Windows 8: Consumer versus IT Pro strategy

"If consumers don't like it, IT departments won't be able to roll it out"

Up to this point, Microsoft has been making the Windows 8 case more broadly for the "consumer" demographic rather than the IT professional demographic. Rather than spending a lot of bandwidth discussing IT Pro friendly features of the operating system, the primary coverage seems to be on items that are of more general interest such as file copy dialog boxes, the new start menu, and mobile broadband data usage enhancements.

There are a couple of reasons why a consumer focused communication strategy is sound:

  • The biggest group adopting Windows 8 after release isn't going to be organizations with thousands of desktop computers. It's going to be people buying new computers with Windows 8 pre-installed. The reaction of this group at launch is critical. If Windows 8 doesn't wow early adopters at release, it the operating system is more likely to end up as "Vista" rather than "Windows 7" in terms of public perception. Lose that first battle and all the latter ones become an order of magnitude more difficult.
  • The organizations that need to support tens of thousands of desktops won't be deploying Windows 8 until sometime in mid to late 2013 at the earliest. By then the deployment tools (such as MDT) are going to have been supporting Windows 8 for some time and there will be resources, such as books and in depth blogs showing how big organizations can efficiently deploy the operating system. Discussion of Windows 8 deployment enhancements and IT Pro "must know features" can wait. Dessert needs to come first, then there can be a focus on the “meat and potatoes”.
  • Learning from Vista. A lot of Microsoft's pre-release coverage of Vista focused on aspects of the operating system that were of interest to IT pros. It was a "meat and potatoes" strategy. IT Pros knew exactly what the point of User Account Control was - because they had to manage desktop computers where they didn't want to grant end users administrative privileges. They understood the benefits of features such as BitLocker. The IT Pro friendly benefits of Vista were lost on most consumer users who log on using accounts that are members of the local Administrators group and never bother to encrypt their hard disk drives. The "consumer" case wasn't made for Vista – dessert didn't come first - and the OS suffered irreparable reputation damage. If consumers don't like Windows 8, it doesn't matter what enthusiasm the IT department has for the product, the safest strategy will be to stick with Windows 7 until Windows 9 comes along. Apple has become very wealthy by almost ignoring the "meat and potatoes" entirely - but that's also the reason that adoption of Mac OSX on the corporate desktop doesn't in any way reflect the enthusiasm that people seem to have for the product.
  • Windows 8's metro interface is a massive change in the outward appearance of Windows 8. People don't like change, so getting them to accept it involves presenting a case that's compelling and goes beyond the mere technical benefits. Selling to IT departments is a case to be made after the case to the consumer has been made - because if the case to the consumer isn't made successfully, it doesn't matter what the IT department is told because the organization isn't going to want to adopt the product.
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Orin Thomas is a contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and a Windows Security MVP. He has authored or coauthored more than thirty books for Microsoft Press, founded the Melbourne System Center,...
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