Last week I read an article on Ars that suggested that companies might be considering keeping Windows XP until Windows 8 comes out. For the record, the article is dismissive of the idea, and I have to say, I am too. The main reason for me is that Windows 8 is still a ways off. Even though some sites are saying it's entered the "home stretch," keep in mind the release date is scheduled in 2012, and given the fact that the only installable version available now is pre-beta, you can bet on later 2012 than earlier.
See the problem there? April 8, 2014 is the date that Windows XP will be discontinued forever. I'm sure people will use it as long as the activation servers respond, but the vast majority of the world will have needed to move on by then. If it's taken them this long to decide on Windows 7 (which is two years and one service pack old now), I hardly believe that 18 months is a long enough time to overhaul systems and commit to Windows 8, even if it isn't as fundamental an upgrade as XP-to-7 is.
But what if the reason organizations are holding off has little to do with Windows at all? It wouldn't surprise me one bit to learn that companies are sitting still in spite of a mature Windows 7 and a one-year wait for Windows 8 because they're waiting to see how the cloud landscape shapes up. We all know there's enough buzz! VMware has all but stricken Windows from their future plans, and there is an ever-increasing gap between the Window and Window-less groups.
That's not to say there aren't huge Windows proponents out there that will continue developing for it and doing great things for as long as they can. Let's face it, though...for that group to remain relevant, Microsoft has to hit a home run with Windows 8. If they pull a Star Trek movie-esque sequence where every other release sucks, Windows, Windows apps, and traditional PCs could suffer a serious blow.
So where does Microsoft need to get it right? All signs point to Microsoft expanding their embrace of the cloud, mobile devices, and desktop virtualization. Windows 8's Start Menu really does look like it will be nice on a tablet, but will it be accepted as a desktop computer interface? What about in the corporate world, where a major change requires retraining and lots of user complaints? The desktop is still there, although the default interface I've seen so far is the tile-based Start menu. Remember when Microsoft switched Office to ribbons? It was a wholesale replacement with no option to revert to the old way. How long did it take some companies to switch from Office 2003 because of the retraining and awkwardness involved? Imagine that awkwardness for accessing all of your applications? I'm holding out hope that Microsoft keeps the Windows 7-style start menu as an option, at least in the business versions of Windows 8.
Hyper-V components will be included, reportedly, which I think is a good thing if implemented in a way that gives third-party ISVs the ability to use the hell out of it. It's so promising that I can see organizations waiting for it just to see what happens, but if Windows 8 is still a year away, we have to be at least 18 months away from a really compelling product that takes advantage of it.
So should organizations "wait for 8?" No matter what you're waiting for, I think it's foolish to wait for something that doesn't even have a firm release date. Upgrade to 7, if for no other reason than because you simply have to do it. You're going to have to upgrade Windows at least one more time before evaluating a complete shift in the way you access applications, even with some of the "bridge technologies" that are coming out like VMware Horizon and Citrix Cloud Gateway. Plus, if you wait for Windows 8 and Microsoft misses, Win 8 SP1 could be too late to make it right. In that case, desktop virtualization or not, you'll be left with an emergency upgrade from XP, rather than a controlled rollout.