Opinion: Is Windows 8 ready for your business?

PC World editor Zara Baxter examines the business case for deploying Microsoft's newest operating system

I’ve now been using Windows 8 for three months, and after an initial period of learning, I finally feel up to speed with Microsoft’s newest operating system. For consumers, it’s almost inevitable that the majority will use Windows 8 within 18 months or so — buying a new computer or tablet will mean you get Windows 8. Even so, I’d recommend against Windows 8 for consumers unless they have a touchscreen PC where they will immediately reap the benefits.

For business users, the case is trickier — Microsoft will end support for Windows XP in April 2014 — getting security patches and the like after that time could prove expensive — businesses will have to pay for extended support after that date. That means that the 40 percent of businesses still using XP will have to make a choice between paying for support or upgrading to Windows 7 or Windows 8.

For those on Windows Vista or Windows 7 already, the decision to upgrade or not will come down to the new features, below. It’s also worth considering the upgrade if your business is predominantly mobile or based around touchscreen systems.

If you’re using Windows XP now, and you already have a Windows 7 upgrade/transition plan, stick with it. When you factor in the productivity benefits, Windows 7 is a huge improvement over Windows XP, while Windows 8 won’t offer much more productivity benefits over and above Windows 7. It’s likely too, that you’ve already invested time in the preparation and testing of apps and deployment, which means there’s no compelling reason to switch horse. Finally, Windows 7 already has the majority of apps you’ll need, whereas they may not be Windows 8-ready.

Tablets, mobility and more

The benefits in Windows 8 are predominantly for mobile — Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 play nicely together, and the operating system looks great and works intuitively on tablet.

If you use a mouse and keyboard on the other hand, a number of the user interface elements are unintuitive.

On the other hand, the usefulness of a tablet-specific version of Office 2013 can’t be overstated. The touch enhancements and Ribbon redesign now really take account of tablet users, unlike previous versions with tiny icons and buttons. For full benefits you’ll want Windows 8 Pro tablets, rather than the ARM-based WindowsRT tablets: Windows 8 Pro provides the full Windows experience rather than tiled apps, but no desktop, on WindowsRT.

Killer apps for business

Windows 8 offers better networking, improved recovery options, simplified printer deployment and much more.

If you’re planning to purchase new Windows PCs, then the addition of UEFI on windows 8 PCs is a benefit. UEFI replaces the BIOS and prevents unauthorised OS’s from loading - and allows remote diagnostics on repair, potentially saving technician callouts.

How about if you could give contractors or teleworkers a USB stick with your specific windows deployment onboard? That’s what windows-to-go offers. You can pop your corporate windows image onto a 32GB or greater USB stick and know that whoever uses it will have your policies, settings, apps and files on it. Protect it with Bitlocker, and it won’t find its way into the wrong hands, either.

While we’re talking of Bitlocker, it can now encrypt just the portions of the hard drive being used, making it much faster.

Client Hyper-V in Windows 8 Pro will offer more advanced virtualisation than Windows XP Mode in Windows 7, such as 64-bit virtual operating systems and wireless networking. Not only that, but you can move virtual machines to and from Hyper-V on Windows Servers.

For employees, Windows 8 roaming profiles tied to the Microsoft Live accounts means that documents and settings follow workers to any Windows 8 machine they sign into.

If you upgrade

If you do decide that Windows 8 is for you, be prepared to spend on training costs to get employees up to speed on the new operating system.

There are a number of new elements to the UI, such that users are likely to ask even basic questions such as “How do I log on?”, “How do I shut down?”, “How do I get to the desktop?” and “Where are my apps?”

It’s not hard to learn, but it could prove a timesuck if you have numerous employees.

Baxter is editor of PC World in New Zealand.

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