VARs tend to love it when Microsoft releases a new operating system because they stand to make money from customers upgrading to the latest OS. This time around, however, things are different. Many VARs have reported that customers are avoiding Windows 8.
The missing Start menu
In Windows 8, the Start menu no longer exists. This has been cited as a reason to avoid the operating system: Many IT professionals fear escalating help desk calls from confused users. However, experience has shown that while there may be an initial spike in help desk calls, the call volume typically returns to normal once users have been properly instructed on how to work with the new interface. For customers who still aren't convinced, third-party organizations offer Windows 8 add-ons (such as Start8 and the freeware Classic Shell and Pokki) that bring back the Start menu.
The dual-mode interface
Another major reason cited by critics as a barrier to Windows 8 adoption is the fact that in order to use the operating system, users may be forced to switch between two modes. The new Metro-style apps run on Windows 8's new Start screen. Meanwhile, legacy applications are forced to run in Desktop mode, which is completely separate from the Start screen.
Although it is difficult to make an argument in favor of forcing users to work with two separate interfaces, the best approach might be to explain to customers that Windows 8 can best be thought of as a transition area operating system. It works with most of the applications that customers are already running, but also has support for tomorrow's new Metro-style apps.
In many of the organizations in which Windows 8 has been deployed, users spend their time almost exclusively in Desktop mode. Aside from the missing Start button, Desktop mode provides an experience that should be familiar to anyone who has ever used Windows 7.
Over time, application vendors are likely to begin transitioning away from desktop applications and begin offering Metro-style apps. As this happens, users will begin spending a little more time with the Windows Start screen, until the Desktop mode is eventually no longer needed.
Why use the Metro interface?
As you explain to customers how the very nature of Windows is changing, one question that is sure to come up is why Microsoft is abandoning the familiar desktop interface in favor of the Windows Metro UI. There are a few different reasons for this. Probably the biggest reason is because PCs have begun giving way to tablets and other touch-enabled devices. The Windows Start screen and Metro apps are specifically designed to work well in a touchscreen environment. Both Windows 7 and Windows 8 offer full support for touch screens, but using a touchscreen to interact with desktop applications such as Windows Explorer (which has been renamed File Explorer in Windows 8) can be a frustrating experience. This is especially true on devices with smaller screens.
Another reason why Microsoft has adopted the Metro interface is because Metro makes it easy to digest information at a glance, through the use of "live tiles" in place of the traditional desktop icons. Icons are nothing more than pictures, while live tiles can actually convey application information without requiring the user to open the application. For example, the Calendar tile might display information about a user's next appointment, while a Weather tile might show today's weather. Users can arrange live tiles on the Start screen in a way that allows them to get the information that is most important to them at a glance.
Microsoft is also making an effort to provide a consistent user experience across devices. Although Windows 8 has received the most attention, the Metro interface is also used on Windows RT tablets and on Windows Phone 8 devices. Users can easily transition between any of these devices without having to learn how to use a new interface.
Your customers are more likely to upgrade to Windows 8 if you can convince them that the Windows Metro UI is not something that they should fear. For customers that are still on the fence, you should point out that Windows 8 is far more secure than its predecessors and offers a number of new beneficial features, such as Windows Live Syncing and Windows to Go. Even so, not every customer will be persuaded.
Brien Posey is a freelance technical writer who has received Microsoft's MVP award six times. He has served as CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care companies and as a network administrator for the U.S. Department of Defense at Fort Knox, Ky.
This was first published in January 2013