Windows 8 - the challenge of moving to a new operating system

Microsoft launched its Windows 8 operating system (OS) in 2012, promising manifold benefits - but what are the challenges of moving OS?

Microsoft launched its new operating system (OS), Windows 8, on 26th October 2012 promising to deliver substantial benefits, writes Charlie Mayes. The Windows 8 OS software includes an interface primarily for tablet computers, called Metro, as well as an enhanced version of the existing Windows 7. While the touch-optimised tablet friendly system is designed to appeal to younger users, already it has confused some traditional Windows customers who aren't used to the new interface.

Windows PC sales falling

With the launch of Windows 8, Microsoft hopes to challenge Google and Apple for the dominance of the tablet category. Microsoft has described the update as its most radical, and has even produced its own range of computers – called Surface – to showcase it. 

However, according to a report in December by NPD Group, consumer sales of Windows powered PCs in the United States has fallen by more than a fifth in the month since Windows 8 went on sale, compared to the same month in the previous year. Sales of Windows-based laptops were down 24%, while desktop sales shed 9%, resulting in an overall decline of 21%. 

Since Windows 8 was released, the OS has accounted for 58% of Windows computing device unit sales, compared with the 83% that Windows 7 accounted for at the same point after its launch in 2009.

It is unclear how successful Windows 8 OS will be in the long term, but this is clearly a disappointing start. This made me wonder about the future take-up for Windows 8. In today's climate, with such an emphasis on continual innovation, will organisations feel pressured by users to implement the supposed "next best thing'?

XP 10 years old but still in use 

I question whether Windows 8 OS will really add additional value worth the extra cost and time to move to a whole new operating platform. Recent figures show that Windows XP, the 10-year-old OS, still commands a leading 45% share of the market. Of course over time it has lost market share to Windows 7, but XP still accounts for nearly 50% of the market. 

As Microsoft continues to encourage people towards Windows 8, organisations need to seriously think about what is involved. There are a multitude of well-documented failed Windows migration projects. Today's IT environments are unbelievably complex and littered with hybrid technologies. This means that, for many organisations, the biggest barrier to migrating to a new operating system is application compatibility. Some organisations have literally thousands of applications in use across large numbers of desktops.

Compatibility issues

When tackling a project of this nature, organisations should not underestimate the size and complexity of the task and the impact that will be felt by the business during the migration. I've witnessed projects where the organisations involved have seriously underestimated their readiness to make the change, or even to fully understand the status of their desktop estate. In these circumstances it is highly unlikely any project will deliver the outcomes and benefits enshrined in the business case.

I've seen companies completely lose their way as their migration project becomes mired in desktop/application compatibility issues. It's as good a way of creating disgruntled users as I can think of. As an aside, it can become a costly and draining business if there's a third party service organisation involved and contractual responsibility for sorting out such a confused state is not clear.

Key questions to ask

The good news is that, with proper foresight and planning, this scenario can be avoided. Questions that should be considered include:

  • How will the migration impact the business? What are the change implications of migrating to a new technology/platform and how will the business benefit?
  • Has the organisation really thought through its internal processes, user demands and requirements?
  • Is the business really capable of moving to the new platform? How much will it cost and how long will it take? 
  • Are the existing applications compatible with Windows 8, or will upgrades and licence changes be required?
  • Does everything need to be migrated or can we take the opportunity to rationalise applications that aren't being used?

Cultural issues

Clearly there are major organisation, process and cultural changes needed in order to drive through a successful migration project. Successful projects require careful planning and management and constant communication to enable the end goal to be achieved. This means ensuring that both operational and business teams are fully engaged and applications teams are readying the most important applications. If you are working with a complex mix of thousands of users and applications, building and managing a realistic migration schedule needs to be the number one priority.

In summary, if you are embarking on a Windows 8 migration project, don't underestimate the size and complexity of the task, make process considerations a top priority and ensure all resources are bought into the project and are operating in concert. Communication with all major stakeholders is also a key priority. Otherwise it could be a very costly and painful process which in the end doesn't deliver the productivity returns the business is anticipating and end-users simply won't buy into the new OS.

Charlie Mayes (pictured) is managing director of DAV Management


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