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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.

2. Is Your IT Team On Board?

If you like what you see in Windows 8.1, it's important to ask: Do you have the necessary IT skills and resources for a successful upgrade? It's a particularly critical question for the "S" in SMB, according to Forrester analyst David Johnson. "The smaller the organization, the less likely they are to have the skills and tools necessary to do a full migration of both all of their PCs and all of their applications," Johnson said in an email.

In that scenario, there's a good chance that you rely on outside IT help. Even then, though, don't just assume your provider is ready and able to deploy Windows 8, new touchscreen devices, Windows 8 apps and so on.

"It is a two-step process for SMBs, excluding very small businesses that buy from retail, of moving from operating system to another," Agrawal said. "First, their resellers have to be convinced [of Windows 8's benefits] because they will have to provide support on the new PCs."

3. Will Windows 8.1 Break Stuff You Already Use?

The second step: "SMBs will have to be convinced that Windows 8.1 will not disrupt the functioning of their [existing] accessories, networks, peripherals and applications," Agrawal said. Indeed, compatibility can be a major issue in any OS upgrade -- such headaches are a key reason why some SMBs stick with XP, for example. This gets back to those requisite IT resources: You've got to be able to test, test, and test some more. Otherwise, an upgrade could become an IT disaster.

This could be an easier question to answer if you're heavily invested in cloud applications rather than on-premises infrastructure. Compatibility challenges are often diminished -- or at least outsourced -- for those SMBs.

"Smaller companies -- especially those less than maybe 1,000 people -- can more often move into cloud-based services and other things that make operating system versions less important," Johnson said.

4. What Are Your Alternatives?

There's no rule that says an OS upgrade must be an all-or-nothing proposition. Nor does it always pay off to have the "latest and greatest" version. Do your homework. Test new devices and apps. Take time to make a well-informed decision, especially if you're already on Windows 7. For many SMBs, it doesn't make sense to pay the early adoption tax. Similarly, it doesn't make sense to write off Windows 8 simply because some people don't like it.

As an alternative, consider doing a small deployment for testing, usability and other purposes. Even Microsoft recommends this for companies happy with their Windows 7 environments. Doing so can help answer question three, for starters. "The biggest support issues come into play when the first PC with a new OS is connected to the network," Agrawal said. Beyond compatibility and productivity, this kind of controlled test will better enable you to make the right decision for your business rather than relying on vendor-speak or conventional wisdom. Of course, therein lies the burden of proof for Microsoft and Windows 8.1.

"If the process is not intuitive and smooth, and the experience is not one of delight, the use of Windows 8.1-based PCs will be stalled until it stabilizes and [IT providers] have understood all the potential problem areas associated with working on a new PC," Agrawal said. "If everything fails, the SMBs and the resellers will quickly downgrade to Windows 7 because they know it is a stable OS."

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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.
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 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.
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