IT unimpressed by Windows 8.1 as Microsoft readies Windows 9

Microsoft will reportedly lay out its vision for Windows 9, but is IT ready for yet another operating system when Windows 8.1 has yet to make a dent?

Microsoft is expected to show off a roadmap for its Windows 9 client operating system this spring, but it's unlikely to excite most IT shops, given their lackluster embrace of Microsoft's currently shipping OS, Windows 8.1.

Enterprises continue to adopt Windows 8.1 at a turtle's pace, since many IT shops have only recently migrated to Windows 7. Some even remain on Windows XP. Others have simply tested Windows 8.1 but have not committed to this release.

Windows 8 and 8.1, now 15 months from the latter's launch, have reached just 10.5%, according to NetMarketShare's desktop OS market share report of December 2013. Windows 7 still commands a lion's share, with 47.5% of the market. Windows XP still has nearly 29% market share. Windows Vista owns 3.6%, and Mac OS X, Linux and others round out the total with a combined 9.4%.

Organizations are hesitating to upgrade to Windows 8.1 for many reasons, some of which include costly licensing, application incompatibility, rejection of the revamped user interface and the need to wait for a hardware refresh.

"Windows 7 is good for most enterprises," said Bob O'Donnell, chief analyst at TECHnalysis Research LLC in Foster City, Calif.

Microsoft must show enterprises a significantly easier path to make the transition to Windows 8.1, he said. O'Donnell noted that the lack of a true touch-based Office suite also represents another challenge for enterprises considering an upgrade to Windows 8.1.

With a potential Windows 9 roadmap expected at the Microsoft's Build conference in April, IT administrators have expressed hope that a new version of the OS might bring back the Start button and menu. Current iterations of Windows 8.1 have something of a pseudo offering of the iconic Start button and menu feature.

"That one feature may make people take a second look at Windows 8," said Ric Getter, a programmer and analyst at Portland Community College. The Portland, Ore.-based college is 95% Windows-based, but like many organizations, it has yet to standardize on Windows 8. Microsoft's shift to the new user interface will cost companies a lot of money for retraining, he added.

Some organizations have adopted Windows 8.1 on the desktop and in mobile devices to use for new applications. For example, companies such as Starwood Hotels & Resorts' Sheraton Hotels have added Windows 8 kiosks and tablets to give guests a better customer experience. These companies look toward business development and IT to provide innovative offerings that give end users an improved experience using touch-based devices.

Windows Phone 8.1 on the horizon

While Windows 9 will reportedly come in 2015, updates to Windows Phone 8.1 are expected in April. Microsoft announced an enterprise service pack for Windows Phone last fall. Windows Phone only captured 3.6% market share for the third quarter of 2013, according to IDC in Framingham, Mass.

By comparison, Android led with 81% share, and iOS came in at 12.9%. BlackBerry was down to 1.7% market share, while others made up 0.6% of the market.

Microsoft has tried to push Windows Phone in the enterprise, but it initially focused on consumers, said Brian Katz, head of mobile innovation at a large pharmaceutical organization. Katz said he looks forward to more enterprise-ready features in Windows Phone, such as virtual private network and full encryption capabilities.

Microsoft declined to comment on this story.

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