Microsoft this week released a free-to-download PDF titled “Windows 8 preview. Product Guide for Business”. It makes interesting reading.
On the face of it, new OSes are something you’d think most businesses would avoid like the plague. No wonder, given the driver issues with Windows Vista, and the various Service Packs that have been released for various new versions of Windows over the years, plus the general whinge about how slow Vista ran on older computers.
On paper at least, there are compelling features listed in the above PDF. On other hand, Windows 8 is different to what you’ve seen before. Let’s look at both sides of the argument . . .
The potential rewards in moving to Windows 8
We’ve been playing with the preview versions of Windows 8 for some time, so some of these are well known, but they are worth repeating.
Right off the bat, your software should work fine. Microsoft states “the majority of your existing line-of-business apps that run on Windows 7 will also run on Windows 8 (32-bit and 64-bit versions).”
The big story here is Windows on tablets - being able to run Office is not something to sniff at. There are various helper apps for running Office docs on iPad and Android (read our article about them here), but it’s usually not quite the same as using Microsoft Office itself. Animations not running in Powerpoint presentations, tables not formatting correctly - these are little things, but can be important. Microsoft also points out that this will include Windows tablets with ARM chips (ie. a type of chip commonly found in phones and tablets), which will also have Office 15 apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote).
It isn't just Office though, Windows 8 has its most impact upon, and benefits for, tablet users. We’ve written a lot about the Windows 8 interface (more on this below). The big, blocky tiles don’t look anything like the Windows 7 desktop, but they’re much better than any earlier version of Windows for tablets. Controlling Windows using a finger on a touchscreen will be much easier than in the past. You won’t have to use a stylus for one thing.
If you have the luxury of an IT person to do these things, they can restrict what apps get loaded using the AppLocker feature, or sideload apps without having to “publish” them to an Internet store, like you do with an iPad.
Windows To Go is another interesting feature. It creates a Windows 8 installation on a USB stick along with your business’s programs, which your staff can take with them and run on any PC – the idea being that they can work anywhere without worrying about whether they have the right software.
Another interesting feature is DirectAcess. Microsoft is pitching this as a better alternative to connecting to your office via a VPN. With this, the idea is that you’re connected to your office network whenever you’re online (and away from the office), instead of having to launch a separate VPN. In theory, it’s also more secure because your IT person can initiate a connection and apply security updates and software patches.
Microsoft also points out that support for Windows XP will end soon - The “User State Migration Tool (USMT)” will transfer your data from an XP machine to Windows 8.
There are many other new features in Windows 8 which we haven’t mentioned here, including some things that are going to be no-brainers for big companies with IT departments - things like virtualisation, tools for rolling out the OS to lots of users, ways of managing all your Windows 8 tablets.
Perhaps the greatest one is the potential that tablets offer. With a version of Windows built from the ground up for tablets, companies who need to run Windows, not iOS or Android, can really begin to take advantage of tablets. They’re more easily carried around, you can replace folders of paper, you have an array of apps to choose from, and they run things like online accounting software.
The risks of moving your business to Windows 8
The first is one discussed here - the Start Screen looks completely different. While many enthusiasts who prefer the old way of doing things have sneered at the “tile” based desktop, there is still actually a “traditional” desktop you can still use. From what we can see so far, there’s no easy way to make it the default screen.
In practise, Windows 8 can take some getting used to. John Gillooly - Labs Editor of our sister title PC & Tech Authority - found his spending his first 24 hours using it “frustrating”, although he was mostly positive about the OS’s potential.
There are other general warnings we could say here about not running brand new software releases on mission-critical computers. We’ve seen people claiming in forums that they’re still on XP machines at work and they’ll be moving to Windows 7 next. Not to mention predictions that it will be years before lots of workplaces move to Windows 8.
There’s been no major warnings yet about performance or other issues with Windows 8. These are things you generally can’t be sure about until the final version of the software is on the market, and being used by millions of people.
These are all general concerns and apply to any software release, not just Windows, but they’re all things Microsoft will be battling against.
Our view? Windows 8 opens up the opportunity to start taking advantage of tablets in your workplace, without compromising on the types of Windows programs you can run. On the desktop and laptop, it’s perhaps less of a compelling upgrade - the OS clearly offers serious business functions beyond the touch-friendly new interface, but whether these are enough to outweigh the learning curve and the hassle in switching when Windows 7 works just fine…those will be diffcult hurdles to clear, at least when the OS is first launched later this year.