Windows' future in the enterprise depends on Microsoft's ability to adapt to mobile and cloud computing.
Most of us grew up with Microsoft Windows and Office, and it almost seems like times were easier when they were the only show in town. People would get excited when the new version of the Windows operating system came out, and being an expert in Office gave people a leg up on co-workers. The biggest decision for enterprise IT departments was picking when, not if, they would upgrade.
But in the present, use of desktop computers is declining, and there are many questions about Windows' future: Will companies still buy PCs for employees? How significantly will mobility and the cloud affect employees' PC use? What tasks are still better suited to PCs than mobile devices, and will that change?
Windows' future: Safe for the short term
Based on my IT experience, I estimate that most established companies will continue to purchase PCs for employees for the next five to 10 years.
More on Windows' future
Microsoft's evolving app strategy
Q&A: Microsoft exec on Windows 8's mobile strategy
Executives, members of senior leadership and sales personnel won't need PCs as much, because they can use mobile devices for day-to-day tasks such as reading emails and reports filling out sales applications and doing presentations. Creative, line-of-business and customer service workers benefit from using mobile devices, but they still need PCs for certain jobs, such as graphic design, database support and frequent multitasking. Members of the IT department definitely still need PCs for programming, evaluating applications, creating reports and more.
There are a number of other reasons that Windows still has a chance. Many companies have large investments in Windows and will take steps to make those investments relevant in the mobile era, such as adopting Office 365.
Microsoft also has an opportunity to capitalize on these existing investments by offering a mobile device that integrates with them seamlessly. If Microsoft can deliver a device that has one-click access to email, Office documents, storage and reports without a ton of extra security steps, then employees might enjoy using them for work.
Windows' future in the mobile era
The company still has a ways to go in this area, however. Organizations that customize their installations of Windows 8 and Windows RT may run into trouble connecting these devices to Remote Desktop Services and other back-end infrastructure components. And Microsoft has so many tools that integrate with Windows that it will be hard to make mobile-optimized changes to them all. For example, I would like to seamlessly take a project I created in Microsoft Project on my desktop, update it on a tablet and review tasks and a Gantt chart on my Windows Phone.
Additionally, small companies and startups are not beholden to large, existing investments Microsoft infrastructure. Those businesses are freer to embrace other mobile platforms and move to productivity suites such as Google Apps, which can be more scalable and agile and make employees more productive.