Microsoft Releases Windows 8 Enterprise Evaluation Version

Microsoft released an evaluation version of Windows 8 Enterprise Aug. 22 as the company seeks to convince large businesses to engage in what is typically a complex and costly upgrade project.

Microsoft has released the Windows 8 Enterprise Evaluation version making it available free for 90 days in an effort to prove to major customers that the added features in the new operating system are worth the time and expense of an upgrade.

In a blog post accompanying the release, Mitch Irsfeld, editor of the Microsoft publication TechNet Flash, wrote Aug. 22 that Windows 8 Enterprise will be built upon Windows 8 Pro, the OS for business-targeted client devices, but will add enterprise-class features on top of that.

Those enterprise features include what he called "sideloading," a process for adding line-of-business software applications to run on Window 8 machines. With sideloading, enterprises can load their private business apps onto a PC without having to publish them to the Windows Store, which is important for users that have created customized and proprietary apps.

Developers can write their own apps in widely used languages such as C#, C++, JavaScript, and Microsoft's Visual Basic. Irsfeld also notes that "the majority of your existing line-of-business apps" that run on Windows 7 will run on Windows 8.

Windows 8 Enterprise also includes a built-in print driver that supports "a wide range" of printers without the hassle of installing printer drivers from CDs or the Web onto print servers or client devices.

"Windows 8 is well suited for touch-centric devices," Irsfeld writes, but also works with the existing mouse/keyboard user interface people use now. This assertion is met with skepticism in some quarters. Industry analyst Rob Enderle, who has tried Windows 8 on a touch screen tablet and with a mouse/keyboard combination, says the OS seems to be designed more for touch.

"[Windows 8] works really well with touch, but it pretty much sucks without it," he said.

Nonetheless, Microsoft has introduced its own line of peripherals to run a Windows 8 machine, including wireless keyboards and a futuristic looking Microsoft Wedge Touch mouse.

There are going to be two variations of the OS. Windows RT is for devices that use ARM-based processors that are typically installed in tablets and smartphones, and Windows 8 Pro is for devices running x86-based processors that are widely used in desktops and laptops.

Microsoft also touts the availability of the Web browser Internet Explorer 10 in Windows 8 as a plus for enterprises, including the SmartScreen security feature to block browser-delivered Malware, Irsfeld notes. And Windows 8 links the enterprise user to SkyDrive, the cloud-based storage service that also enables enterprise file sharing.

As attractive as these features might be to an enterprise user, they still may not overcome enterprise resistance to undertaking an OS migration project.

An IDC study of Windows OS migration in the enterprise, released in May, revealed that while migration to Windows 7 is steady, 42 percent of PCs in business environments were still running Windows XP at the end of 2011.

Because the process of migrating an entire enterprise to a major OS upgrade involves planning, application integration and considerable testing, not to mention a significant provision in IT budgets, such a project requires time and careful consideration.

IDC said in its report that it doesn't expect to see wide commercial deployments of Windows 8 until late 2013 or early 2014 and that even if businesses buy new computers, they may exercise "downgrade deployment rights" to buy new hardware shipped with Windows 7 even when Windows 8 becomes widely available.