In a few days, Microsoft will be presenting Windows 8 to an eager audience at CES followed by a February beta (suggesting product availability is in the late September to late November timeframe). Most companies, according to Gartner, are currently planning to pass on this OS given they either have just finished, have finished planning, or are in the process of a Windows 7 rollout. However, there are some interesting things about Windows 8 to consider that may make it more sensible to wait and use this OS than move ahead with Windows 7. We'll explore that and also highlight the problem Microsoft will have positioning this product properly.
Windows 8 over Windows 7
There are a lot of changes in Windows 8. The biggest change in Windows 8 isn't the user interface, which is a blend of the one used in Windows 7 and Metro, the interface first seen in the Windows Phone 7 offering. It is the fact that it will run on ARM processors. ARM PCs won't run legacy code and they will only get the Metro interface. From your perspective, this means they won't run any virus currently in the wild and, given their initial low volume, will likely fall well behind even Apple as likely targets.
Part of the goal of a security plan is to institute a process that makes you the least vulnerable of peer companies in order to push criminals away from you and to those other firms. It sounds a bit Darwinian, but this survival-of-the-fittest strategy often goes to the core of why some firms remain untouched and other firms get hit.
By deploying Windows 8 on ARM, a firm could effectively take its desktops off the target lists for up to several years while the market catches up and the trade-off is the elimination of all legacy desktop code. But given much of that code may be a decade or more older, that it largely lacks even the ability to be updated, it may be about time to force a newer version or for the manager who owns it to finally put this aging code out of its misery and bring the entire desktop into the 21st century.
The end result of this deployment is a desktop environment that is largely immune to viruses, protected by built-in antivirus products (expected to ship with Windows 8) and lacking in all of that old unsupportable code that folks have put off putting a stake in.
As we have seen, iPads are swarming all though shops this year but they lack centralized control, they often can't be remotely wiped when lost and security on them is defined by one word and that is "bad." Largely, this is because this security is password-based and we know that password-based security is inherently flawed. Windows 8 provides an opportunity to not only have a common platform across all products, but also to select products that are designed for the enterprise and have a higher security profile with hardware that supports biometrics as a stronger barrier to access. The combination of a common platform and a more consistent security solution should prove compelling in environments likely to be targeted from disgruntled employees, terrorists and foreign governments - that pretty much includes everyone.
Finally, a number of IT shops have expressed an interest in living under Apple's App store and a fear of Android's largely because of the number of malware apps that have appeared in that ecosystem. Microsoft's Windows 8 app store is a blend of the best practices of both, providing the willingness of the Android products for application breadth and the curation of the Apple store assuring a malware-free environment. This best-of-both-worlds approach may make it easier for line managers to use this store to QC their code and for IT to get out of the middle of the process much like many do with the Apple App Store. In addition, the process the app goes through during approval is reported back and anomalies can be more quickly addressed as a result, assuring a more timely release of the related code.
In short, this might be a way for IT to pass responsibility over to Microsoft while still maintaining a high quality level on the custom applications. Better and cheaper are seldom seen together and should be well received.
Wrapping Up: Windows 8
The big problem with Windows 8 will be the number of choices. Historically, you got the professional version on one of two configurations: desktop or laptop. Now you'll get an additional hardware form factor and an additional choice, processor type, and it isn't trivial. This explodes the number of choices three times to 6 (ARM or x86 on tablets, laptops and desktops). The more choices the longer it takes to make them, but you may find one of these choices comes closer to your needs than the limited set you now have and you may want to consider the advantages of these extra choices before choosing between these OSes.