Yet some of the same factors generating excitement about Windows 8--mobility and a sleek new look-and-feel are exhibits A and B--could also create high hurdles for some SMBs on the path to adoption. Those hurdles can be cleared provided you know they're coming. Here are four to consider as you work to avoid getting tripped up.
1. Still on XP. Windows XP is still widely loved--as evidenced by the fact that it's still widely used, even with Microsoft set to pull the plug on support in April 2014. Depending on whose numbers and methodology you use, XP still powers between 20% and 40% of all PCs. That holds true when focusing only on SMB users: 24% of U.S.-based SMBs are still running XP, according to recent Techaisle data. That jumps to 43% of SMBs globally.
SMBs still on XP face a more complex upgrade choice, because they'd be skipping two versions to get to the newest one. Some XP shops are already underway with a migration to Windows 7 or just recently completed one. Then there's the fact that XP users are likely using older hardware. Though it might meet the minimum technical requirements for Windows 8, that gear probably isn't going deliver a productive experience. Windows 8 simply wasn't developed for XP-era hardware.
Can you upgrade directly from Windows XP to Windows 8? Yes. Should you? Maybe, maybe not. Migrating to Windows 7 is generally viewed as the safer move for XP desktop and laptop users. (That wasn't always the case.)
[ If you are upgrading, plan carefully. Read Some Intel-Based Tablets Flunk Windows 8 Upgrade. ]
2. Hardware costs. Even relatively new hardware won't necessarily be optimal. Microsoft acknowledges as much in its Windows 8 Release Preview info. Windows 8 was designed for touch; legacy Windows equipment was not. Software upgrade prices may be palatable for SMBs, but new hardware likely means a significant capital expenditure. The best Windows 8 experience will require new devices--touch-screen PCs, tablets, or some combination of the two. A reasonably optimal deployment might stick with non-touch PCs but still require investing in new tablets--that hardware simply didn't exist until now in Windows environments, so there's no such strategy as extending the hardware refresh cycle.
3. User disruption. Whether you're responsible for one person or 100--or 1,000 people, for that matter--there's no way around the fact that Windows 8 looks and feels much different than previous versions. The UI overhaul can be managed but not ignored. Some InformationWeek readers have pointed out the new UI isn't rocket science--it just takes a little getting used to. They're probably right; they're also probably more technical than the typical user. (If you've been using Windows 8 since day one, that's you.) For everyone else, there's going to be a learning curve--something the IT pros who help them can't scoff at. Reader "Mark532010" notes that while a teenager might not miss a beat with Windows 8, "for the existing non-expert people who use Windows to get their work done it will be a nightmare. ... It will be quite difficult for me as a support person."
4. BYOD office. Windows 8 could become a single platform to bridge the gap between home and office. That would appeal to IT departments that don't want to deal with employee-owned iPads and other devices on the corporate network.
Therein lies a Catch-22: Love or hate BYOD, deploying Windows 8 is no easy fix. If you're in the "love" category, that means you probably have a cornucopia of devices and OSes on your network already; Windows 8 is just another one. If you're on the "hate" side of the BYOD spectrum, refer back to point number two. It's tough to enforce a no-BYOD policy without offering employees a company-issued alternative. It could get very expensive for SMBs to outfit their personnel for Windows 8, particularly if an employee needs multiple devices--PC, tablet, and phone. Theoretical BYOD salvation comes with a real cost.