Movers Will Love Windows 8, Others May Be Shaking

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Bigger businesses might as well call Microsoft's ( MSFT) latest operating system, Windows 8, "Windows Ain't." It ain't the Windows they know, and it ain't a Windows they'll love.

Steve Ballmer and Co. yearn to be the be-all and end-all software solution, but the truth is, the rank-and-file consumer is no longer Microsoft's future. Why? Redmond faces unstoppable competition for the core consumer software market from, of course, the Web -- specifically Google ( GOOG). The Mountain View, Calif.-based Web giant is the ultimate Microsoft killer. It gives away fabulous consumer software: Google Chrome. Apps. Maps. All are mostly free. Microsoft tries to argue that security and features are subpar with these tools. But in this now-and-forever grim economy, there is no competing with free.
Windows 8 allows for seamless integration of all things mobile, but the typical office worker will find it jarring.

Not even for Microsoft.

That leaves the enterprise -- not the Star Trek sort of Enterprise, but the hardcore, big- and medium-sized business computer customer that will never -- ever -- put critical data on a management system the company doesn't absolutely, utterly control.

Web-based services are just too risky for bigger firms.

Last week big-business users got a critical clue about Microsoft's enterprise intentions: It released a reasonably solid preview version of Windows 8. To handicap this software's chances in the enterprise, I upgraded a test Acer laptop.

(Full disclosure: My firm creates content for an unrelated division of Microsoft.)

Here's my takeaway:

1. Get ready to do your job using "tiles."
Windows 8 means big changes for big businesses. By far the most humongous is that Windows 8 does away with the traditional desktop environment of, say, Windows 7, XP or even Apple's various operating systems. Instead, word processing, spreadsheets, mail, maps -- or whatever -- are accessed through graphical shapes called tiles. Click in a tile labeled "messages" and off you go to your instant messaging or email, depending on how you set it up. Think how your cellphone or tablet PC works. That's Windows 8.

2. Cross-platform enterprises will find 8 a "10."
Considering the mobile vibe of Windows 8, companies that have made that mobile migration -- that is, they rely on mobile phones, tools or tablets -- should find 8 easy enough to use. It allows for seamless integration of all things mobile. Invoice, human resources, job order forms and sales orders all can be engineered to work across all devices using Windows 8. It is fast, stable, secure and backward-compatible with the machine I've used it on. Though many bugs remain in this early version -- getting back to the home screen, for example, was often a pain -- Windows 8 will not be Windows Vista 2.0. Overall, it works.

3. Your people will go crazy.
Now comes the bad news: The bone-chilling takeaway from my brief time on Windows 8 is that, while the traditional desktop interface is still available if you need it, ultimately there will be no escape from the radical shift in culture this software demands. Everything changes on 8. And most rank-and-file employees will simply not have the patience to master a completely new way of doing their jobs. I found myself imagining larger, change-resistant organizations turning Windows 8 into one of those idiotic fire drills that saps resources and kills productivity.

It's impossible to overstate how big a change Windows 8 demands.

Bottom line
Make no mistake, Windows 8 is a sweet OS. It's fast and light. Even so, Windows 8 will be a brutal hurdle for bigger firms.

Unless your shop is utterly mobile, utterly tablet-based or utterly cutting-edge -- and honestly, who's really is? -- Windows 8 will be a tough sell.

Windows 8 just ain't worth it.

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This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

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