Will Windows 8 be a hit with small businesses? We’ll have to wait and see

Waiting for Windows 8′s SMB impact

When the Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) hype machine goes into full effect, it can be a sight to behold. And it certainly has been in full force around the software giant’s new operating system, Windows 8.

It’s an important release for Microsoft, and very much a departure from past Windows editions with its touch-first design philosophy for the interface. Microsoft wants one basic user interface across endpoints – traditional computers, smartphones and tablets – and is gambling traditional desktop users, most of whom still work with a mouse and keyboard, won’t be alienated by the new design.

So while there’s always much interest in charting the adoption of a new Windows release, the interest is intensified with Windows 8. How fast will the new version be adopted, and will it happen faster than previous upgrades, are always interesting questions.

The verdict is still out on Windows 8′s popularity vs. Windows 7.

An article in The Next Web claims to have the answer already, using license sales figures from Microsoft to make the claim Windows 8 is on track to easily outsell Windows 7” by using the figures to calculate a 45.8 per cent higher per-day license sales rate for Windows 8 compared to Windows 7.

Looks like a startling gap, but there’s a few issues with the comparison. For one, while similar time periods are compared, the lengths of time are different (hence the averaging). License sales are driven largely by PC sales, which fluctuate for many reasons independent of an OS release. People don’t buy a new PC for a new OS; they buy a new PC and it comes a new OS. Also, Windows 7 was primarily a desktop OS. As mentioned, Windows 8 is a desktop, tablet and smartphone OS. It’s being licensed to more categories of products so of course its numbers will be higher; doesn’t mean it’s more popular with users though. It’s not necessarily an apples to apples comparison.

For ITBusiness.ca readers, the overall adoption numbers, which are consumer-dominated, aren’t the most relevant measure. Nor, bring driven by new PC sales at retail, is it a good measure of the popularity of the OS or if SMBs are finding it useful to its business. Here, business and enterprise adoption is a more relevant measure.

Enterprise adoption is a more relevant measure for SMBs as its not driven by PC sales, or even license sales. Most enterprises have master license agreements with Microsoft that allow them to upgrade to new revisions at their own pace for no additional cost. Their decision to upgrade isn’t based on cost, but on the utility of the new revision and its compatibility with its existing business processes and applications. Enterprise adoption tends to therefore lag consumer adoption, but an apples to apples comparison of the pace of Windows 8 vs. Windows 7 enterprise adoption would be a relevant measure.

Here, we do have data to evaluate. A report by Forrester Research released last week surveyed 12,000 IT decision makers in North America and Europe, and found 24 per cent said they had no plans in place to migrate to Windows 8 yet but probably would at some point. When asked the same question around the Windows 7 launch, it was 49 per cent. Just four per cent said they had plans to migrate in the next year, compared to seven per cent for Windows 7.

Many enterprises have just finished their Windows 7 migrations, some of them after having stuck with Windows XP for a long time, skipping Vista. They’re not likely to be keen to begin another migration so soon unless the new revision offers marked productivity and performance improvements; there’s no data yet to say it does. Skepticism users will buy into the user interface is another likely mitigating factor.

What does it mean for SMBs? They should consider both the consumer and enterprise adoption curves. The pace of consumer adoption, as long as it’s a fair comparison, will offer insight into the acceptance of the user interface. And the pace of enterprise adoption will offer insight into any productivity and performance improvements of the new platform. A balance of the two will be appropriate.

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