Thus far the Windows Intune client won’t install on Windows 8, but that’s expected for something during this early stage of pre-release. The big benefit at this point in time is the eligibility to move to Windows 8 Enterprise or what the similarly capable version will be with Windows 8. It’s not a safe assumption that there will be 1:1 version mapping, below I give a couple of reasons why.

ARM Tablets are one of the obvious areas that the Windows Intune team will need to develop for, considering the strong push into enterprise that these tablets will have alongside the traditional Windows PCs. Now, at this stage of the game I’m not 100% convinced on the real viability of ARM based Windows Tablets, the reason being the thing that frustrates me with existing tablet solutions in the marketplace is that they don’t run all the Windows apps I want to run, and I still need my laptop. Over time my dependence on these PC only applications may be reduced, but it is going to take a while. During that period Intel and AMD aren’t going to be sitting on their hands, they will no doubt be chasing the power consumption numbers that ARM based systems tout. If someone from the Windows Intune team is looking for a tester if this is a real scenario, I’m more than happy to put my hand up for the task.

With Windows versions, some choice is good, but too much choice isn’t necessarily good, and can be quite detrimental. While Microsoft has been attempting to simplify its Windows lineup, Windows 7 leaves a lot to be desired, and Windows Intune is a great example where there is some confusion and some inconsistencies. While Windows 7 Enterprise and Windows 7 Ultimate provide the same  functionality, the primary differences are how they are sold/licensed, retail and OEM for Ultimate versus volume license for Enterprise, and they have different approaches to activation.

Where the pain comes in is that Enterprise needs to be a clean installation, whereas Ultimate can do an in place upgrade of lower end versions of Windows 7, as well as Windows Vista clients. In a well managed corporate environment, the upgrade discussion doesn’t usually happen, instead a pristine image, tweaked and tested, is deployed out to users when the time for a new OS rolls around. User data in these environments should be redirected, so the dependency on the physical machine and the OS are minimized.

But what about the SMB customer who doesn’t have the necessary infrastructure, and doesn’t necessarily want to invest in the data migration during the upgrade process, instead they just want to do a good old in place upgrade? Ultimate allows this with ease, but Enterprise isn’t in the running. To add insult to injury, many of the smaller customers out there may not have been domain joined, and not had a need for Professional or higher, so are in fact not eligible for the Windows 7 Enterprise Upgrade. To take advantage of these upgrade rights they need to purchase Windows 7 Professional upgrades in retail or via Windows Anytime Upgrade. I wouldn’t like to be the person who had to explain this to the customer who thought they were all set to move across to Windows 7 Enterprise.

Hopefully Windows 8 sees a further reduction in the SKU lineup. There is much speculation on this at the moment, and I’m sure there are groups within Microsoft and within OEMs who have these details, but the rest of us must wait. For OEMs, the more SKUs Microsoft makes available mean the more decisions they need to make in terms of matching the Windows version to the PC model, and that’s quite a large matrix when you look at the hardware lineup of major OEMs.

The flip side of this is what Apple do, one OS version, across a limited range of hardware choices. While some may scoff at the lack of choices that Apple offers compared to HP, Dell, Acer etc., but economies of scale benefits really favor the Apple approach. Suppliers can ramp up production, warehousing and shipping are simplified, resellers can reduce stock on hand, the right stock is more likely to be available in a short transit time. Sometimes it seems like the other OEMs are deliberately limiting their profitability, while Apple continues to make a very healthy margin.

One or two Windows options for OEMs would be a great start, preferably one, then using the Windows Marketplace, Windows Intune, Software Assurance, or even retail media to allow upgrades to a limited range of premium SKUs. This approach would make Windows Intune and desktop Software Assurance much more attractive to customers that have traditionally avoided SA on the desktop, as they would be seeing immediate value with a much more feature rich, business targeted upgrade to Windows. This would be a step in the right direction, but I think it could be just a bit too drastic.

The other issue that we currently see with the SKU lineup that impacts Windows Intune’s Windows 7 Enterprise upgrade rights is that customers on Windows 7 Professional don’t necessarily see the value in a new OS deployment so they can get BitLocker, BrancheCache, DirectAccess and Enterprise Search. If this is an SMB customer relying heavily on other cloud services, some of these capabilities just aren’t appealing or even terribly useful, and at this stage, SMB customers really are the best targets for Windows Intune. Consolidating the Professional and Enterprise/Ultimate versions would make this value clearer when adopted alongside a single version of Windows that is the default in the market.