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Facing an Audience of Windows 8/RT Skeptics

Just three weeks from today, Microsoft will launch Windows 8 and its Windows RT-based Surface RT tablets at an event set to take place in New York. While this will kick off a new era for Windows and its partner ecosystem, plenty in the IT community are cynical about Microsoft's prospects.

I stepped into a lion's den of them Thursday when I sat on a panel called Advances in Mobile Devices: Technologies, Products and Strategies at the Interop 2012 show in New York. I asked the audience of about 50 enterprise IT pros how many have iPads in their organizations; about three-quarters raised their hands. I then asked how many plan to buy tablets running Windows 8 or Windows RT and, alas, only two or three people raised their hands.

Interop 2012 panelists. Standing: Michael Dortch (moderator). Sitting (L-R): Brian Katz, Phillipe Winthrop, Jeffrey Schwartz

Does that mean new Windows 8 and Windows RT-based tablets including Surface RT are DOA? It should come as little surprise that this is a question that's been on my mind for some time. While it's clear Windows will never experience the dominance it once had, its success or lack thereof will take years to play out.

Take the example of my co-panelist, Brian Katz, head of mobility engineering at the global pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, which has 110,000 employees. Like many large enterprises, one strike against any short-term uptake for Windows 8-based PCs or convertibles or Surface RTs is the fact that the company is in the latter stages of a Windows 7 rollout. Though Katz says he does get requests for full-blown Windows tablets, it's less expensive to give an employee an iPad and a lower-cost PC. What will it take for Sanofi to get excited about Windows 8 and RT?

"I need them to be priced significantly less than an iPad," Katz said during the one-hour session, emphasizing he'll be disappointed if the keyboard costs extra. "The second piece is I need to be able to manage it with whatever management system my enterprise has. Microsoft has said, 'Hey, you use [Windows] InTune.' Let's be clear, the enterprise part of me wants it to succeed."

Katz is well aware that Windows RT and Surface RT tablets won't connect to Active Directory domains and can't be managed by System Center, and that's an issue for him and most decision makers at large enterprises. Full-blown Windows 8 tablets will support both the traditional Windows desktop interface and the new Modern UI (formerly known as "Metro"). Another make-or-break factor in the equation Katz and others on the panel said is a strong ecosystem of apps that support the Modern UI.

Also making it hard to predict whether enterprises will embrace Windows 8 and Windows RT is the so-called "consumerization of IT" and the fact that end users, not technology decision makers, have a greater influence than ever over what they will use to do their jobs. And there is less concern about operating systems.

"Users don't care," said the panel's moderator Michael Dortch, a longtime industry analyst who is now senior product marketing manager at ServiceNow. "All they care about is applications and getting their jobs done. There may be a set of applications that dominate the ecosystem but no one cares what platforms the run on." Katz agreed, saying the only time it matters is when the key applications a user needs comes with the operating system.

With just three weeks until launch, little is known about what's in store for Windows RT and the Surface RT systems. Microsoft has not disclosed detailed specs other than the fact that they're based on ARM's System-on-Chip (SoC) architecture.

"Microsoft has been very hush-hush in what they're providing to us vendors," said panelist Phillipe Winthrop, founder of the Enterprise Mobility Forum, who recently joined mobile device management vendor Veliq.

"What's going to happen?" Winthrop asked in reference to demand for Windows 8/RT. "No one knows."

What's your prediction? Leave a comment below or drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on October 05, 2012