It’s becoming more and more difficult to find Windows 7 on a new computer. Are you ready to start rolling out Windows 8 or 8.1? That’s the question many business owners are facing as they phase out the last of their old Windows XP machines. It’s not an easy choice.
The biggest difference most people have noticed is the “Metro” screen that Microsoft added to Windows 8. That is the brightly colored block shaped touch screen interface that you have seen on all the commercials. Kids love the look; the business world has not. Once you get past this screen, Windows 7 and Windows 8 are fairly similar, although Windows 8 has an “app” focus much like the iPad and Droid tablets. It takes some adjustment. Because there was such a negative reaction to the Metro interface, Windows 8.1 gives you the ability to turn it off. Microsoft also addressed some of the initial problems with Windows 8 in this update.
Windows XP was around for a long time because it was efficient and stable. Windows Vista was universally ignored by the business community; most waited for Windows 7 and have so far stayed away from Windows 8 and 8.1. Windows 7 has the same reputation for stability that Windows XP has had, so you can expect it will be around for quite some time. Microsoft current says support will be provided through January 2020. However, if you are considering an upgrade, Windows 8.1 is going to provide a better experience than version 8 since they have corrected some of the initial bugs.
One of the biggest constraints you could face is software compatibility. Check all applications you run to see whether current versions are compatible with Windows 8/8.1. You could find that upgrading to Windows 8 requires new software upgrades, or you might find that your software vendor doesn’t yet have an upgrade that is compatible. If an upgrade is available, it could take a significant investment of time and money to roll that out on top of the Windows 8 upgrade. Windows 8 does offer “compatibility mode” options to run older software versions, but these are not necessarily supported by the software vendors. If you run into issues, they may not be able to help. Compatibility is one of the biggest reasons to remain with Windows 7 for now.
Another reason you may wish to keep your team on Windows 7 is standardization. When everyone is using the same software, it is easier to address training and keep track of your IT infrastructure. Likewise, you may want to keep everyone on the same version of Office. If you are on Windows 7 you are probably using Office 2010, even though the most recent version is Office 2013.
Not surprisingly, Windows 8 and 8.1 have new features and improvements compared to Windows 7. The most dramatic change is obviously the graphics and touchscreen interface. However, there are many incremental improvements. These include networking, security, printing, support for multiple monitors, search capabilities, and more. It runs faster, too. Many industry studies show Windows 8 boots up in about half the time of Windows 7.
Windows 8 and 8.1 are designed with touchscreens in mind, so you can use your finger instead of (or in addition to) the mouse and keyboard. If you learn the gestures to navigate through Windows, you’ll find it can be very convenient. Some businesses that have been rolling out both laptops and iPads will find that the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet, with a full version of Windows, can be an effective replacement for both devices.
If you are considering this option, be sure to check out competitive alternatives from the major PC manufacturers: HP, Dell, and Lenovo. The Surface is one of the very first hardware products Microsoft has ever offered, but competitive offerings are impressive and may fit your needs better than the Surface. The Surface has spawned a new line of products being referred to as “2 in 1 convertible laptops” that refer to touchscreen tablets with detachable keyboards. Tablet PCs have been around for over a decade but Windows 8 and the Surface have made them suddenly much more popular. You can even get touchscreen monitors for regular desktop computers.
How to Get Windows 7
If you still want to get Windows 7, you may be able to purchase PCs with what’s known as a “downgrade option,” but these are getting hard to find. Your other option is to use Microsoft Volume Licensing. Purchase of a Windows 8 license gives you rights to install your choice of 8.1, 8, or 7. With Volume Licensing, you always buy the most recent version of the Microsoft product you wish to use – Windows, Office, Windows Server, etc. – but then you can use older versions under that same license. A volume license purchase of Windows 8 and Office 2013 will allow you to install Windows 7 and Office 2010. You can also pay a little more and get Software Assurance, which allows you to upgrade to whatever new versions of these products might come out in the next three years.
Be warned: volume licensing is more expensive than buying an “OEM” version of Windows that comes with a new PC. Unlike OEM licenses, a volume license can be transferred to any PC in your company, and it is also tracked in a Microsoft portal so it’s easy to manage all your Microsoft licenses. The larger the company, the greater the benefit this can be.
It is always tough to make these decisions. It comes down to a cost/benefit decision, and the challenge is that you have to make some predictions about what the future might bring. Even the experts have trouble with this. The safe choice is to remain on Windows 7; however, if your software is compatible with Windows 8 and your team is ready, you may be able to make the switch.