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.

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