"It is likely that Windows 8.1 will suffer a similar fate to Windows Vista, whereby industry support died off relatively quickly," said Gartner analyst Steve Kleynhans in a report for clients.
He advised companies that had already started deploying Windows 8.1 to reconsider and instead shift to a plan to migrate to Windows 10, even if that delays the roll-out beyond the earlier timetable envisioned for Windows 8.1.
"Windows 8.1 is no longer the right option for new enterprise deployment, and indeed, resources should be refocused on early adoption of Windows 10," Kleynhans wrote.
"We've been waiting for the right moment to recommend this, to put a fork in [Windows 8.1]," Kleynhans said in an interview today.
There is a deadline, not yet pressing, that corporations have on their calendar: Jan. 14, 2020. That's when Windows 7 exits free security support. If they're not to repeat the scramble that occurred at the end of Windows XP's support in April 2014, enterprises need to have Windows 7's replacement in place within four and a half years.
Gartner is telling clients to skip Windows 8.1 because Windows 10 is superior in key areas for enterprises, including security, management and user experience (UX), as well as a more business-conducive app store. Since most companies have standardized on Windows 7, and not yet even begun deploying 8.1, abandoning the latter shouldn't be a problem.
However, those that have already begun putting Windows 8.1 onto workers' devices -- perhaps in pilot programs or in pockets of the organization -- should rethink. "Any project that can be delayed without significant business detriment or user backlash should be delayed" by three to 12 months, said Kleynhans -- with Windows 10 the new destination.
Gartner now expects that enterprises will begin moving to Windows 10 as early as the second half of 2016, in part because of pressure from third-party software makers, who will quickly pivot from supporting Windows 8.1 to Windows 10.
Kleynhans' recommendation to skip Windows 8.1 is not the first time Gartner has told clients to forget about a Windows edition: The research firm did much the same in 2009, the year Windows 7 launched, when it suggested that enterprises drop plans for deploying Windows Vista -- then less than three years old -- and instead focus on Windows 7.
"We definitely did that about Vista," said Kleynhans in the interview.
The reality, however, is that while Windows 10 should be the new target for enterprises, day-to-day operations will remain wedded to Windows 7 for some time. Companies will continue to downgrade new PCs, for instance, to Windows 7 as the devices arrive in the workplace.
"Until you're ready to support Windows 10, which isn't tomorrow, you have to downgrade," Kleynhans said of the practice where organizations with Software Assurance, the annuity-style program that Microsoft sells, reimage new devices with older OSes. "But they've been downgrading new PCs with Windows 8.1 anyway, so they'll just continue that process. Until they take it to Windows 10."
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