On Oct. 26, your IT department will have its hands full. In many ways, when Windows 8 arrives, the technological transformation will be far greater than it was when smartphones became popular or when people started showing up at the office with iPads. The reason is that for most companies, Windows is the only operating system running the critical productivity applications on a significant percentage of the computers companywide.
When Microsoft ships Windows 8, the OS will be available on computers that you buy from your suppliers, whether they’re desktop or laptop machines. Windows 8, or its close cousin Windows RT, will also show up on tablets, Ultrabooks and in a revised version smartphones. It will be everywhere.
While Windows 8 doesn’t have anything new in the way of hardware requirements, the same isn’t true about the way it works. While there are exceptions, you can install Windows 8 on anything that will run Windows 7. On older machines you may find that Windows 8 is actually faster than earlier versions of Windows. In addition, the tiled user interface formerly known as “Metro,” while easy to use and intuitive isn’t your only choice. There’s also a traditional Windows desktop that will appear with the click of a mouse or a fast key combination that looks a lot like what you had on Windows 7.
The first step in getting ready for Windows 8 is to learn how to use it. You can do this by downloading the pre-release version from the Microsoft site or you can get the newly released Enterprise edition. Both are free. The Enterprise edition provides a 90-day evaluation period. The preview version will stop working sometime after the commercial release on Oct. 26.
You can approach your evaluation in one of a few ways. The easy way is to get a new computer that’s running Windows 7 and upgrade it. The more difficult, but perhaps more relevant way is to upgrade a computer that has the necessary hardware specs, but that has been in use for a while. Either way you will need to know whether the target computer is running a 32- or 64-bit version of Windows.
When you go to the Microsoft download sites you’ll be faced with the choice of which version to download. What you get is an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) image that you’ll need to save to a DVD. The time necessary to download the software and create the DVD varies according to your Internet connection and the speed of your computer. For me, it was about 20 minutes.
The next thing you need to do is make sure there’s enough space on the target machine’s hard drive for the installation. Note that you will need a product key, which is on the same page as the download links. Once initiated, the installation is non-dramatic, and could be fast. Again, that depends on your computer.
Prepare an Upgrade Plan for Your Computer Inventory
Once you’ve got Windows 8 running, you need to take the time to learn it. The Windows desktop looks just like what you’re used to since the days of Windows XP, but there are differences â like the absence of a start button. You get access to those functions by hovering your mouse pointer over the lower right corner of your screen.
Now’s also the time to meet with your IT staff and get started creating a support plan. You will need to be ready with a list of frequently asked questions to send to your employees when they get a new computer or tablet with Windows 8 or Windows RT. Your support staff will need to become familiar with the new OS and be able to either answer questions intelligently or to recognize that you need to pass that question on to someone in the IT department who knows the answer.
You will also need to look over your inventory and determine which computers are capable of running Windows 8 and which of those machines are worth the time commitment to perform the upgrade. If a laptop or desktop is more than two or three years old, it’s probably not worth the cost in labor and training hours to perform an upgrade.
However, at some point you’re going to have to refresh your computers as they reach the end of their economically useful life. That means you’re going to be bringing Windows 8 into your enterprise. So the support requirement will remain, regardless of whether you choose to upgrade any of your existing computers or not.
Fortunately, the upgrade to Windows 8 is not nearly as painful as some past Windows upgrades have been. Virtually every application written for Windows 7 will run properly on Windows 8. In fact, when you perform an upgrade in place, those applications will be installed automatically as well. While it’s possible that some custom applications may need to be updated, chances are they won’t.
You will also need to check your inventory and make sure you have any Windows 8-specific drivers that the machines require. Again, you’re in luck as most Windows 7 drivers will at least function with Windows 8. And while the new drivers may work better, the old ones will at least work. In addition, Microsoft appears to have included a wide variety of drivers as part of the installation package, so in nearly every instance, the process happens automatically and Windows 8 just runs.
So while it could be worse, the upgrade to Windows 8 does require attention. But the good news is that it’s fairly low on drama and less drama is always a good thing for overworked IT staff.