"We've found that Windows 8 negatively impacts the productivity of our clients' employees, and we are not looking forward to the day [when it] becomes mandatory," Schlissel said in a phone interview. While Windows 8.1 may offer some improvements from a usability standpoint, Schlissel doesn't believe it will be enough to convince his business customers to use it. "There will still be a steep learning curve," he said. PCs, especially laptops, remain the favorite device for his customers; tablets have certainly entered those offices, too, but often for very job- or app-specific uses, rather than in mainstream operations.
As a result, Schlissel has discussed with some of his XP-based clients the possibility that they may want to move to Windows 7 sooner than planned to avoid the possibility of being forced to upgrade to Windows 8.x later. GeekTek doesn't sell much hardware; rather, its business is built mainly around services. The firm effectively acts as virtual CIO and co-managed help desk for small and midsize businesses (SMBs), usually in the 15- to 150-employee range. Schlissel's customers typically have direct accounts with an OEM, usually Dell or HP; some of the smaller customers buy hardware from sources like CDW or Amazon.com. It's not far-fetched to envision Microsoft increasing pressure on partners to stop selling Windows 7.
Schlissel said he's not using this line of thinking as a scare tactic to spur sales. "We don't make money on them upgrading," he said, adding that GeekTek's services are typically all-inclusive. "What we do is make them happier by deploying Windows 7 as opposed to Windows 8, and that makes us look better. It makes the [client] relationship a lot easier to navigate when they're not unhappy with their computer systems. I see it as helping our clients utilizing the technologies that they are used to and not [having] to make these massive changes to the way that they work."
3. Want To Upgrade Microsoft Office? You'll Probably Need To Dump XP
Application compatibility is a common reason some businesses stick with an older OS. The pain, real or perceived, that comes with moving to a new OS isn't so much in the OS upgrade itself, but in migrating business-critical applications without impacting productivity or stability.
In similar-if-somewhat-reverse fashion, the minimum requirements to run certain software applications could eventually force XP users to upgrade to Windows 7 or higher. In fact, another uber-popular Microsoft product -- Office -- could ultimately force XP stalwarts to update. Office 365 and Office Professional 2013 both require Windows 7 or higher, noted Castro of Valor IT, adding that the cloud-based version also requires Office 2010.
"This is where Office 365 becomes leverage to upgrade Windows XP machines," Castro said. "Most of our customers with Windows XP are usually running an older version of Office like 2003 or 2007."
It then becomes a matter of ROI math. An organization's per-seat costs -- OS ($200), Office 2013 Pro Plus ($399) and RAM upgrade ($60), plus Valor's labor ($200-$400) -- "will usually price out most small businesses through traditional licensing models," Castro said. "[The] Office 365 E3 plan includes Office 2013 for about $20 per month, making the licensing much more appealing."
While that still entails an OS upgrade, Castro did point to one global client that found a way to have its cake and eat it, too: Moving to Office 365 while continuing to maintain XP boxes in its production environment.
"Their IT department is extremely expensive and most of their day-to-day issues revolve around Exchange and Active Directory. With a migration to Office 365, their executive team of 50 users will purchase E3 plans that include their upgrade to Office 2013. The rest of the company, which is mainly manufacturing, runs older machines with XP as their primary OS," Castro said. The workaround: "These users will have E1 plans with no access to software, but are bypassing Office 365 desktop requirements by making those particular [employees] use Outlook Web Access through their browser, [eliminating] the need to use Outlook."
Using Microsoft-provided tools for calculating ROI, Valor IT estimated this strategy will save its client around $300,000 over five years -- some of which could be redirected to fund future hardware and software upgrades for the company's XP users.
"We try to use those savings as leverage to replace all the older PCs with new desktops running Windows 7 or newer," Castro said.