Is small business ready for Windows 8?

Note: This first appeared in the Dec. 24 issue of the Daily Herald Business Ledger.

It’s new. It’s flashy. And it’s the next big thing, according to its maker.

But is Windows 8 the must-have operating system for your business?
Since it’s release in late October, Microsoft’s latest version of its flagship operating software has flooded the consumer market and received warm reviews from critics. The Seattle-based giant is hoping its newest incarnation will keep it competitive in the computing marketplace as the growth in smartphones and tablets has led rivals Apple and Google to whittle away at its dominance in the OS market.
The new Windows’ most striking difference is its radically redesigned user interface, which gives it the flexibility of running between PCs, laptops and mobile devices. The new interface is designed to be used on new touch screen computers, smartphones and tablets, as well as traditional PCs and laptops.
But if you’re an average business, you’re most likely running your system on a Windows predecessor, such as Windows 7, Vista, or even XP.
So is it worth the time and cost to upgrade your system now?
John Samborski, CEO of Ace Computers in Arlington Heights, doesn’t think Windows 8 will take the business world by storm the way its predecessors did. While Samborski believes Microsoft’s latest version is a good operating system, he says the radical changes in the way a person uses the software will keep many businesses from switching to it.
“The business crowd has not really moved to it. They’ve been pretty static. They need a good reason to move over,” Samborski said.
Ace Computers, which builds high-end desktop and server systems for businesses, has seen less than 10 percent of its clients ask for the Windows 8 platform, with the majority preferring to stay with Windows 7, according to Samborski. The reason, he notes, is the change in the user interface, and while other Windows 8 features make the software very efficient, the fact that it’s radically different from Microsoft’s previous incarnations will make business owners more hesitant to embrace it.
“Even though you can run it without touch, it really is emphasizing touch,” he said. “Very few of our customers request touch screens, even those who are buying Windows 8.
“Most people still want to use a keyboard and mouse, and most people would still rather type on a real keyboard than a screen,” he added.
Microsoft’s commitment to Windows 8 looks to develop a new user trend, Samborski said, in the same way when it introduced Windows 95 almost two decades ago. He notes it will be interesting to see in a year if Microsoft’s strategy pays off and the public embraces Windows 8 as the platform of choice for their computing needs.
“It’ll be interesting to see if Microsoft can change user expectations from what they want in their hardware,” he said.
But for now, he sees a limited future for Windows 8 in the workplace.
“Windows 8 will succeed in niche places, especially those focused on touch or maybe more for presentation type machines, where it lends itself more to touch,” Samborski said. “But I don’t see it being the operating system everyone is going to have on their desktop.”
Kevin Doyle, president of small business technology company 3Points based in Oak Brook, also thinks Windows 8 won’t be invading the workplace in the near future, mainly because third party applications that most businesses use are not compatible to the new system yet.
“The touch screen stuff is all fine and dandy, but the biggest thing that is going to have to bake in is that Windows 8 is going to need to be compatible with the software applications that run a business,” Doyle said. “The majority of third party applications are not compatible with Windows 8.”
Doyle noted that his clients who buy hardware that is shipped with Windows 8 must have it downgraded to Windows 7 in order to operate with their existing applications. However, he added that’s not such a bad thing as those third party developers work to upgrade their applications to work with Windows 8.
“This is great for a small business because when their third party applications are ready, they already have the (Windows 8) license,” he said.
But while Windows 8 may not be right for the workplace, Doyle notes businesses that are moving their employees toward mobile devices may find it a viable tool. He believes Microsoft main focus for Windows 8 is to bring the company into the mobile technology market, especially with making it the OS for its new tablet, Surface.
And Doyle notes Surface has the potential to be a major player in the business tablet market, rivaling the dominant Apple iPad.
“It’ll definitely be an alternative,” he said.
The big advantage Surface has over the iPad is its ability to save and share documents back to a network, Doyle said. In addition, the tablet is able to run Microsoft’s biggest business tools, such as the Office suite of Word, Excel, OneNote, Outlook and PowerPoint, which allows it to connect with the PC world, according to a recent 3Points blog posting.
“I think it’ll be the user preference at the end of the day, but I do think the Microsoft Surface will make a definite impact in the marketplace, especially as it relates to business,” Doyle said.