Should we be excited about Windows 8 or do we W8?

Early reports are that Windows 8 has a lot to offer and is going to change the way we think about using computers, especially as more devices give us choices about where and how we use Windows as I discussed last week.

For home use, Windows 8 has some awesome features and I am sure people who rush out and buy any one of the new devices with Windows 8 on it will have a lot of fun with it. Of course, the fact that it now spans the devices from PC to laptop to tablet to mobile phone makes it a winner.

However, if this is for a business with a network full of servers, applications and devices let me just pull on the hand brake for a moment.

Chances are that we are all going to see Windows 8 being brought into our Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) businesses through the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) mechanism before our business systems have been tested and made ready to support the devices.

Our printers, scanners and other shared network devices will be one point of contention as the big players in the peripheral markets have not all brought drivers out that support Windows 8 as yet. Our line-of-business applications are likely to be the other limiting factor.

We need to ensure our finance systems, production systems, CRM and other systems are supported by this platform. Some will move across seamlessly others will need the providers to release updates for the conversion.

Of course our technical teams have been running the beta code for months now and have seen some things work and some things fail. But now that the release version is out there in the stores it is time to be planning an assessment not an upgrade. There is great advantage in knowing what barriers there are to a successful upgrade.

If you need to upgrade quickly, chances are that for a little while you are better off using Windows 7, which has mature supporting drivers and application install code.

The good news here is that if you buy Windows 8 Pro you get downgrade rights so you can buy your next licence now and use the old platform until the testing has been done. You may want to test both, to make an informed decision about which platform will work best for your business.

Certainly if the testing has been done and there are no show stoppers, upgrading to Windows 8 is going to give you the best bang for your invested buck.

Of course the early adopters out there will want to grab the devices, ignore the risks and costs and go through the pain for those of us who are more conservative and just want our IT to be ready and working. This advice does not apply to those tech-savvy leaders on the bleeding edge. Go ahead and bleed for us; your efforts are greatly admired.

For the more conservative amongst us, each upgrade to the operating system is going to cost a few hundred dollars per user in lost productivity and technical support time.

It will also bring training and learning requirements and time to get used to the new layout and features. So doing it once to the latest platform to get many years out of that platform makes a lot of sense.

So now is the time to plan the upgrade process, plan a suitable testing phase that identifies devices and peripherals that require support, the software that is in use today and the software that is likely to be added in the next 12 to 18 months.

Consider the business case for spending money to rectify the issues that arise. For example, putting off an upgrade to dozens of staff just because the $300 label printer won’t work is probably not sound; simply replacing the printer with a compliant version will allow you to progress.

Do keep in mind that failing to plan and test is likely to lead to some unexpected failures in the short term if upgrading happens as a result of new PC purchasing without a plan.

Typically new PCs will come with the latest version of Windows pre-installed. Letting this happen without testing is bound to drive up your support costs and lead to frustration for the person trying to get their old work done with a new machine.

Waiting a little while may reduce the cost of finding solutions to lots of small problems that will be fixed as suppliers update their code. Testing and being ready for the inevitable upgrade makes a lot of sense.

So Windows 8 for SME? Think W8 (wait) and warn your BYOD staff that Windows 8 support is on the way but these devices will not be supported before testing has been done.

David Markus is the founder of Combo – the IT services company that ensures IT is never an impediment to growth.

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