Why IT shops might skip the tablet-focused Windows 8

ANAHEIM, CALIF. Microsoft Corp. is trying to offer thebest of both worlds with its new Windows 8 OS, but it looks like it may end upgiving enterprise IT shops the worst of two form factors.

The company’s new start screen was created to address both the company’s lackof a touch-based OS and to visually connect its desktop and tablet OS withWindows Phone 7. The new Windows 8 OS is the first attempt by Microsoft to bringtogether desktop and mobile computing under one roof.

Working my way through the developer preview copy given out at this week’sMicrosoft BUILD conference, it is completely evident that Microsoft’s new tileUI is not some optional overlay getting in the way of using the classic desktopview. The tile-based UI is definitely interconnected with the traditionalWindows 7 desktop and using one or the other will be unavoidable.

That means all users running Windows 8 will be stuck with the new look.

But here’s the problem at this stage: the merged interface feel a bitunnatural.

The tile interface feels awkward and forced with the mouse and keyboard, butwhen used with touch, the screen is as “fast and fluid” as Microsoft claims.The same problem arises when trying to use touch in the classic desktop view,especially when you’re dealing with the option-filled ribbon that Microsoft hasadded to the folder box.

“A monitor without touch is dead,” said Jensen Harris, director of productmanagement for the Windows User Experience. “But that doesn’t mean mouse andkeyboards are going anywhere.”

Just like that quote suggests, the current state of Windows 8 seems a bitconflicted.

Because of how perfect the new start UI feels on a tablet, I’m really questioningwhy Microsoft needed to merge the desktop OS and tablet OS in the first place.

For a Microsoft tablet OS to work, Windows has to fade into the background andput the spotlight completely on the app and the content. It does thatbeautifully with its Metro-styled tile screen. But for many basic functionslike taking a detailed Control Panel view or killing an app in Task Manager,users will be reverted back to the desktop view.

The new interface will not only put developers at a crossroads, as they decidewhether or not to stick to creating traditional desktop apps versus completelyrevamping their software to the new Metro UI, but it will also put businessesin a touchy situation.

The new OS offers little for organizations using mostly non-touch laptops anddesktop PCs at a time when many IT shops have just recently made the switch toWindows 7. Unless your organization is looking to fully embrace tablets in asecure way, there could be little value in upgrading to Windows 8.

And what about Microsoft’s app sharing push?

While the idea of auto-syncing your e-mails, settings and data between multiplecomputers is brilliant for a consumer user, I’m not so sure enterprises will bethrilled about this functionality.  I imagine that Microsoft will provide ways for ITadministrators to manage these sharing features, but with so much of the OSrevolving around Web apps and data sharing, this seems to defeat the purpose ofadopting the OS.

During this week’s conference, Microsoft announced that it has almost surpassed450 million copies sold of Windows 7, with the OS finally surpassing XP inconsumer usage.

Despite the fact that IT staff would kill to get a hold of a the lighting fastboot speed, my prediction is that large companies will play it safe and hang onto Windows 7 for many years to come.

By Microsoft’s own declaration, Windows 8 is a “touch first” OS that will be arisky proposition for enterprises that do not want to break the currentexperience their users have on the desktop.

For example, if an IT shop is developing a custom app for Windows 8 compatible,it will now have to ensure that the app works across two very different formfactors.

With Windows 8, Microsoft has shown that it can create a killer tablet OS. Butletting it standalone on its own would certainly provide consumers a betteruser experience, and ensure enterprise IT customers get fewer headaches in thefuture.

IT departments would certainly welcome the ability to manage tablets anddesktop PCs under the same management platform, but that is a very differentproposition than actually merging the two under the same set of apps and UI.

If Apple has shown anything with its iPad, it’s that a tablet can be a businesstool without sharing the same UI or underlying architecture as a desktop OS.