Get ready for Windows 8 support headaches

How Windows 8 could put the IT department in the middle of a never-ending fight between end users and the enterprise

For all the hype surrounding Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 operating system, significant adoption isn't expected to come from anyone but consumers.

However, that doesn't mean the enterprise IT department won't have to deal with it.

Gartner analyst Michael Silver predicts that "migration fatigue," a condition common among organizations that have recently spent substantial time and money adopting Windows 7, will prevent most from making the leap to Windows 8. He's not alone, either, with IDC researchers predicting that Windows 8 will be "largely irrelevant" on traditional PCs in general.

MORE: Campaign now for workers to buy Windows 8 on x86 tablets

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Naturally, that means Microsoft will need to find success for Windows 8 in consumer tablet and PC sales. And with the Windows 8 consumer preview set to release during this week's much-hyped Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Microsoft can start to drum up consumer interest before the operating system's expected 2012 release.

According to some, these expectations could be paving a bumpy road for enterprise network managers who are already subjected to the common issues of bring-your-own-device policies

Aaron Suzuki, CEO of SmartDeploy, which helps enterprise customers migrate operating systems, says the fact that these consumer-friendly tablets come preloaded with a Windows OS will make many anticipate compatibility with their Windows-based work PCs.

"If you can get a Windows 8 device for cheaper than you can get an iPad and it does cool stuff, everyone's going to get one," Suzuki says. "So now you have everyone bringing their cool Windows device to work and it does all these things, and they'll start saying 'load up my work apps' and expecting LOB applications to work on that platform."

Especially with most users having been acclimated to Windows applications for work purposes for years, it won't be long before these devices show up in the enterprise, Silver says.

"Consumerization affects pretty much every product in market," Silver says. "So there very well could be some users who decide they like Windows 8 or that they're not happy with the device the organization has given them, and that certainly could spur some Windows 8 use in the enterprise, even if the organization isn't the one that decided to use it."

The increasingly accepted BYOD trend in the enterprise may cause a disconnect between the expectations of employees and the reality of their employers' IT environment, Suzuki says. Although employees will see their tablets' compatibility with Windows applications as an opportunity to improve productivity, their migration-fatigued employer will treat it as just another personally owned device. From there, conflict is likely to ensue, Suzuki says.

"The potential implications are then that all other people start bringing their Windows 8 devices as their sole computing platform and the expectation is if they bring it to work then they can do all of their work on it," he says. "Technically, it's an unmanaged device because you may not be set up to lay down antivirus or all of the applications that you use to secure the network on that new platform. You may not have the licenses to do so."

Silver also acknowledged that, if this Windows 8 consumerization trend were to become significant, there will be "certain accommodations organizations need to make for personally owned Windows machines."

Beyond the complaints from end users who may feel entitled to compatibility between their personal Windows 8 device and their work PC, the IT department will further be plagued with the addition of new hardware running yet another mobile OS on the network. That means installing more clients on more devices, which, while necessary, "does get some user backlash," Silver says.

Suzuki toyed with the idea that Microsoft may execute a successful "bottom-up" approach, in which consumer adoption of Windows 8 devices may cause such a disruption in the workplace that enterprise customers are forced to upgrade to Windows 8. However, he added that it would take years if that trend were to even gain traction.

Silver also speculated as to whether Microsoft could ever see enterprise interest in Windows 8. But, considering the current climate for OS migration, he concluded that it would be a long time for that to happen, which means the IT department could be in for a long wait for Windows 8 harmony.

"On PCs, if Microsoft is lucky, I think it's more likely that organizations will decide that at some point in the future, maybe sometime in 2015, maybe they'll bring in Windows 8 for their new PCs," Silver says. "But I really don't see that many organizations deploying it on existing PCs, and even on new PCs I think there will be a lot of organizations that try to skip it entirely."

Colin Neagle covers Microsoft security and network management for Network World. Keep up with his blog: Rated Critical, follow him on Twitter: @ntwrkwrldneagle. Colin's email is cneagle@nww.com.

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