Microsoft to biz: Just so you get off XP, we don't mind if you go Win 7
But Windows 8 is Business Class all the way
Despite the shiny, consumer-friendly crayon box of Surface and the Glee-style TV ads , Microsoft wants us to know that Windows 8 has a serious side, and is perfect for the enterprise. But it seems that a lot of its business-class features might be inaccessible to the very people it is attempting to target.
At an event in London this week, the software giant attempted to woo enterprise customers by re-hashing features in Windows 8, giving its full business credentials and bringing in major business muscle to back it up.
The muscle came from British Telecom and Poste Italiane. The former has equipped 4,500 engineers with ruggedised Panasonic laptops running Windows 8 Pro, with screens that flip, turning the laptops into chunky tabs. Poste Italiane, meanwhile, has built three sales apps that are being used on 53 Windows 8 devices by senior management, with plans for 500 devices to be rolled out by Christmas. In total, Poste Italiane runs about 130,000 end points.
Those enterprise features? Well, there's Windows To Go, which lets you boot your desktop from a USB; Direct Access, which lets you join a corporate network securely without erecting a VPN; Branch Cache, which allows users to cache local versions of downloaded files; and, finally, the ability to run Windows 7 apps.
It's that last point, running Windows 7 apps, that should mean the most for the enterprise - because it's Windows 7 that big businesses are installing, and this OS will likely continue to be the standard for biz barons for some time.
After holding out against Windows 7 for the past three years, businesses are now being forced to move because Windows XP support runs out in less than two years' time - in April 2014. The Reg knows of major US government and financial sector organisations with hundreds of thousands of PCs running Windows XP which are only now migrating to Windows 7.
In response, Microsoft has set a target of 70 per cent  of enterprise PCs running Windows 7 by the end of its fiscal year, in June.
Given that the barrier for entry for these enterprises is an application re-write and hardware refresh, you should expect such operations to remain running Windows 7 for years. That means those with hundreds of thousands of PCs going to Windows 7 now won't go to Windows 8 en masse; instead we can expect them to migrate to Windows 8 in patches - or even skip the touchy OS altogether.
That should mean Microsoft's hard sell on the enterprise-ready nature of Windows 8 is premature, and possibly irrelevant, because a move is still years off - if the enterprise ever gets there.
I put this to Erwin Visser, senior director of Windows commercial marketing. Visser said: "The guidance we give to enterprise customers is: the priority is to get rid do Windows XP, then in their Windows 7 migration they can bring in Windows 8 side by side for those scenarios that make sense."
He insisted there is "immediate value" in going to Windows 8.
BT and Poste Italiane illustrate the point. BT standardised on Windows 7 yeas ago so has the foundations for Windows 8. Representing the service provider was BT's director of end-user computing Peter Scott, who said he expects to run a mix of Microsoft and non-Microsoft operating systems, refreshing only as the money and business case permits.
Poste Italiane is starting small, with just a select number of CRM apps for a small group of users and stylised to take advantage of Windows 8's sliding, exploding and cascading tiles and presentation.
How have pilots and early rollout gone and how has Windows 8 fitted in? When it comes to talking about factors that inhibit a Windows 8 adoption, the narrative of reviewers and pundits is cultural: likely end-user confusion over the tiled interface, lack of Start button and switching between apps like Internet Explorer in Metro and Classic.
Scott spoke about the short Windows 8 training course and said there are just five to six things users needed to know before they get going. "They'd like us to have us running more apps as Windows 8 modern [Metro] apps. At the moment, some of their apps are old apps. It's a nice way to take the old stuff with us as we move over to the modern world," Scott said.
But knowing your away around Windows 8 is pointless unless there's something to actually use it with, and that means apps - and we're talking business-class software, not the kind of Windows Store fluff Microsoft is been throwing at consumers. This is what will help determine how far and fast enterprises go in rolling out Windows 8.
It was such apps that helped establish Windows during the 1980s and 1990s as Adobe, Oracle and Lotus and others dutifully compiled their APIs to run on Bill Gates' new code. To that end, Microsoft will again depend on independent software vendors, this time writing Metro versions of existing apps for download from the Windows Store and to a Metro UI.
Today, Microsoft cites two enterprise names: SAP and SunGard.
SunGard has announced a version of its IntelliMatch Operational Control Manager for Windows 8, and Apple's iOS 6, after the Windows 8 launch in October. Meanwhile, SAP - the world's largest maker of business software and a long-time Microsoft partner on Windows Server and Excel - plans to support  Windows 8 with its apps.
ISVs coming by the week?
Visser conceded that buy-in from ISVs is "very important". However, he claimed the shift to Windows 8 for them is "no different" than upgrading their apps for Windows XP and Windows 7. Back then, you built software that was installed from a CD, DVD or over the network to a hard drive or onto a corporate desktop image.
But Windows 8 is a different story. Windows 8 apps are downloaded from an online store. A UEFI boot security system on the PC motherboard prevents unauthorised code from running. Meanwhile, the interface has undergone a seismic shift, with mouse and keyboard giving way to touch and swipe.
Visser told The Reg Microsoft is working with ISVs to support Windows 8. "Every week you will see business ISVs making announcements around Windows 8," he promised.
What do ISVs need to see to convince them to write apps for Windows 8? Proof of market acceptance - an iPhone or iPad-like tipping point before they'll both re-building and supporting apps for Windows 8? Visser wouldn't be drawn. App-building for Win8 offered devs "the opportunity to build new and innovative apps and leverage their current knowledge," he said.
Until there is that Apple-like tipping point that gets the Oracles and Salesforces on Windows 8, Microsoft will have to rely on the ability of Windows 7 apps to run on Windows 8. But, as you'd expect, the picture isn't that simple.
Windows 7 apps written for x86 won't run on Windows tablets running Windows RT, the version of Windows built for ARM. You can install Windows 7 apps on Window 8 machines running Intel chips without a Microsoft secure key - but should you be able to get a legacy app to actually work on ARM, you'd need a Microsoft key to work with UEFI boot.
Installing Windows 7 apps - what Microsoft is calling Line of Business (LoB) apps - means embarking on a process called sideloading . Again, this being Microsoft and Windows 8, sideloading is not straightforward.
You can sideload on Windows RT, Windows Server 2012, Windows 8 Enterprise or Windows 8 Pro. The snag is: when it comes to the client, machines must be "domain joined". Only Windows 8 Enterprise can be what Microsoft calls "domain joined" - which, in non-Microsoft-speak, means attached via Microsoft's Active Directory.
Without domain joining, you are required to have a Microsoft product activation key, which comes as part of a Microsoft volume licence.
If anything was designed to discourage anybody from putting legacy apps on Windows 8, then it's forcing their entry into the minefield of licensing.
For all this work, Windows 7 apps won't get that signature Metro effect UI - so no tiles, no data and workflow integration, and no swiping.
It's a complicated and an uncertain picture. No wonder Microsoft has made Office 2013 and versions of its Dynamics business apps available for Windows 8. This should help carry people over. No wonder BT and Poste Italiane are finding their way carefully - they are companies which, unlike the rest of us, were members of Microsoft's first wave adopter programme and they have already conducted pilots, meaning they got plenty of support from Microsoft.
Scott revealed two challenges. The first actually goes back to Windows XP, as some of BT's core CRM apps remain tied into Windows XP's browser, IE6, and don't work in the Windows 8 browser, IE10. Scott says his IT supplier has promised to have solved the issue by next February.
The other challenge cuts to the heart of Microsoft's advice to run Windows 8 with Windows 7, and it comes back to the applications and interface narrative. Sure, users quickly adapt to Windows 8, but Scott says that once you've gone to Windows 8 and Metro, he doesn't advise that you go back. "The thing you don't want to do is run Windows 8 on one device and Windows 7 on another," Scott said.
Poste Italiane's Vincent Nicola Santacroce, meanwhile, reckoned his use of Windows 8 has so far been "as a toy", with execs using apps for stock information and news. The staffers he calls Poste Italiane's "more generic users" - the salespeople - run Windows 7 desktop PCs.
"In the first five to six months we have been running it with top and middle management... so that's people with certain user experiences and [who] don't drill down into big process applications. So if there are issues, they will come out in the next couple of months as we start to extend it to people who are at a lower level," Santacroce said.
Ultimately Microsoft's s carefully orchestrated pitch about enterprises rolling out Windows 8 and working with ISVs on application support may prove irrelevant, and not just because companies are going to Windows 7 - an operating system that will displace Windows 8 as the standard enterprise platform.
It may prove irrelevant because Microsoft rather hopes to force the hand of the corporate IT department by targeting consumers with Windows 8.
Microsoft hopes Windows 8 and devices like Surface will ride into business by capitalising on the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend that has seen iPads and iPhones force their way into the workplace.
If Microsoft is successful, the irony is that many of those enterprisey features that Microsoft touted in London this week - Windows To Go, Direct Access and so on - won't matter because they only come on Windows 8 Enterprise , which only comes under a Microsoft volume licence. Such licences do not come with the Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro or Windows RT. ®