Could Windows 8 Destroy Microsoft’s Hold on the Enterprise Market?

Microsoft has a firm grip on the world of small business and enterprise computing. Workstations at offices both small and large are typically filled with workstations pre-loaded with one version of Windows or another. While not everyone uses Windows at home, the business world depends on a level of consistency to keep everything running smoothly, especially when it comes to IT systems.

With Microsoft taking a step in the mobile direction with Windows 8, the question remains as to whether or not this operating system will be a hit or a miss in the business world. Could Microsoft actually lose ground in its biggest market?

Apple is Already Making Gains

Business Insider has reported that Apple stands to make between $9-10 billion in enterprise sales of its Mac computers in 2012. While this may not be a massive boatload for the industry leader, it represents significant gains in a market that Microsoft has all but dominated for the past twenty years.

Add to that the fact that iPads hold 96% of the enterprise tablet market while iPhones continue to climb and currently hold a 53% majority. That’s over $10 billion in iPad sales alone, making Apple a serious contender in the business world where it was hardly a blip on the radar only a few years ago.

Training Costs Money

First, learning curves for employees to understand corporate systems is a costly problem. Training costs money, and having to train each new employee on how to use an operating system that is dramatically different from the one most of the workforce is used to will be a hard pill for small businesses and enterprises to swallow.

One of the biggest advantages Microsoft has in the business world is that it’s familiar to most users. Almost everyone who works with or around computers has used Windows at one time or another, and is familiar with the way it operates. Windows 8, on the other hand, is quite different.

Chris Pirillo’s father, Joe Pirillo, uses business applications on a daily basis as part of his work as a CPA. He’s been around computers for decades, and is an avid fan of Windows XP. Unfortunately, when he was tasked with performing simple navigation steps in Windows 8, he was faced with a number of changes that made this difficult.

Businesses don’t have time or money to spend teaching employees how to use an operating system. If you train a crew of 15 people on how to navigate Windows 8 for even a few hours, you’re looking at the cost of paying the employees for that time, loss of productivity as they are pulled from their assignments, and the costs involved with creating the training environment for them to learn in without potentially harming important business systems. Add to this potential follow-up training and other needs, and the costs could go well into the thousands, or tens of thousands. Now think about the costs involved with doing this for a thousand employees.

Microsoft Can’t Afford Another Vista

Chris Pirillo, the founder of LockerGnome and a leading consumer experience advocate, has detailed his opinion of what would happen if Microsoft doesn’t hit a home run with Windows 8. This opinion comes with the consumer market largely in mind, though the enterprise market will undoubtedly follow suit — for several reasons.

I remember speaking to the IT manager of a municipal utility company and asking why systems were still running Windows 2000, even though Windows Vista had shipped. He explained to me that the reason behind it was that so many internal systems depended on consistency and compatibility with outdated software that an upgrade would cost millions, even in a relatively small branch. While that company later adopted Windows XP, it is unlikely that it would have done so if support had continued for Windows 2000.

Microsoft Windows Vista had a reputation (rightfully so) of being unstable and incompatible with legacy hardware and software. This was due, in part, to the many changes that had been made on the back end to support newer technologies. It’s hard to look at Windows 8 with its dramatically different interface and new app structure and not see a similar mountain in front of users. If not like Windows Vista, perhaps even worse.

With OS X becoming a larger player in the high-end consumer market, and having a reputation of being consistent, even in the face of significant upgrades, it would be hard to imagine IT departments around the world aren’t at least considering making the switch. Undoubtedly, enterprise software manufacturers are beginning to see the writing on the wall, as well.

No Clear Signs of How Businesses Will Take Advantage of Metro

Aside from the tablet and smartphone market, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of appeal to using Metro within the corporate world.

For one, business software developers would need to refashion their flagship products to meet this new standard if they wish to participate in the Metro experience. Should Microsoft consider phasing out the legacy Aero desktop and its supported software in upcoming releases, it could mean massive changes in how this software looks and operates.

This doesn’t even take into account the costs involved with upgrading IT infrastructure to support the new operating system. Programs that do take advantage of Metro require a lot more than a simple update to do so, meaning that the costs would be passed on to businesses. Would you pay $800 a pop for a program that does the same thing as the one that already works on your existing operating system?

Putting the consumer market aside for a moment, the standard Aero desktop is currently being used by office workers for multitasking, comparing data from one window to the next, and organizing large amounts of detailed information. In Metro, you have the ability to look at one thing at a time, unless you place one item in a sliver to the left or right of the main content area of the screen. This would hardly be an easy transition for employees to make, let alone software developers.

Change happens, and it’s up to each company to make the decision of whether or not to upgrade to Windows 8, stick with what they have, or switch to an alternative such as OS X. As far as things stand right now, it would appear that Apple is in a very good position.