It isn’t hard to find a comment thread somewhere on the Web that includes comments by folks who believe that Windows has no place in a modern company’s IT infrastructure. It has become commonplace to see statements like, “They should switch to OS X,” or “they should use Linux.”
Why don’t more corporations switch their staff to another operating system? OS X is clearly gaining ground in the consumer and creative market, and several Linux distributions have evolved to a point where they are more than capable of going head-to-head with Windows in terms of stability and functionality.
In this article, we’ll take a look at ten reasons corporations stick with Windows.
1. Training Costs
Training an entire workforce on a new operating system is costly. For a large company, these costs aren’t negligible as they can easily reach tens of thousands of dollars per day. You have to pay the instructors, the staff, make up for lost productivity during training, and other considerations.
Because Windows is still the most popular operating environment for people at home (and at work), it continues to be the most viable choice for workstations.
Most people learn just enough about their operating system to accomplish what they need to. If you add in an entirely different operating environment and take away familiarity, the learning curve can become substantially steep, very quickly.
Imagine asking one of your most computer illiterate relatives to start using the command line, or replacing the familiar toolbar with the dock. You would probably start receiving calls from them every day asking why they can’t get their computer to do something used to know how to get it to do.
2. Hardware Costs
Unless your alternative is a Linux-based operating environment, there are considerable hardware costs involved with shifting a company’s primary operating environment. If a company were to go with OS X, this would mean it would have to invest a lot of money in purchasing Apple brand systems.
Despite both Linux and OS X being very good about hardware compatibility, there are still issues that arise from time to time. A certain wireless card, a printer, or even many industrial machines are designed to communicate with Windows, and Windows alone.
You can work through many of these problems with a little effort and a lot of know-how, but every second spent fixing a problem is another second where things aren’t getting accomplished elsewhere in the business.
3. Software Compatibility
Most of the big enterprise software makers out there produce their products exclusively for Windows. Windows has been the de facto operating system for workstations and other business-related systems for decades, and it’s the one that makes the most sense for these developers to write for.
Software for enterprises and even small to medium businesses can be very expensive. Licensing a single program for use in a call center, for example, can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars for a staff of 50-150 people.
There are ways to get Windows software to run on OS X or Linux, but this can come with a host of potential issues as this is more of a workaround than a solid solution. Any minor issue can be extremely expensive for a large company to work through, especially if that issue impacts productivity in any way.
4. Vendor Exclusive Contracts
A lot of companies save money on hardware and software by signing multi-year deals of exclusivity. If a business or organization agrees to buy their systems entirely from Dell or HP, they might be able to take a percentage off the top and save a large amount on the bulk order.
Add to that vendor lock-in from software dealers that power everything from the company’s IP phone system to its productivity software, and you can see why consistency is important.
5. Employee Hesitance
A happy workforce is a productive workforce, and people hate change. If you have worked in a corporate environment, you have likely seen how the staff responds to even the minor change in procedure. If you take the system they are used to and have a workflow down with and replace it with something even slightly different, the resistance from the workforce can be detrimental to productivity.
You think switching the flavor of coffee in the break room is bad, try changing the operating system the staff works on.
6. Why Break What Already Works?
One of IT’s major priorities within any company is to make sure that things run smoothly. While there are some occasional problems that pop up, there have also been countless hours spent improving the efficiency of the network and workstations in the Windows operating environment.
Changing it now would just disrupt an otherwise stable ecosystem. No company wants that, and there aren’t many IT executives that would rather spend weeks working around the clock to plug holes in something they already had solved on Windows.
7. Many Web-based Systems Require IE
IE (Internet Explorer) is Microsoft’s Windows-only browser that sits apart from other major browser options in that it runs on its own set of standards. While it has improved some with IE8 and then more with IE9+, a lot of corporate web-based software will still only communicate properly with the old IE standard set.
Replacing that software, as mentioned before, is extremely expensive. So, many corporations grin and bare it with a browser that only runs on Windows.
8. Microsoft Office
Despite what a lot of people say on the Internet, it isn’t easy to replace Microsoft Office. Open source alternatives exist that will run on just about any platform, but they are typically unable to handle Microsoft Office files without some loss of functionality.
People live in the Microsoft ecosystem. Outlook is their primary email client (typically powered through Microsoft Exchange), Microsoft Word is their word processor, and Excel is how they keep data organized in spreadsheets. If you take away Microsoft Office and replace it with something else (even Google Docs) there is a chance that some important information or feature of a document can be lost in translation. That’s a risk many companies aren’t willing to take.
Microsoft Office is available for OS X with some components accessible via a browser, but again, that’s an expensive hardware upgrade just to get away from Windows.
There are a lot of false assumptions circulating the IT world about Linux distros and OS X in terms of how well it performs, or how easy it is to maintain.
With all the points made previously in this article, there are ways to work around many of these issues. Networking, which was once a huge problem with mixed operating system environments, is much easier now than it has ever been before.
If you want to see more companies adopt a different operating environment, the IT community as a whole has to do a much better job of sorting through misinformation that is keeping the option off the table.
10. The Pain Point isn’t there Yet
As much as folks love to complain about the tools they have to work with, there really isn’t a big pain point right now with Windows. Companies are still using Windows XP and Windows 7 as their primary operating environments because it does work, despite its nuances.
Windows 8 has seen a lot of backlash from the consumer market, and while many companies are shying away from adopting it, there is no reason they can’t stick to Windows 7 for the foreseeable future.
Microsoft gives Windows a very long support life. It will stand behind its operating systems for years after its competitors cease support. Windows XP was a decade old before it stopped receiving the type of support corporations require, and even now it is still widely used.
Until a business can’t operate on a platform, it will likely stay with what it knows. Change is difficult, and there is no reason to rock the boat when something is already in place the works just fine, at least most of the time.
Photo: Garry Knight