Windows 8 on x86 Devices, Not ARM Best Choice for Enterprises: IDC

An IDC analyst says x86 architecture devices would be more compatible with existing Windows environments for businesses. With ARM, Windows 8 devices "might as well be an iPad," said Al Gillen, IDC program vice president for system software research.

If enterprises are going to embrace the coming Microsoft Windows 8 operating system, especially for use on tablet computers, they should strongly consider buying tablets built on the Intel x86 processor architecture rather than on the ARM architecture because x86 would be more compatible with their existing Windows environment, an enterprise software industry expert says.

Asked if a Windows 8 tablet would be more compatible with a Windows-based enterprise than a tablet running Apple iOS or Google Android, Al Gillen, program vice president for system software research at IDC, replied "yes and no."

"The answer is yes for Windows 8 on x86 chip architecture, but Windows 8 on ARM might as well be an iPad," said Gillen. "A Windows 8 ARM-based device will not support traditional x86 Windows applications-period, end of story."

More details emerged about what Windows 8 will look and act like when Microsoft unveiled the Release Preview of the OS on May 31. Microsoft had previously released a report coinciding with the Consumer Preview release in March titled "Product Guide for Business" that highlighted all the features of Windows 8 that should be enticing to business customers.

They include tools for developing line-of-business apps, Windows-To-Go for temporary or remote workers who can use Windows 8 outside the corporate firewall, but with limitations, malware protection in Internet Explorer 10 and improved BitLocker drive encryption.

But Gillen says that enterprises have to weigh the advantages of those enhancements against the time, expense and effort of migrating to Windows 8. As it is, many enterprises are still grappling with a migration to Windows 7 from Windows XP and are unlikely to want to take on another version upgrade so soon. They would have to be nuts to drop a Windows 7 project to go with Windows 8, he said. An earlier IDC report said widespread enterprise adoption of Windows 8 isn't expected until late 2013 or early 2014.

And the migration is also unlikely to be as smooth as Microsoft wants customers to believe it will be. While Microsoft, in its report to businesses, says "the majority of your existing line-of-business applications that run on Windows 7 will also run on Windows 8," Gillen says it's the apps that won't that will play havoc with their migration projects-and it could be business-critical apps like antivirus, data backup or virtual private network (VPN) software that don't work.

But Windows 8 on tablets or other devices could be a good fit with Windows in the enterprise and could help advance the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend where workers want to use their personal devices on the job, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group research firm.

"It gives you a level of consistency having one platform to focus on instead of two very different ones [including Apple iOS] or three if you're talking Android. It can be far cheaper and have fewer potholes," Enderle said, adding that Windows has enterprise backup, management and security tools that could be extended to Windows 8 devices.

But IDC's Gillen said the Metro user interface in Windows 8 would also have to be taken into account in making apps from the Windows 7 environment compatible with Windows 8. Metro is the UI that delivers touch-screen capabilities to endpoint devices.

"A Windows 7 app will run in Windows 8, but to take advantage of the Metro UI, you actually have to go into the application and essentially touch-enable the application working with the original source code," he said. And Metro is not just about touch capabilities, it's a "completely different UI paradigm."

Much work needs to be done at Microsoft before Windows 8 is officially done and released to the market sometime this fall. But the success of Windows 8 is also dependent on factors outside Microsoft's control, Gillen said, particularly the quality and volume of Windows 8 apps from software vendors that will be distributed through the Windows Store and the design and quality of the hardware from device manufacturers.

Once Windows 8 hits the market, Gillen sees the ARM-based devices appealing to consumers, but the x86-based devices would still be the best choice for the enterprise.

"For customers that need tablet devices and are big Windows shops, and they want to treat these tablet devices in a traditional manner like the rest of their PCs, x86-based Windows tablets will be a real interesting solution," he said.