I couldn't come up with many good answers. So I purchased a new laptop running Windows 7, and have no plans to upgrade later this month when Windows 8 launches. That's not necessarily staggering news, but here's why I keep thinking about it: I've always been a Windows guy. Shouldn't I be a little more eager for Microsoft's reboot of its longstanding OS?
The reality is that Windows 8 is a much bigger deal for Microsoft than it is for me and, I'd wager, most small businesses.
"An SMB is unlikely to decide 'Windows 7 is no longer good enough, I must have Windows 8!'," Analysys Mason analyst Patrick Rusby told me via email. "Windows 7 is proven and popular."
Exactly. Windows 7 works, quite well in my experience. So I don't see a particularly pressing need to upgrade; Microsoft will support Windows 7 through 2020. Although it's not new in technology time, it's new enough for me. I'm not an early adopter--I'm just a plain old adopter, which I think usually leads to better purchasing decisions on a small business budget.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," said Steve Hilton, Rusby's colleague at Analysys Mason. "Sometimes good enough is simply good enough for the majority of SMBs."
In a similar vein, I need the return on my technology investments to be clear cut. Like most small businesses and self-employed professionals, I'm willing to take significant risks knowing that they come with an increased likelihood of failure along the way--provided there's a tangible reward for success. A computer OS isn't an area where I see much upside in living dangerously. It just needs to get the job done well--or, more to the point, help me get my job done well. Windows 8, because it's a major revamp, comes with risks.
[ They're here, but does anyone care? See Nokia Windows Phone 8 Devices Arrive With Thud. ]
"Busy people do not want to have to learn a whole new OS, and Windows 8 looks sufficiently different as to require quite a bit of getting used to," Rusby said. He noted, too, that the new OS is a lot more consumer-y than previous versions, which have been mainstays on countless business machines. "It looks fun, not productive," Rusby said.
XBox is fun. Fantasy football is fun. The PCs in my office? Not so much fun, because that's not what they're there for.
Here's probably the biggest reason I'll be passing on Windows 8 for the foreseeable future: It wasn't designed for my needs. The two things I do most often in my job are typing and talking on the phone. A tablet is not optimal for either. Touch PCs sound nice in theory, and I can envision some jobs where they might make a good investment--just not mine, at least not now. But what about mobility? Somehow I've managed to not crumble under the albatross that is this near-five-pound laptop. My Android phone keeps me connected to email, voice, and other business apps when the laptop is offline.
"Windows 8 is really designed for touchscreens, so a new device is needed to get the best out of it," Rusby said. "That is another expense, and touchscreens still have to prove themselves a lot before they can replace laptops."
Even though Microsoft has been rolling out aggressive upgrade offers for Windows 8, I just don't see much rush. I'd like to see it in the wild. The consumer and release previews were just that: previews. I'd like to talk to other professionals about how they're using it to get work done, and how it compares with previous versions. Most of all, I'd like to see some clearer reasons for making the switch.
The OS upgrade treadmill, as InformationWeek.com's Jonathan Feldman called it, isn't for me. If and when I do get Windows 8, it will probably be driven by a hardware purchase, not the other way around. By then, we'll probably be talking about Windows 9.
There are no doubt other lines of work where Windows 8 might hold more immediate appeal. I'd love to hear from small and mid-size businesses that have plans for Windows 8. I'd like to hear from SMBs that, like me, are sticking with older versions of Windows for the foreseeable future. And if you just want to explain to me why I'm wrong, that's fine, too. You can reach me via email or Twitter, or chime in with a comment below.
Upgrading isn't the easy decision that Win 7 was. We take a close look at Server 2012, changes to mobility and security, and more in the new Here Comes Windows 8 issue of InformationWeek. Also in this issue: Why you should have the difficult conversations about the value of OS and PC upgrades before discussing Windows 8. (Free registration required.)