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How should VARs approach a Windows 8 upgrade?

Just because Windows 7 adoption rates weren’t high doesn’t mean Windows 8 upgrade opportunities won’t exist. Read the role Windows XP will have in Windows 8 adoption.

Despite Windows 7 generally receiving good customer reviews, VARs aren’t seeing the type of traction on license sales that they expected from customers. But what does that mean for Windows 8 upgrades?

While the actual Windows 7 adoption rates vary depending on the source, the general consensus is that Windows 7 is running on less than 30% of corporate desktops. Windows XP is still the dominant operating system (OS) among VAR customers and only about 10% of corporate desktops are running Windows Vista (again, the figures vary by source). Because so many organizations continue to cling to Windows XP and Windows 7 hasn’t boomed yet in the enterprise space, VARs may wonder how they’re going to sell customers on a Windows 8 upgrade.

I may not have a crystal ball, but I do think that Windows 8 could end up being more popular in your customers’ enterprise environments than Windows 7 has been. There are a few different factors that will drive Windows 8 adoption.

Why Windows 7 hurt public opinion
Because of customer complaints about both Windows Vista and Windows 7, public perception may already be in Windows 8’s favor. As you will recall, Microsoft received a tremendous backlash from the general public and from industry analysts alike because of Windows Vista’s compatibility issues. And because it was anxious to put Windows Vista behind it, Microsoft rushed Windows 7 to market.

The new OS was designed to address many of the common Windows Vista grumblings, but many saw Windows 7 as nothing more than Windows Vista R2. There were some reviewers that even said Windows 7 should be made freely available to Windows Vista customers because there was “nothing new under the hood.”

In contrast, Microsoft completely redesigned Windows 8 from the ground up. This new OS is not just a Windows Vista/Windows 7 rehash, because of the new interface and application capabilities, and that should help with public perception.

Of course, some customers also may view the new OS as unproven it and the required retraining for a customer’s users and IT staff as a burden. With this in mind, it will be important to stress to your customers that Windows 8 runs on existing hardware and can run existing applications.

Remind your customer’s of Windows XP’s demise
VARs should target their Windows 8 marketing to current Windows XP customers. Some analysts estimate that Windows XP is still installed on 50-60% of all corporate desktops. Windows XP is a decade old, however, and Microsoft discontinued its mainstream support in 2009 and extended support will expire in 2014. Despite this extended support period, you should start talking to your customers about Windows XP’s obsolescence.

This raises the question: How you can drive XP customers to Windows 8 when those same customers made a conscious decision not to adopt Windows Vista or Windows 7? It’s important to remember that having no direct upgrade path from Windows XP to Windows 7 was a big reason for deflated Windows 7 adoption numbers.

Microsoft has yet to release any Windows 8 upgrade path information, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see either a direct path from XP, or an upgrade wizard integrated into the Windows 8 installation media. If Microsoft does indeed make it easier for Windows XP customers to upgrade, VARs will have an easier time selling the new OS.

Cross-platform capabilities
Another approach revolves around the fact that Windows 8 is going to be the first Windows OS designed to run on devices other than PCs. There will also presumably be Windows 8 tablets and phones. If these devices come to fruition, your customers may be able to drastically reduce their support and management costs by running a common OS on all of the devices used in their enterprise.

A big selling point to customers could be that, with Windows 8, they could use the same management utilities to manage their phones, tablets and desktops. Security settings implemented through group policy settings could be applied to all devices as well, so customers would no longer have to worry about coming up with different security policies for different types of devices.

Customer can also reduce help desk costs because, in many enterprises, help desk technicians are trained on Windows but they must also support a variety of mobile devices. Running a single OS throughout the entire organization will reduce the amount of required help desk training while also making it much easier for them to solve problems.

It will be easier to develop a marketing plan for Windows 8 once Microsoft begins to reveal more of the new operating system’s features and capabilities. In the meantime, VARs would do well to focus the bulk of their marketing efforts on customers who are currently running Windows XP.

About the expert
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a six-time recipient of Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional award for his work with Exchange Server, Windows Server, Internet Information Services, file systems and storage. Posey has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer, he has written for TechTarget, Microsoft, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit his website at www.brienposey.com.

This was last published in August 2011

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