My colleague Benjamin Gray and I have been looking closely at Windows 8 for the past several months to make sure we have a clear understanding of what it means for I&O organizations, leaders, and professionals. We have been briefed in depth by Microsoft executives, program managers, and engineers. We have downloaded, installed, and used the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, and we have had hundreds of conversations with I&O professionals in the past year on Windows 7 (and now Windows 8) adoption — from those looking for guidance, as well as those with strong opinions already formed. As you might expect, we have formed some opinions of our own.

For those who haven't talked with Ben Gray, he is a fantastic authority on Windows adoption trends with complete mastery of the data. He has closely watched Windows Vista, Windows 7, and now Windows 8 go through the cycles of preparation, migration, adoption, and operation. Ben was the first at Forrester to point out that Windows 8 is an "off-cycle release," coming too soon on the heels of Windows 7 for companies to be ready to adopt it. He and I authored a document on Windows adoption trends for 2012, which will be published shortly and provides additional data and context. Ben has also dissected the Forrsights Workforce Employee survey data in dozens of ways, and he delivers a fantastic presentation for Forrester customers on what he's learned.

For my part, I look at Windows 8 from a migration and operations perspective, and I have been directly involved with Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 migrations for many firms over the past 15 years. There has been plenty of press suggesting that Windows 8 will be the next Vista, but there are many reasons why I don't think that will be the case. When I look at Windows 8, I see a very different situation than any previous Windows release.

Vista was not adopted by most organizations in part because it didn't add enough new value or cure pain that end users cared about. XP was a strong release way back in 2001 that solved both IT operational pain and pain for end users while delivering better reliability and new features that they valued. Looking at Forrsights data, which shows that Windows 7 will be installed on 83% of new corporate PCs deployed by the end of 2012, and with the added understanding that most firms have spent up to 11 years on Windows XP, we conclude that Windows 8 is at risk of being skipped by IT organizations, already strained by the costly and recent upgrade to Windows 7. Except . . . 

. . . we don't think Windows 8 will be skipped by workers. Why? It's an enabler for those who want to use multiple devices, such as a tablet, smartphone, and a PC, and we believe that the workers who value tight integration between their devices are highly influential people in many organizations, which means Windows 8 stands a good chance of being driven by IT consumers more than Vista was. In an earlier blog, I introduced Jamie — a HERO with the power to force change. We believe this same persona will be attracted to the new Windows 8 Metro UI, and the potential for tighter integration between their devices. If this proves true when Windows 8 is released, I&O organizations can expect a heavy demand to support it from workers. HEROs have been the spark plugs of workforce computing change since the IBM PC. If they decide they like Windows 8, you do not want to be caught unprepared.

What should you do now to prepare? Whatever you do, do not delay Windows 7 migration plans. When we look at the technical underpinnings of Windows 8, it has much in common with Windows 7, which we believe will mean much better application compatibility between Windows 7 and Windows 8 than there is between XP and Windows 7. That means that firms should find it less costly and easier to support mixed Windows 7 and 8 environments, with the notable exception of apps that fully leverage Metro. More on this topic when we understand how quickly the application development community picks up Metro in their product releases. For now, firms should be putting the hammer down on (accelerating) Windows XP to 7 migration plans as top priority.

Second, it's time to secure commitment from your software vendors — especially client management, security, and critical productivity tools — for Windows 8 support. Document the commitments and make sure they are represented in contract renewals with all key hardware and software vendors through 2012.

Third, get educated on Windows 8 now. You will need to understand migration, deployment, app compatibility, and all of the technical changes you can absorb. Most of all, get educated on what it will offer your HEROs and choose a few things that you can offer them right away when the demand hits. Know how to configure Outlook and deploy email profiles to Windows tablets and smartphones. Develop a client virtualization strategy with help from Ben Gray or me that will allow you to support consumerized Windows 8 devices with minimal impact to your existing environment, just to name two.