At the start of September, Microsoft provided a full public demonstration of Windows 8, the upcoming version of its operating system.
Due to the dominating position of Windows, news of a new version is a big deal – not just for Microsoft, but for IT managers and small business owners, who will have to decide whether or not to upgrade as soon as the software package is released in a year or so.
A chequered history
Microsoft features a considerably chequered history in relation to Windows releases. Windows 7 – the present version – is widely regarded as being stable and secure by companies that work with it. On the other hand, many companies are still working with Windows XP, a ten-year-old operating-system. If ain’t broke, why fix it?
Indeed, it’s only now Windows 7 has time to prove itself that a number of companies are able to see a business case for upgrading. And with Windows 7 regarded as the ‘safe’ choice, Microsoft is going to have to build a robust argument to encourage companies to jump to Windows 8 instead.
An all-new interface
Building the case for businesses to switch to Windows 8 will be much harder now the company has confirmed that the new operating system uses a totally brand-new user interface. In a somewhat risky decision, Microsoft has pushed the familiar desktop aside, swapping it with a system called Metro.
Metro has been made for devices with touch screens in mind, of course it will still run on more traditional PCs. The ambition is commendable, but it does mean Windows 8 is a bold departure from what end users are familiar with.
When you load up Windows 8, you’ll see a group of live ‘tiles’. These tiles provide you with important information immediately (like your unread emails), and you are also able to flick between tiles, or tap them to launch apps.
Up to now, it seems fine – provided that you’re using a device with a touch-screen. If not (as will be the case for most business users), it’s tricky to see what advantages this will offer over the standard desktop.
The desktop is still very much around
The truth is, it appears probable that many companies will choose to stay with the familiar desktop, which will remain available in Windows 8. There are several surprises here too though. Probably the most striking is that Microsoft has decided to include the Microsoft Office-style ‘ribbon’.
This move is likely to divide opinion. The software giant claims the ribbon makes crucial commands obvious, helps people find the options they need, and offers regularity across their applications.
However, any IT managers who had to deal with unimpressed users when the ribbon was brought to Microsoft Office will feel a headache developing at the prospect of going through it again.
Are there any advantages?
Of course, it’s early days for Windows 8. Microsoft is promising many other improvements, which should come to light between now and the software’s release. Undoubtedly, it will use fewer system resources than Windows 7, so should improve your performance on existing hardware.
But will there be enough to encourage organizations to switch to Windows 8? With over 12 months until the release, it’s hard to be sure. But initially, it’s difficult to see a convincing argument.
At least to begin with, there’ll be too many unknowns to make Windows 8 an overwhelmingly attractive proposition. Will users be able to cope with the interface changes? Will the upgrade process go smoothly? (Anyone remember Windows Vista?)
Companies that need to upgrade from Windows XP are much more likely to jump to Windows 7; it’s proven itself as a business worthy system and the upgrade path is well-established. Those currently using Windows 7 can just sit tight while they wait and see how Windows 8 fares in its first months.
The long game
In the longer term, it’s very feasible that Microsoft’s big gamble will pay off. If touch screens become standard on PCs and tablet adoption grows, that new interface is likely to make a whole lot of sense. In five years’ time, potentially we’ll all be using Metro and the desktop will probably be deceased.
But big changes always create problems. If you’re a company trying hard to balance the books and work economically in a tough climate, the twin distractions of Metro and the ribbon may be the last things you need, at least in the short term.
What do you guys think? Will your business be switching to Windows 8? And even if you’re just a one man band will you consider making the change?
Thanks to Richard Querrey for helping with this post – he’s a tech enthusiast and a blog editor over at the – ContractPhoneswithFreeGifts.com Blog