What can your business gain from Windows 8?

/ Technical
October 19th, 2012

what can a business gain from windows 8

I’m getting asked for advice on Windows 8 regularly, actually I’m getting asked questions daily about one or more of the new products coming out of the Microsoft stable this year or next. In this blog, I’m going to run through some high-level points on Windows 8,  tailored for a general audience.

Migrating to Windows 8

Firstly, most businesses will gain little from moving to Windows 8 from Windows 7. It’s rare to gain anything by jumping to a new version just one version up from the last. However, as Windows XP is going end-of-life from a product and support perspective in early 2014, many businesses are going to have to make a move. In terms of timing, Microsoft has got the product launch to a T. Windows 7 is a very good operating system from a business perspective, but Windows 8 has landed at a time that creates a dilemma for many, mainly due to the fact that there are still a huge amount of Windows XP estates out there, sat on aging hardware.

So, what’s the real issue? Well, it’s those businesses that need to move from XP as they have sweated assets, often rightfully so, during the recent downturn. They are facing a double-whammy, as they are likely to be changing hardware and software at the same time, which may also bring with it a change in their Office application set – and that could flow up to server estates too.

It’s expensive to change everything, and that raises other issues and decision points, i.e. do you refresh the whole estate with a similar model? Do you go for thin-client? Or VDI? Or do you go for the cloud? It’s not an easy place to be – but you can get advice that shouldn’t cost you anything and which will give you an idea of your options. Don’t worry about it – there is a lot to consider, but it’s as much a business decision as a technical one.

Is Windows 8 that different?

Windows 8 is all new, not so much at the core, but in terms of user experience, it’s different. Therein lies the biggest issue. Many will remember the pain of moving to Microsoft Office 2007 and Office 2003. The change was vast and caused a raft of training and productivity issues, so much so that Microsoft actually moved the Microsoft Office 2010 menu interface back to a more Office 2003’esque’ interface. The operating system interface in Windows 8 is different, completely different. The new Microsoft Metro interface is similar to the iPad; it’s pane based, yet it still needs to flick back to the old desktop-like system as most applications aren’t designed for it. That’s a good thing, but you can expect the old desktop to vanish in later releases when people get used to the new version, especially when new applications are designed for it.

The interface may be different, but I remember how horrified everyone was with the Windows XP interface. Personally, I pushed back any move on the desktops, and initially laptops. However after Service Pack 1, it was a perfect product for laptops, and once laptops were all on it, it went main-stream across the desktops, but mainly when hardware reached the end of its days. The release of Windows Server 2003 aided the push out and XP also aided 2003’s penetration. Don’t forget that Windows Server 2012 is here. We may very well see the XP/2003 scenario replicated with Windows 8, starting from the tablets.

Another factor to keep in mind is training – don’t underestimate it. Yes, people may be able to use PCs and applications now, but that’s because they’ve had PCs at home for the last 15 years or so. However, they are creatures or habit and many can only navigate around a familiar environment. The Windows interface hasn’t really changed that much since Windows 95 and Windows NT, but the Metro interface is different, completely different. Yes, a good percentage of your user base will be able to work it out, but many will struggle, really struggle, even those who grew up with PCs.

The benefits of Windows 8 for business

1. A faster boot time

This is now around 8 seconds on a solid state disk. SSD is becoming the norm for laptops now and will become the norm on PCs going forward. That makes a big difference across a PC estate where the user base used to wait a few minutes for their PC to be ready to use. It’s also useful when waiting for a reboot after a patch update or software install.

2. Hardware compatibility improvements

Virtually any PC or laptop that will run Windows 7 will run Windows 8. Also, many PCs running Windows XP will also run Windows 8. That’s a big jump form the past when you’d have to update your whole environment to move to a new operating system. It’s also much better at managing memory, so opening and upgrading PC and laptop RAM shouldn’t be necessary. That hurts the hardware and component manufacturers but it helps businesses.

3. An app store

Allowing businesses to buy or download applications free of charge. In short, it’s like the Apple and Android stores. This won’t be of huge benefit for the larger organisations, but it will help the small and micro-businesses somewhat. It is also, of course, useful to the home-user; that’s what they are used to on the iPad.

4. New authentication types

Microsoft has added several new network authentication types to Windows 8. The Wireless Internet Services Provider roaming (WISPr) protocol lets users roam from one Wi-Fi hot-spot connection to the next, independent of which Internet Service Provider is running the hot-spot, much as a mobile phone is able to roam between mobile carriers. This enables the user to roam around without losing connection. That’s perfect for phone calls over Skype. Don’t forget, Skype is now owned by Microsoft, so you can expect some big developments here.

5. 3G / 4G connectivity

We all know that 3G and 4G are generally available. The EAP-SIM, EAP-AKA, and EAP-AKA Prime (EAP-AKA’) protocols can provide authentication when connecting to mobile 3G/4G broadband networks without the need for third-party applications. In short, you can connect to 3G and 4G mobile networks in the same way you connect to Wi-Fi, and of course you stay connected, unlike Wi-Fi now, where you drop off when you move out of range.

6. A change of interface

Microsoft is still keeping the Windows desktop environment in some form. It’s going to run alongside the new Metro environment and it’s going to be difficult to get away from it. Then again I’m sure the Metro interface will be better for us all in the long-term. People don’t like change, but Microsoft is a master of the user interface. Many will chuckle at that, but you can’t deny it.

7. Better encryption

Encryption of hard disks is a necessity for business. BitLocker was a step forward in Windows 7 but it did take up a lot of processor time. Now, under Windows 8, it supports hardware encryption and offloads the processing, keeping the processor free to run applications. It does more than that but that’s a blog on its own.

8. Your environment on USB

An interesting new feature is Windows to Go. It lets you boot into Windows 8 from a USB disk on another PC that is running Windows 8. When you log-off that PC or laptop you leave no trace of your data. That may seem like a small feature but it’s pretty big in terms of security.

9. Containerised security

Restricted Security Apps is a new feature that comes in with the new Metro interface. Applications should now be safer as they run in a restricted security context. This basically means that an application has limited access to the underlying operating system. This has always been an issue with Microsoft: every application touched the operating system and this allowed viruses and malware to take control of the PC/laptop.

10. Quicker and safer recovery

Windows 8 has a couple of different recovery options. They have introduced a Refresh and a Reset option. This means that if a PC becomes infected by a virus or if it is corrupted, or perhaps it’s being set for reuse or disposal, it makes an IT team’s job much easier. They can simply reset the device at boot time, via a Windows to Go USB disk or just through Windows. The Refresh keeps all Metro applications, personal data and important user setting and then reinstalls Windows. It’s been stated by Microsoft that this can be done within 10 minutes. If the user has kept an image of his or her PC, Refresh will restore the PC to that image, including applications and data. If Reset is chosen, all data is removed and Windows is reinstalled back to its condition when it was first start-up. There is also a thorough option that securely wipes old information and data to minimise the chance of recovery in the hands of third-party.

So, where do you go from here?

The general rule of thumb will be stick with Windows 7 if you are already there, no matter what size of business. If you’re using tablets or want to use more tablets then you may want to try Windows 8, but still, leave the rest of your PC estate on Windows 7. It’s a solid platform and you don’t need to move; I’d still keep buying PC’s and laptops with Windows 7 for at least the next 18 months to two years. Don’t forget that new operating systems take time to iron out the bugs, at least until the first service pack is released, and then a good few months after that.

So, what’s likely to happen? In short, there’s going to be an uptick in hardware sales within the next two years. That will come from servers, desktops, laptops and tablets. That’s generally being driven by the need to move from XP. The move from XP is also likely to lead to an uptick in software sales, particularly within the Office suite. If you are upgrading from XP then chances are you will also be looking at an update of the Office suite. If you don’t upgrade the desktops then you are going to have to do it another way, perhaps through thin-client, VDI, or cloud. This is being compounded by the fact that many businesses have sweated assets throughout the downturn.

Unfortunately, they can’t sit with XP and/or Office 2003. They won’t be secure, and Microsoft won’t release security updates for them. You don’t really have a choice but to move. There is no one else out there that competes with Microsoft in this space, not really. If you’re on XP or Windows 2003 then you’ve had 10 years out of that initial investment. That’s not bad, is it?