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Gartner Releases Windows 8.1 Upgrade Advice for Enterprises

According to a talk by Gartner Inc., IT will need a three-approach plan when upgrading to Windows 8.1

Michael Silver, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, laid out those ideas in a Webinar on Thursday. The talk served to update Gartner's June report offering early advice on Windows 8.1. Silver maintained his previous positions on what to do. He said that IT pros are going to face issues associated with Microsoft's faster software release cadence, with Windows 8 releases expected to arrive annually, instead of once every three years. He particularly pointed to the problem of trying to keep Web applications current with Internet Explorer, since Microsoft tends to release a new version of its browser with each new version of Windows.

For instance, IE 11 comes with Windows 8.1 and organizations can't use older versions of IE with that operating system, Silver explained. However, many of Gartner's clients have been saying that they are still stuck on using IE 8. Because Microsoft ties IE to the OS platform, that's making it difficult for organizations to move their OSes and applications to Microsoft's newer releases.

Three Plans for Windows 8.1
Organizations can try three approaches to deal with Windows 8.1, according to Gartner. The first plan is to "keep up" with Microsoft. That means that organizations must test and remediate their applications for Windows 8.1 fairly quickly, even though testing and remediation can take a year for organizations. Windows 8.0 support ends in late 2015, so organizations will need to prepare to make that jump, too.

Silver said that organizations currently have two years to test and remediate Windows 8.1 apps. "And if you haven't been able to get off Windows XP, how are you going to do that?"

"The point is, once you embrace Windows 8, you are signing up to keep up with Microsoft," Silver said. And that may mean having to move to a new version on Windows to stay supported, he added. It may also mean that organizations will need to test and remediate Internet Explorer "pretty much every year," he said.

Silver said that past major Windows releases have been "very costly and scary" for organizations to deal with, but that things may get easier with Windows 8. For instance, Getting to Windows 7 tended to require a wipe and format, but Windows 8 upgrades are more like applying a service pack, he said. "What doesn't change a lot is app testing and remediation," he added. Microsoft's faster release cadence with Windows 8 is probably too fast for organizations, Silver said, but for consumers, it may work fairly well.

A second plan is to "hold up" and stick with Windows 7 for the next six years, until the OS loses support in early 2020. If so, organizations can expect few service packs over that time period, according to Gartner. Silver said that some organizations may try this approach hoping that there may be more non-Windows apps by 2020 and that they'll be in a more manageable world at that time.

The third plan is to just give up. Instead of managing the PC experience from the hardware on up, consider supporting bring-your-own-device (BYOD) approaches for workers. "Why should we care what the hardware and OS is?" Silver said. The idea is for organizations to just care about the apps. Such an approach might seek to deploy apps through approaches like virtual desktop infrastructure or terminal services. Users can purchase their own devices and IT can just ensure security and the provisioning of apps. BYOD support currently is at about 10 percent in organizations, Silver said.

Windows Not as Dominant
Applications are becoming less dependent on Windows, according to Gartner. Silver said that about "40 percent to 45 percent of apps require Windows today and we think that number continues to decline." By 2016, Microsoft's Windows and Windows Phone OS market share on devices will have shrunk to 25 percent overall, compared with 75 percent represented by Android, Mac OS, iPhone, iPad, Symbian and RIM, according to Gartner.

Silver said that Microsoft isn't becoming irrelevant, but it's not as dominant with Windows on intelligent devices. Tablets are the more attractive devices that have been released over the last few years, and Microsoft is still figuring out how to get into the tablet business. He described the year 2013 as "a lost year for everyone." Intel's Ivy Bridge was a core chip in higher end machines and it had good performance but "pretty lousy battery life." Intel's lower end Clover Trail Atom chip supported six to eight hours of battery life, but it had "lousy performance" that "slowed Windows down." People are expecting devices more like Apple's iPad, with eight or 10 hours of battery life, he said.

Windows 8.1 Features
Windows 8.1 has a more polished user experience over its predecessor. It also features an improved search capability, automatic virtual private network access, start screen controls for IT pros and open mobile device management support. Silver called out three features as particularly useful for organizations, namely measured boot, remote wipe of business data from devices and the ability to establish "workplace joins" with devices. However, the last two capabilities also require using Window Server 2012, he explained.

Windows 8.1 brings back a Start button of sorts, a Start menu of sorts and the ability to boot to the desktop, Silver said. Those capabilities address some customer complaints "but we believe these issues are a bit overblown," he added. Having touch capabilities in a device isn't as much of a concern with Windows 8.1, Silver said. In the near future, it will be hard to find machines that aren't touch enabled, he said.

In general, Gartner recommends that organizations create a plan to address Microsoft's more frequent Windows releases. Organizations that can't handle the faster pace should stay on Windows 7. Organizations should consider improving their agility in provisioning applications through BYOD solutions. They can also check that their applications aren't dependent on using IE, which may help them better deal with Microsoft's faster release cadence.

The talk, "Meet the New Microsoft -- Windows 8.1 and What to do About it," is available on demand here.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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