As the latest incarnation of Windows begins to roll off the production line later this year, the decision now facing businesses that are looking at the renewal of their enterprise license agreements, is should they upgrade now or wait?

In the past the upgrade of a desktop OS was a fairly straightforward affair. Today with the advent of tablet PCs, and the smartphone operating systems of Apple and Google, the upgrade decision is now far from simple.

One of the major issues that have always existed when businesses contemplate a move to a new operating system is how their legacy applications will cope. Often, it can be sometime before mission critical systems are fully compatible, which gives weight to the advice that waiting several months after the launch of a new operating system can be a sensible move.

Businesses that are still in moving from Windows XP to Windows 7, may not be keen to adopted yet another operating system so soon. However, if your business is still using Windows XP, now is the time to migrate, as Microsoft will finally stop supporting Windows XP in 2014.

Migration fatigue?

For many businesses the decision to move to Windows 8 will have many factors that must all be considered. Use the checklist below to help your business make the decision whether to upgrade now or wait:

  1. Are the vast majority of your Windows systems using Windows XP? If so, then migrating to Windows 8 should be a priority.
  2. Does your business rely on a number of legacy applications that may not be compatible with Windows 8? If so, then your upgrade timetable will be governed by the upgrades to these systems.
  3. Is your business increasingly using mobile touch-based technologies? If more than half of your workforce is using tablets, the new Windows 8 user interface could be attractive and useful.
  4. Audit the current hardware in your business to ensure that it can handle the Windows 8 upgrade.
  5. Network security is increasingly important for enterprises. Assess your business' current security provisions and how Windows 8 could impact this.

Whether your business moves to Windows 8 immediately will largely depend on how your company manages the data it uses on a day-to-day basis.

Touch technology can't be ignored as the 'consumerisation' of business technology marches on, but try not to become startled by the new interface that Windows 8 will have. Think about the practical application of this new operating system within your business.

Windows mobile and Windows To Go

Business today is transacted on the move. Windows 8 understands this and has been designed to allow businesses to deploy the operating system to any device. As Microsoft explains in their Windows 8 Release Preview:

"Windows To Go in Windows 8 is a cost effective solution that enables several alternative workplace scenarios. IT administrators can provide users with a corporate Windows image that includes line of business apps, settings, and corporate data on a compatible USB storage device. Users can have a consistent Windows 8 experience on any corporate or personal PC (Windows 7 or Windows 8 logo-certified). When users boot a PC with Windows To Go, they get a rich, consistent and personalized Windows 8 experience that is as secure as a fully managed PC. When they shut down, they can remove the USB device and no data is left on the host PC."

As already mentioned, security has always been a major concern for Windows users. Over the upgrades that have taken place, Windows has become a secure environment, but wireless technology and the move by businesses to adopt mobile data devices has meant that Windows has had to become even more secure.

Windows 8 includes what is called DirectAccess. "Traditionally, mobile workers connect to intranet resources by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). However, using a VPN can be inconvenient because users must start the VPN connection and then wait for authentication to complete. IT administrators can't issue updates until the PC is on the corporate network and because of this, there risk of a user's PCs becoming out of date.

"DirectAccess allows remote users to seamlessly connect to a corporate network without having to launch a separate connection, such as VPN. Whenever client computers with DirectAccess are connected to the Internet, mobile and remote workers are connected to the corporate network, allowing them to access line-of-business apps, SharePoint sites, and other internal websites. Administrators can monitor connections and remotely manage client computers that are using DirectAccess anytime the PCs are connected to the Internet. IT administrators can keep these remote clients within security compliance by applying the latest security policies and software updates."

Clearly the support for mobile devices that Windows 8 supports natively is a big draw for businesses that can see the efficiency benefits. The advice is to look closely at your business' current Windows set up. Then assess the use of mobile devices and then consider the likely ROI you can expect from a Windows 8 upgrade.

Enterprise users

Businesses could be forgiven for thinking that Microsoft has looked at the current trends especially within the tablet and smartphone sectors and developed Windows 8 to take full advantage of these moves. To a degree this is true especially when you see the latest Windows interface in action.

The enterprise side of business hasn't though, been forgotten. The overlaying of a touch interface is a realisation that the desktop has now given way to the webtop or tablet top. For your business, Windows 8 could represent a major step forward in how it manages its IT.

Rushing into a major upgrade of any operating system is never advisable. Small steps are the key to your business realising the full potential that Windows 8 could offer. Before making your move think about:

  • Testing the operating system on none critical systems.
  • Talk to your employees about how the new interface behaves.
  • Look closely at your legacy systems and whether they operate as expected.
  • Does Windows 8 deliver the level of security your business needs inside and outside the office.

Windows 8 is coming soon. Assessing if this new incarnation is right for your business should be a top priority.