that would be a mistake. Just because the OS doesn’t satisfy everyone’s needs doesn’t mean that there isn’t a role for it. So how can it be used? Not on the desktop of a standalone box. Windows 7 is fine for that. Instead, Windows 8 will fill emerging mobile needs that the iPad can’t fill because the iPad doesn’t fit into an enterprise strategy. Apple is a consumer-products maker first and an enterprise vendor second, whereas Microsoft has the enterprise built into its DNA. It’s not that Apple ignores the enterprise, it's just the enterprise is an afterthought. So there’s room for Microsoft to wiggle its way in during the upgrade cycle. There are apps that won’t run on the iOS 5.1.1. The original iPad is only three years old, whereas Windows is backward-compatible all the way to 16-bit apps written for Windows 3.1. There are apps written for my old iPhone with iOS 4.1 that can't run today. Not long ago I faced this challenge when deploying a dictation package to attorneys for their iPads. Without warning, the company that manufactured the software — iProRecorder — went out of business, taking it and our attorneys' dictations along with it.

iPad's Not Enough

Even though 94 percent of the Fortune 500 are at least testing the iPad (according to Apple CEO Tim Cook), Microsoft has a long-game advantage. The iPad can’t joint the domain, has no directory structure and little mouse support. That gives Microsoft an entry point even against staggering odds. As Dan O’Hara, vice president for mobility at solutions provider Avanade, told Forbes:
We are dealing with several companies that have gotten into the implementation [of iPads], and after the first iOS upgrade it is a lot more difficult than they had expected. Now they are looking at replacing iPads with the Microsoft tablets.
At the law firm where I work, I've helped a handful of attorneys set up their Surface Pros to connect with the network. The desktop side uses a Citrix receiver to connect to the office, while the tablet side allows them to read and mark-up PDFs and take and upload digital notes in meetings. It’s still early, and Microsoft can double its market share and still hold under 5 percent, but Windows 8 — and Windows 9 after that — will ensure that Microsoft is included in the next conversations where IT discusses a product refresh.