Should small and midsize businesses still running XP skip Windows 7? Here's an expert's take on what to consider in your upgrade plan.
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Usage stats for operating systems tend to move all over the map, but suffice it to say there are plenty of SMBs still running Windows XP. If you're one of them, should you skip Windows 7 and jump straight to 8?
The Windows 8 consumer preview has been out for more than a month, after all, with the official launch to follow later in the year. When you consider the costs and pain points of an OS upgrade, it might be tempting to jump to the newest version and save yourself an unnecessary migration project.
Doing so is not out of the question--but it's not a slam dunk, said SmartDeploy CEO Aaron Suzuki in an interview. Suzuki leans towards skipping straight from XP to Windows 8. But it of course depends on your business, your users, and a host of other considerations.
The first bit of advice: Breathe. There's no particular need to rush. "It's a straightforward business decision," Suzuki said. "It doesn't need to be one of these weird 'I'm being forced by the vendor to make a move' things. People will have time and a lot of options."
[ Get expert guidance on Microsoft Windows 8. InformationWeek's Windows 8 Super Guide rounds up the key news, analysis, and reviews that you need. ]
Here's what Suzuki recommends SMBs keep in mind when sorting through those options and devising a sensible OS strategy.
1. Think (Well) Beyond 8.
Savvy SMB pros will treat their XP upgrade strategy not simply as a case of 7-versus-8, but one that takes into account Windows 9 and onward into the OS future. The reason: Suzuki expects Windows releases to occur more frequently going forward. "I don't think we'll see another big, long run like we did between XP and Vista," he said. "You can recover more quickly from your mistakes if you have another release in a relatively short period of time." Call it the Vista effect--it's the lasting legacy of Microsoft's dead-on-arrival follow-up to the successful XP platform. As a result, Suzuki thinks SMBs need to rethink their fundamental OS strategy: "Are we going to deploy every other [Windows release]? Every third one? Or are we going to keep up with every one?"
It's important for SMBs to be comfortable with their OS plan, Suzuki said, because they don't have the purchasing power of larger companies, and that puts their technology investments at greater risk. "You often don't have the budget to do some of the things that larger enterprises do with software assurance, where you're guaranteed upgrades and so on," Suzuki said.
2. The safe choice: Windows 7.
Simply put, upgrading to Windows 7 is the safe move. Suzuki points out that it's a solid OS; unlike Vista, Windows 7 hasn't generated a laundry list of gripes from IT and business users alike. If you tend toward conservative decision-making, Windows 7 is the easy pick. That's all the more true if you're ready to upgrade now, or already have a migration plan in full swing. "If you're ready to go [to Windows 7] now, go now," Suzuki said.
3. Testing, testing, 1, 2, … 8.
You can indeed skip Windows 7 and migrate directly to Windows 8 when it becomes available--there's no universal rule or reason that would prevent you from doing so. Suzuki's doesn't even necessarily buy the logic that you should wait until Service Pack 1. "Maybe--but there's really no reason to wait unless there are incompatible applications," he said, adding that SMBs are less likely to have a lot of home-grown apps in their mix. In his early testing, Suzuki said he hasn't found any Windows 7-compatible applications that won't run on Windows 8.
If you are seriously considering an early move to Windows 8, it's time to hit the books. "Test like crazy, and start with the beta right now," Suzuki said. "Get acquainted with it and see how it's looking and how it works."
4. Do Your Users Like Change?
If terms like "tech-savvy," "cutting-edge," and "early adopters" might well describe your employees and general company culture, a transition to Windows 8--sooner or later--shouldn't inspire fear. If your users grow antsy at even the slightest hint of technological change--well, Windows 8 might cause them to freak out.
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