Dell positions itself squarely behind Windows 8 push

Windows 8 was front and centre at Dell’s second annual customer conference in Austin, Texas last week. It was on most of the computers in the Solution Center. It was on the machines made available to the media. And it was the only OS on stage during keynotes.

With the combination of touchscreen and laptop, chairman and CEO Michael Dell told the 6000 attendees, “we’re on the cusp of the next evolution.” He says he’s seeing high customer interest in the OS, even among enterprises, as they try to get ahead of the BYOD trend.

Windows 8 was the only OS seen on stage at Dell World.

The company is so confident in Windows 8 that it has launched a series of new touchscreen-equipped systems, ranging from a 27-inch consumer all-in-one PC  to a 10-inch Latitude tablet aimed squarely at the business market.

Brian Pitstick, executive director, mobile product marketing in Dell’s consumer and small business product group, says that Windows 8 is driving next generation PCs because it appeals both to users looking for cool devices, and IT managers needing manageable ones.

“People like the concept of devices that convert from laptops to tablets,” he observed. “But early convertibles didn’t feel like tablets.” He adds that despite the flaws – inadequate battery life, lack of power, and incomplete tablet experience –  quite a few of the early machines were sold, but he thinks the technology is finally there, able to deliver high performance with long battery life on an operating system optimized for touch.

Today, the company is taking a big bite, offering a large selection of choices ranging from laptops and desktops to tablets and convertibles.

Tim Brunt, program manager, personal computing and technology at IDC Canada says Dell has a good strategy. By being flexible in providing what the customer wants, it is able to service organizations of all types. Although Windows 8 is its OS of choice for new systems, the company is providing Windows 7 drivers for the machines as well so enterprises can stick with the tried and true OS if they so choose, and migrate at their own pace.

Despite Michael Dell’s confidence in customer interest in Windows 8, Brunt cites IDC research conducted just before the Windows 8 launch that showed very few businesses are actually planning to deploy Windows 8 in the near future. In fact, almost 60 per cent of large enterprises have no plans to deploy it at all. And as of the end of Q2 2012, almost 40 per cent of commercial portable installations were still running pre-Windows 7 operating systems; he wonders whether they will choose to skip Windows 8 entirely, and opt instead for Windows 7.

Pitstick, however, thinks there’s a huge opportunity for Windows 8 tablets, especially in verticals like health care, where ink can be more effective and efficient. Another hot area: BYOD, where he sees devices like the consumer-focused XPS 10 Windows RT tablet fitting well as a hybrid personal/business device. With its mobile keyboard dock that contains an additional battery, he says it will provide almost 20 hours of battery life, and look and feel like a laptop.

“We’re definitely jumping in (to Windows 8) with both feet,” he says. “I think Windows 8 will be a great enabler.” In the BYOD world, he goes on, companies will be able to continue to use Windows 7 line of business applications on Windows 8 tablets, where with any other tablet, such as an iPad, they would have to rewrite and migrate all at once, or support two platforms.

Dell is not just talking a good game; it’s adopting the OS itself. Internally, while the company is still on Windows 7, global CIO Andi Karaboutis says it is rolling out Windows 8 tablets to its sales force.

Like most enterprises introducing a new operating system, the company then plans to slowly roll out Windows 8 on laptops and desktops; it has already built a standard OS image and is proceeding with testing. It’s part of taking that big bite.

Lynn Greiner is a freelance business and technology journalist and analyst based in Toronto.

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