In this blog post, I am writing only to an Enterprise “IT Pro” audience and not consumers. I am assuming that most organizations will eventually upgrade Windows. But is there a compelling case to upgrade to Windows 8 now? 

Like any major operating system upgrade this is a hotly debated question. There are a LOT of people asking the question right now because according to Microsoft, 50% of enterprise desktops are running Windows 7 (meaning that the rest are running XP or Vista). So how long will businesses run technology from 2001 (the year XP was released)?

I suspect many organizations that are still running XP are waiting until Microsoft ends extended support for Windows XP on April 2014 (Mainstream support for XP ended in 2009). To XP hold-outs, it doesn’t matter how shiny the features are in Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8. Until they are forced to move, they echo the mantra “if it is not broken, why fix it.” 

Whatever the reason for holding out this long, most organizations that are still running Windows XP will move to Windows 7 or 8 some time before April 2014. The question becomes which operating system? Many CIO’s will ask “If we are going to invest a lot in licenses, why wouldn’t we buy the latest version?” So that’s really the question – why not Windows 8?

In 2001, similar arguments were made to stay on Windows 95, and resist upgrading to Windows 2000 because of the new CTRL-ALT-DEL sign-in screen. The organization I worked for at the time eventually upgraded but the IT pros who resisted the upgrade were replaced because they continuously resisted change (if you don’t like change, don’t work in technology!). So don’t be that guy. Don’t make arguments for staying on 10+ year old technology. Instead, look for how the latest version might benefit the business. Otherwise the business might find someone else who can help them move forward.

There are three support benefits that organizations get when upgrading to the latest operating system. Conversely, these are sacrificed when IT pro’s do not upgrade. 

1. Continue to receive support from Microsoft. With Windows XP reaching end of life for support in April 2014, IT Organizations should budget and begin planning for a complete OS upgrades now rather than waiting until 2013.

2. Continue to receive support from Software Vendors. If history repeats itself, vendors will drop support for the older operating systems to keep their costs down.  For example, anyone who has tried to get the latest video card to work on an old operating system knows that Software Vendors would much rather support the latest technology.

3. Continue to support consumer devices. As executives and VIP’s start buying personal devices running the latest operating systems from their favorite big box retailer, they will inevitably ask IT to support those devices. Rarely does IT have the clout to tell the CEO, sorry we will not help you with your Windows 8 laptop. That will eventually lead IT to get more comfortable with the latest operating system, and long term they will want to reduce the number of operating systems they support to keep their support overhead low.

Plan… Plan… Plan…

IT organizations should evaluate the latest operating system as they would any other change to the environment. Test existing applications to make sure everything is compatible and document any known issues to make sure the helpdesk is adequately prepared to support. Do not overlook training. Train helpdesk and support personnel, and offer training to end users. Start out with a pilot group before a large rollout.

What’s new?

The decision to stay current from a support perspective does not make new features irrelevant, it’s just the icing on the cake.  

      1. A Newer User Interface
      2. File History
      3. Support for ARM devices
      4. It’s faster than previous versions.
      5. It’s affordable

        A Newer User Interface
        All Windows 8 systems boot into the Start screen, which is a collection of tiles that link to apps, programs or settings. Apps can be designed to display live information like the current weather report. This was chiefly designed for consumers on tablet devices who have touch interfaces. However, with a little imagination, I can think of business applications that are written to take advantage of the new interface. A user can quickly glance to get the latest KPI information and business intelligence report without having to launch a separate application. Customer Service reps can view their metrics in real-time. The possibilities of adapting the new interface to business apps makes this new interface a tangible benefit for upgrading.

        File History. This feature fills a huge gap in most IT organizations. As often as you can, you tell your users to save their documents on a shared drive or SharePoint but they will still save documents on their local hard drive. These documents are not backed up, which creates a support burden and challenge for IT. File History is a combination of Previous Versions and Windows Backup, and protects your files against corruption or unwanted changes. It monitors common locations, like Libraries and the Desktop, and when it detects a change to a file, automatically makes a backup to your choice of location (which includes SkyDrive and networked drives). You can set how long File History should keep versions of all the changed files.

        Support for ARM devices. Windows 8 is the first edition to operate on both ARM-based devices and traditional x86 PC based systems. The version of Windows 8 made for tablets is called Windows RT (perhaps short for Run Time). Windows 8 RT will run Office and Internet Explorer by default, but it will not run legacy software. You must use the Windows Store and its apps just like Android tablets or Apple’s iPad.

        It’s fast. There are many other new features including better multi-monitor support, USB 3.0 native support, improved search, cloud based storage for preferences (like iCloud backup). But we expect the latest version to be faster than the previous version, not slower, right? As expected, Windows 8 boots, shuts down, and wakes up from sleep faster than Windows 7. It is 10% faster than Windows 7 in multimedia performance.

        It’s affordable. Windows 8 upgrade will cost significantly less than previous copies of the Microsoft Windows operating system — $39.99 upgrade (special promo running through Jan 2013) to Windows 8 Pro compared to Windows 7 Pro retail upgrade $199. Retail pricing has not yet been announced.

        What else?

        At Catapult, the most anticipated features in Windows 8 is Hyper-V’s support for 64-bit guest virtual machines. Our developers and pre-sales engineers need to run large environments to demonstrate large enterprise software suites like SharePoint and System Center. Windows 8 allows our consultants to use a friendly operating system as their primary operating system without sacrificing the power to run multiple 64-bit guest operating systems. Nice! 

        Windows 8 includes built-in antivirus software. While this may persuade some consumers to upgrade to Windows 8, larger organizations will probably still rely on a centrally managed tool like System Center Endpoint protection.

        Refresh and reset are two new features that help you get back up and running faster when things break down. Refresh will revert Windows back to the original settings without affecting your personal files (think non disruptive system restore). Reset restores the operating system to its factory settings (think re-imaging your system). Both options are considerably faster than doing it manually.

        Windows 8 lets you use multiple connected disks (of any size) to create a pool of storage, which is treated as a single location with its own drive letter. If you start to run out of space you can simply connect another drive to the pool.

        Windows 8 ships with viewers and support for popular file types such as pdf. You can now read pdf documents in a reader app so that you do not have to install a third party program if reading is all that you want to do.

        You can now natively mount ISO files. These disk images become available as drives once mounted. (VHD drive mounting was added in Win7).

        File transfers can now be paused (this was not possible before). Nice!.

        What’s Challenging?

        Since the new modern interface no longer includes a start menu, this presents a learning curve for many. This is similar to the Office 2007 File menu being  replaced with the Ribbon. Apple has already paved the way with devices that do not include start menus so most people will eventually adjust to this new interface. However for those who want all the new features in Windows 8 but really must have the start menu, there are 3rd party tools like Start8 or Classic Shell to add a start menu back to the operating system. In my opinion, this should remove the blocker and I hope Microsoft will consider adding a start menu option for enterprises (like a Group Policy feature) before Windows 8 reaches General Availability on October 26th 2012.

        Another issue to be aware of is the upgrade path from previous operating systems. Upgrading from Windows XP SP3 will only move files and no applications. Therefore, organizations may require professional services assistance to re-install applications after the upgrade (for example System Center Configuration Manager).

        So why not?

        XP users will benefit from the enterprise features they have been missing from Vista and Windows 7 like Bitlocker, DirectAccess, Branch Cache, Bitlocker to Go, Group Policy Preferences, and dozens of others. The sum total of the rolled-up features from Vista and Windows 7 combined with the new Windows 8 features begs the question to the XP hold-outs, why not Windows 8?

        I welcome your comments and feedback. If you are not upgrading to Windows 8 before April 14th, I would love to know why not?