The technological landscape has undergone some dramatic changes over the last few years with PC and laptop sales falling in favour of tablets, most notably with the iPad. Having played catch-up with many of the markets driving modern-day computing; such as smartphones, tablets and cloud computing, Microsoft seems eager to prove to the likes of Apple and Google that it’s empire extends beyond client-server computing. We saw this firstly, with the launch of the Windows smartphone operating system, and now with the release of the Microsoft Surface tablet and their biggest OS reimagining for two decades, Windows 8.
As Windows 8 will now come as standard on new PCs, consumers will naturally be the first to use and adopt it. However, businesses may be more hesitant to embrace it right away.
So, erring on the side of caution, will Windows 8 make sense on business desktops?
It’s no surprise that the scale of a company’s infrastructure, the compatibility of the product with existing applications and the cost involved can cause businesses to upgrade at a slower rate. While the majority of Mirus customers have now upgraded to Windows 7, with a percentage still using the robust Windows XP (that comes to end of support life soon), the decision whether or not to adopt Windows 8 is one that will concern all organisations, whether now or in the future. So at a time when budgets are tighter than ever, what are the new features and how might they benefit and add value to your business?
As a Gold Microsoft Partner, Mirus are involved early with new products for development, testing and training. Here are the top features you’ll be keen to know about, as well as a run-down of some of our experiences of running Windows 8 in a business environment…
- Dynamic User Interface (UI) – One of the most prominent aspects of Windows 8 is a completely new user interface. Instead of the traditional desktop and Start button, the first thing you see once you’ve logged in is a tile-based presentation of applications, much like the Live Tiles seen on a Windows smartphone. For those already used to opening these tiled apps with the touch of a finger, it is here that the new emphasis on touchscreen computing is most pervasively felt and reveals Windows 8 as a hybrid OS. How effectively and seamlessly it can work on both desktop PCs and tablets in the long term is yet to be tested, but it is easy to imagine how it could become the norm. Each tile on the Start screen is connected to a person, app, website, or, with the ability to customize your grid, whatever is important to you. What’s more, the tiles display live updated information, such as the current weather conditions in a city, breaking news or new emails without you having to activate the app. One of the tiles, an image of your desktop wallpaper, takes you back to the familiar Windows 7 environment creating a kind of ‘twin desktop’ experience. Another efficient way to alternate between the two desktop views is to hit the Windows Key on your keyboard. Moving the cursor to the right-hand corner of the screen brings up the basic options (also known as ‘Charms’): Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings, while the left side allows you to switch between the apps you are currently running, or snap them side-by-side and do both; basically get things done faster than ever.
- Speedy Boot Time – Talking of fast, the load and boot up speed is much improved. Partly due to the better resource allocations to applications, Windows 8 also employs a technique of hibernating the system kernel when you shut down, such that it becomes almost like a partial hibernation each time. This means that when you reboot the system your previous session is reinstated quicker.
- New & Improved Search Function – Another thing you will notice is that with the trademark Start menu gone, so has the search bar. However, type anything while on the new tiled Start screen and a search box will appear from the right with a list of results generated instantaneously. Another great addition is the ability to search within apps; type the name of a particular contact, select the Mail app and all the emails relating to them will be grouped together.
- Windows To Go – Referred to as an “operating system on a stick”, Microsoft has certified a handful of solid-state drive makers to ship complete implementations of Windows 8 preinstalled on USB memory sticks for users on the move. One limitation is that it will run only on Intel-based PCs, not ARM-based Windows RT machines, so users who hope to use a sleek new Windows Surface tablet with Windows To Go are out of luck, at least for the first release. As To Go enables users to carry a full image of Windows 8 on a USB flash drive in their pocket, some have argued that its size poses a threat to the safety of a user’s data as it could be easily lost or stolen. However, security measures such as ensuring the information is encrypted and built-in malware resistance will reduce this risk. Please note that this feature is only available with Windows 8 Enterprise edition (see http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/enterprise/ for more information).
- Windows Live Syncing – Allows users to login on any Windows 8 PC using their Windows Live account or ‘Live ID’ and access their own personalized desktop, settings and data from the SkyDrive. This gives users the ability to take work from the office home easily without having to think ahead and save particular files or transport a laptop.
Other new features that will interest business users include; Exchange integrated Mail and Calendar; BitLocker to Go (formerly an Enterprise feature now included in the Pro version), which allows native file encryption on USB flash drives; and Reader, a full screen PDF reader installed out of the box. With a rapid start time and exemplary battery life, the new OS is also much faster in regular use, even on modest equipment; one of the laptops we tested it on having on-board graphics and an Intel Core 2 Duo processor. I’d also like to note that Windows 8 still works with our everyday applications, including Office 2010, Office 2013, Adobe Reader X, Sage Line 50 & 200, Adobe Creative Suite 6, as well as the Mirus management system.
Taking the most striking of these new features into consideration; the new user interface, one question might be whether users actually want a tablet experience when working on a desktop or laptop computer? Another concern is whether a workforce used to the traditional UI would be inhibited using Windows 8 and need training, as well as time to adjust?
Immediate exposure to Windows 8 on a desktop PC will almost certainly disrupt the intuitive and familiar experience that the average Windows user expects. As the risk to short-term productivity could be a significant one; with the need for training and internal promotion of the new productivity and integration features, it is understandable that a company-wide upgrade to 8 isn’t going to be a top priority. Especially when some businesses might have only recently made the transition to Windows 7 and feel it works well for them.
However, putting the cost of change and nuisance of user transition aside for a moment, it could be said that the potential to use the same OS and apps on all our PCs and devices in such a seamless manner is revolutionary enough that, through the increasing overlap of home and work life, could eventually put pressure on businesses to follow. The organic transition I am suggesting here is one that starts at home with employees using the latest technology on their own personal devices, as well as bringing them to work, then, growing accustomed to Windows 8 on a range of interfaces, come to expect and demand it within the workplace. While Microsoft may not have quite the same aspirational, style-conscious pulling power as Apple, it is easy to see how users will be drawn to the way apps on 8, such as Mail, Calendar and People integrate with existing services like Hotmail and Exchange; bringing all your information and lifestyle connections together in one place. So, even though it’s unlikely that Windows 8 will have enough of an immediate impact on business desktops to cause companies to rush out and adopt it straight away, nor that there's any guarantee it won't become a transitional OS, one thing does seem clear; the functional value of Windows 8 to businesses will be tested by its workforce first.
- With a new PC: Windows 8 will be supplied by default on forthcoming ranges of PCs from the major manufacturers because they have to; Microsoft changes the licence sticker from 7 to 8. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it will be installed with Windows 8 out of the box. We will check and advise on your orders so you have the choice of whether to have Windows 7 or 8 on your PCs supplied by Mirus.
- With a recently purchased PC: Microsoft are offering a Windows 8 upgrade at a reduced price of £14.99. Feel free to contact your Account Manager or visit http://windows.microsoft.com/en-gb/windows/upgrade-offer for more details.
- Volume Licensing: On Open Value Subscription your Software Assurance gives you the right to a free upgrade to Windows 8. Open Licence pricing depends on your level so please contact your Account Manager for your tailored pricing.
- As a Trial: 90-day trials are available to download here http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/evalcenter/jj554510.aspx