Why Microsoft is suited for the enterprise--and Apple isn't

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Much has been written about why Microsoft is losing ground as the operating system of choice for users. With the current interest revolving around cloud services and nifty BYOD devices, Windows is generally seen as stodgy and a platform that belongs to the old way of doing things. If you listen to BYOD adherents, Microsoft and the Windows operating system is set for a long fall to the bottom.

It was then with a great sense of irony that I read about Gartner analyst Michael Silver's opinion that Microsoft's increased operating system release cadence for Windows is of little interest to large enterprises. Indeed, Silver actually recommends these businesses stay on Windows 7 and Office 2010 until 2017 and 2018 respectively in order to avoid the cost of testing and deploying successive iterations of Windows every year.

For Microsoft, it does seem like a case of damned if you do, damned if you don't. Specifically, changes made by the company to more closely mirror what their competitors are doing are considered to be of no benefit, even as Microsoft risks being written-off as irrelevant if they keep to their de facto strategy of a major refresh to Windows every few years.

Personally, I feel that the apparent inability to reconcile the conflicting viewpoints is due to the attempt at comparing apples with oranges. This is because almost all the reports that trumpet the death of the PC do not make a distinction between your average-sized SMBs and large enterprises or businesses that require higher levels of security and manageability.

Many enterprises are inextricably tied into Microsoft's Active Directory directory service, for example. User management aside, many enterprise appliances such as Wi-Fi access points and security appliances are programed to validate users against Active Directory, as well as with a host of off-the-shelf applications and many custom line-of-business apps and intranet services.

As you can imagine, switching to an iPad--or an Android--overnight is literally an impossible task for a large enterprise; they would need to rip and replace thousands of PC devices, reprogram a significant amount of software applications as well as find, test and deploy a suitable replacement for AD.

In contrast, a small business is usually not encumbered by any of the above constraints. Indeed, these organizations would benefit from rapid refreshes to the latest hardware and care less that Apple typically only supports the current and two older versions of the OS X operating system. On the other hand, the enterprise prefers working with a published five or ten year roadmap so that the IT department can more judiciously plan the retirement of the thousands of machines under their care.

Ultimately, there is no doubt that tablets and smartphones are making their way into the corporate network. As users demand their integration with existing corporate apps and services, Microsoft has no choice but to go about the unenviable task of adapting these devices into the Windows platform. For now though, Windows with its strong enterprise underpinnings remains in a strong position. - Paul Mah  (Twitter @paulmah)

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