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7/1/2013
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Windows 8.1: 4 Upgrade Questions For SMBs

As Microsoft continues to tweak Windows to calm desktop users, it's a good time for small and midsize businesses (SMBs) to ask what they need from the new operating system.

8 Free, Must-Have Windows 8 Apps
8 Free, Must-Have Windows 8 Apps
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Microsoft is undergoing a great deal of change, a "journey," in its own words. In the process, it's wagering mightily on mobility as the future of computing.

On one hand, that makes perfect sense. Smartphones are everywhere, tablets are popular, and we're more connected than ever before. On the other hand, traditional PCs are still integral tools for countless businesses -- even if PC sales figures don't tell the kind of story that attracts growth fund managers on Wall Street. The first hack at Windows 8, however, came up short from a desktop usability standpoint.

Microsoft appears to get that. The official Windows 8.1 preview, released at the Build developer's conference, was a sign that the company is listening. Just because mobility is massive doesn't mean everyone has suddenly stopped using traditional computers. If you absolutely loathe Windows 8, the next release probably won't convert you.

Microsoft has pushed its chips into the middle of the table. In fact, Microsoft itself has adopted the gambling metaphor, describing the future direction of Windows as "our bet that the PC industry is going through a shift that is driven by mobility." It's not going to do an about-face on Windows 8's Modern UI and its emphasis on touch and apps, among other features. But Windows 8.1 is in effect a compromise with PC users, a refined blend, in CEO Steve Ballmer's terms.

[ What does Windows 8.1 offer enterprises? Read Windows 8.1: 10 Surprise Benefits. ]

"The return of the Start button along with booting straight to the desktop ensures that SMBs breathe a sigh of relief," said Techaisle analyst Anurag Agrawal in an email to InformationWeek. Agrawal's firm focuses on SMB technology use. "Does it motivate them to rush [out and] begin replacing their older PCs? Not yet."

It is, however, a good time for SMBs to think about what their own computing future looks like, especially if they've been putting off a tech refresh for several years. Here are four questions to consider in light of the various confirmations and clarifications coming out of Build about Windows 8.1, Microsoft's new rapid-release cycle, and other areas.

1. What's Your Rush?

As Agrawal noted, while Windows 8.1 includes some key improvements for PC users, that doesn't mean it's likely to light PC sales on fire. That's for good reason, too: There's not necessarily any need to rush into Windows 8.x. As Microsoft's so-called journey continues, there will likely be some bumps in the road.

"We will continue to see a wait-and-watch from the SMBs," Agrawal said. "Many of the SMBs that are buying new PCs which come [preinstalled] with Windows 8, they are downgrading to Windows 7."

The Start button and other updates might be welcome changes, but if you were hoping Windows 8.1 would look and function exactly like exactly Windows 7, well, you probably just want Windows 7. Agrawal expects that downgrade trend to decrease over time once Windows 8.1 hits the market. That said, SMBs that are already on Windows 7 (or in the midst of a migration) have some time to figure out their next move -- Microsoft support for the OS runs through January 2020.

There is one subset of SMBs that needs to act faster: Offices still toiling on XP. Microsoft has taken pains to remind SMBs and other users that XP support ends in April 2014. That doesn't mean the OS will stop working, but it does increase security and other IT risks. It also likely means you're working on older hardware, which can cause performance and support headaches.

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AsokAsus
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AsokAsus,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/5/2013 | 10:13:28 PM
re: Windows 8.1: 4 Upgrade Questions For SMBs
Uh, bringing back the Start Button that does nothing more than provide yet one more means to take one back to the hated, productivity-killing, single-window, no-taskbar, touchy-feely, flashy-blinky Metro UI screen instead of actually restoring the Start Menu is hardly addressing the issue. It's more like a spit in the face to Microsoft's remaining PC users.

Furthermore, if Microsoft was sincere in honoring the wishes of users who choose to boot to desktop in 8.xx, they would also automatically alter ALL of the file associations that they ordinarily default to Metro back to any desktop programs that support those file associations. They would also restore the Start Menu.

Of course, by not doing any of the above, the boot to desktop option is merely a hollow sop whereby Microsoft can pretend they are "listening" to their users and pretend they're still interested in the enterprise and SMB PC markets, because without the file association changes, one still mysteriously and automagically ends up back in the execrable Metro over and over again, creating chaotic confusion for most users who don't have a clue as to what is going on, where they went to, how they got there, and even worse, how to get OUT of Metro UI!

Bottom line, Windows 8.xxx still doesn't have a snowball's chance in Hades of being adopted by the enterprise and SMB. That well has already poisoned, not to mention the fact that IT folks at these places aren't fooled by nonsense like Ballmer's "refined blend", which sounds like it was lifted from a bad 1970's TV ad for instant coffee crystals or a "premium" motor oil.

The "refinded blend" of Windows 8.1 is akin to Coke "refining" New Coke by "blending" half original Coke and half New Coke and putting it in new cans and telling their customers that they were "listening" to them! Microsoft's users can tell the difference between a kick in the teeth and actually being listened to. This "refined blend" is being NOT listened to and it is NOT going to go well at all for Microsoft.

The enterprise and SMB are still going to skip Windows 8.xxxx just like they did with Vista and hope Microsoft comes to their senses with Windows 9 after Ballmer is fired. And if Microsoft still insists on shoveling out cell-phone operating systems on the PC after Windows 8.xxxxx, then the enterprise and SMB will start to seriously look at non-Microsoft alternatives.
JThomson
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JThomson,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/4/2013 | 6:12:52 AM
re: Windows 8.1: 4 Upgrade Questions For SMBs
Great questions and excellent issues brought up in this article, and not only for SMBs. I truly believe that planning is the key step for a successful migration, regardless of size and especially when it comes to Windows 8.

Significant planning and benchmarking needs to be done to ensure enough resources are applied to complete the process in the deployment window. Disk space, additional backups, network utilization and fallback plans also need to be considered. Training on the new version needs to be planned for as well to ensure that workers are able to use the new features.
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