Most people, myself included, are happy to take the wait-and-see approach to Windows 8. This is partly because we're now only fifteen months away from the end of Windows XP, knee-deep in Windows 7 rollouts, and partly because of lack of inspiration. The fact is, Windows 8 has entered the corporate world with barely a whimper. Spare a few companies with a handful of Windows 8 machines (presumably for testing) and the one Surface RT tablet that each company bought for testing, almost nobody is actually looking at using it on an ongoing basis.
I wanted to take a step back, though, and rather than spend another article bitching about Windows 8, I wanted to dedicate some time to looking at the big picture. Assuming Windows 8 makes it into the enterprise consciousness at some point, what are aspects of it that we need to know about? Today, I want to look at management, but in future articles, we'll look at things like devices and the Office/Office365/SkyDrive ecosystem as they pertain to the enterprise. Let's dig in.
Management in Windows 8
Managing Windows 8 revolves around SCCM 2012 SP1, which was released a few weeks ago despite the fact that Windows 8 has been out for several months. Any widespread enterprise adoption was surely stalled because of this cart-before-horse scenario, but it's out now so I can't complain that much. In addition to SCCM 2012 SP1, you can also manage Windows 8 devices with InTune. I'm curious to find out how many companies are using InTune, because when I ran the idea by a security director I know his response was "I just threw up in my mouth."
For the vast majority of enterprise situations today, managing Windows 8 via SCCM is the same as Windows 7. The changes (and the reason for SP1) come from the so-called "Windows 8 Applications" that run in Metro (which we call TileWorld). Since "Windows 8 Applications" is rather confusing, I'll call them TileWorld applications or .appx applications. .appx is the extension of the application package that you get from the Windows Store.
Deploying TileWorld apps is done in one of a few ways. If you've created your own application, you can "sideload" the application by deploying the .appx file just as you would any other application. That's straightforward enough, but it gets a little dicey when you start to try to deploy apps that live in the Windows Store. Deploying those applications is done by more or less deploying a link to the application in the Windows Store (along with the authorization to install/use it). The link is opened via the Config Manager App Portal, which takes the user to the appropriate place in the Windows Store. From there, they still need to buy it and install it on their own. You read that right…all you're deploying is a shortcut. The user still has to do things, and we all know what that can lead to.
SCCM is also used to provision Windows To Go USB sticks by capturing a WIM from an existing computer or from the installation media. That WIM is used to create a Windows To Go Creator Package, which is then deployed via SCCM to a user just like any other application. The user launches the app, plugs in a USB stick, and that's that. Of course, users can create them, too (unless you lock it down), but this is the way that IT can provision them automatically.
What sticks out to me is that while all of these features are needed to support Windows 8 and its features/devices, they more or less unnecessary unless IT decides it wants to use them. Does IT have a need to deploy TileWorld .appx apps? Not really. (Frankly, are organizations developing TileWorld apps?) Does IT have a need to deploy Windows To Go? Perhaps, but I've yet to hear of anyone doing it in a widespread way. The end result is that everything you need to manage your users is there today with SCCM and Windows 7, and moving to Windows 8 doesn't really give you any additional features or flexibility. Sure, there are features like Metered Internet Connection, but that's not what I would call a killer app that drives people towards Windows 8 en masse.
The bottom line, at least in terms of management, is that Windows 8 is more of the same. If you have a need to use and deploy TileWorld apps or to deploy Windows on a USB stick, then there's a solution for you. But if you're like most of the organizations in the world, all that doesn't amount to a hill of beans. You already do what you need to do, and that's not going to help adoption.
Next time, I'll look at Office, Office 365, and SkyDrive to see how those fit in the overall solution that Microsoft is pushing. Until then, keep migrating to Windows 7.