Windows 8's 2013 Enterprise Report Card: It Ain't No "A"

An estimated 40 million Windows 8 licenses have been sold by Microsoft in the first month of sales, with an indeterminate number sold after that. But it is not clear how many of those licenses will show up in the enterprise vs. the consumer market  (or even whether those licenses represent actual user numbers). With a radical departure in interface and mission, Microsoft may have gone too far for the business world with Windows 8, forcing always-conservative enterprise IT shops to stick with Windows 7 (or even Windows XP).

How Windows 8 will fare in the enterprise depends on how you define enterprise computing. What defines the enterprise is rapidly changing, thanks to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and Corporate-Owned, Personally Enabled (COPE) policies that are expanding client devices beyond the worker's desktop machine to include tablets and smartphones.

Breaking down those segmenst, we can grade Windows 8 chances of enterprise success in 2013:

Traditional Desktop: C-

It's easy to point a finger and laugh at Microsoft for throwing such a radical departure into the market. With echoes of Microsoft's history of  Fear-Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) campaigns warning that "it's too hard learn a new interface," many observers woudl find more than a little schadenfreude in watching Windows 8 crash and burn in the enterprise like Vista did.

The obvious issue is that enterprise IT - and enterprise workers - are still trying to wrap their heads around the interface formerly known as Metro. And trying to figure out how big their training budgets would have to be to re-train workers to use it. 

But it's not just a new interface. It's what that new interface represents. In an effort to make be more of a social platform, Windows 8 incorporates tiles and applets to connect users to news, social feeds and other info. IT managers, though, tend to read "social" as "distractions from work." 

So why not give Microsoft the failing grade it seems to deserve? One word: SharePoint. Specifically, the SharePoint 2013 collaboration platform, which will have more social tools built into it when released.

When most people look at Metro, they immediately see an interface geared for tablets and smartphones. And that's true. But Microsoft is not dumb - it had something else in mind with this desktop. Expect SharePoint to have hooks that help enterprise users run news feeds from SharePoint 2013 about document collaboration, company news and upcoming appointments. In that context, "social" could mean "getting more work done."

When you include SharePoint or some other enterprise content management system, Windows 8's desktop grade has to account for  potential for growth in this area. As social enterprise software grows, Windows 8 may be the best platform on which it will run.

Mobile Devices: B

According to Goldman Sachs, if you add up all of the consumer computing devices in the world, not just the PCs and laptops, but the phones and tablets too, Microsoft has just 20% of the world consumer market share - where it once dominated with 97%.

That's a crazy drop, very much attributable to the rise of Android and iOS devices, with some help from BlackBerry, Symbian and Bada along the way.

So why does Windows 8 earn a B in a sector where it is clearly yet not doing that well? This is about enterprise deployments, and when comparing Android vs. iOS vs. Windows 8 devices as part of a mobile strategy, enterprises are likely to give a lot of weight to Windows 8 machines.

The reason, of course, is application compatibility. As cool as iOS and Android devices are, there's still some work to be done to get these devices to talk to every enterprise service. It's getting better all the time, which supports Dan Rowinski's prediction about Apple in the enterprise. But right now, Windows 8's near-seamless compatibility with existing Windows applications is something that enterprise managers can't ignore.

Is compatibility alone enough? No.

Microsoft and other hardware vendors need to release a very hot and not-so-expensive device to make this all work. If enteprise users don't want to use Windows 8 devices, their compatability won't matter much The Surface looks cool enough to be that device, but the Windows RT version isn't fully compatible, and the Windows 8 Pro version is too expensive.

Remember, we're grading Windows 8's enterprise potential, not where it is today (that would be an incomplete, naturally). There are a lot of ifs involved in Windows 8 earning even this middling report card for 2013. If social enterprise takes off. If there's a really hot Windows 8 mobile device... But given the task facing Windows 8 in the business word, even the possibility of success is worth a lot.

Note: This lede for this article was updated to reflect a more accurate estimation of Windows 8 licenses sold.