Probably the best news about Windows 8.1 these days is that you don’t have to use it. Microsoft, having seen how disappointed its corporate users are about Windows 8, has relented from last year’s stance, and is allowing computer vendors to continue installing Windows 7 on new machines. This is a good thing because, otherwise, Windows 8.1 was well on its way to convincing corporate America that switching to Macs or Linux machines was the only choice.
In fact, I keep wondering if one major reason for the resurgence of Apple is actually because Microsoft had fallen so far out of touch with what corporate users needed. Let’s face it, office users have a variety of desktop and laptop computers, few of which have touch-screens. They need an interface that’s friendly to mouse and keyboard users. Windows 8 and 8.1 are strongly aimed at touch-screens.
Fortunately, Microsoft will be announcing the availability of Windows 9 at the end of September, with a preview version apparently available soon after that. Apparently the new OS will be released to an unsuspecting public sometime in the spring of 2015. This is good news, although better news would be if Windows 9 (also known as “Threshold”) were already available.
Unfortunately, it’s not. In fact, some of the promised upgrades that were intended to make Windows 8.1 more palatable to corporate users have apparently been scuttled. Worse, the few that remained in the pipeline are apparently on hold as Microsoft cancels the planned August update after widespread quality issues. What’s worse is that the cancelled update to 8.1 still shows up on some Windows Update screens, but then fails to download and install.
The current Windows Update glitch is so bad that despite hours on the phone with engineers, Microsoft’s support staff finally gave up and suggested that the only solution is to reinstall Windows 8.1. I still haven’t found out a good way to install Windows 8.1 on a Surface tablet that came with Windows 8.
The reason this situation is so scary to enterprise IT managers is that an unstable update or, worse, one that fails, is worse than no update at all. When an update gets stuck in a failure mode such as the ones that seem to affect Windows 8.1, you can’t really do anything with the computer. Adding to the frustration, Microsoft has made its most recent update to Windows so that it’s mandatory, meaning that you can’t get any other updates including security updates, until it’s installed.
Now, suppose that the same is true with Windows 9? Suppose you download the new software and find that some or all of your machines won’t work with the update, that Microsoft has no easy solution, and that you’re basically out of luck. The one bright spot may be that if you’re careful with updates, you’ll have tried out the Windows 9 software on only a few machines first, and you’ll know that it won’t work in advance. But if the update becomes mandatory, what then?
Windows 9 Is Badly Needed, Assuming It Actually Works
Fortunately, there are some options. If you’re still running Windows 7, it doesn’t look like Microsoft will make you change immediately. In addition, you can still, at least for now, buy machines with Windows 7 installed. At this point, there’s no really good reason to abandon Windows 7 until Windows 9 proves itself.
But, at some point, Microsoft will start requiring computer vendors to preload Windows 9, so like it or not, your new machines will come that way. Eventually, Windows 7 won’t be supported and you’ll be stuck, just like you are now with your XP machines.
But as I said, there are options. One is that you can replace your Windows computers as they age with Macintosh computers. You can get Microsoft Office for those, which means that the vast majority of your work will still be accessible, and if you have applications that require Windows, you can install them on a Mac running Windows in a virtual machine.
The other option is to move your company to the cloud, at which point it won’t matter much what your local client machines are running. In fact, you might find that a Chromebook is all you need.
The Chromebook has the advantage of being inexpensive and it can use open-source software based in the cloud such as Google Apps, which would be an alternative to Windows. But, of course, then you’d be dependent on Google.
Or if you find that you need local client machines, maybe a switch to Linux and LibreOffice will do, although there are questions about its compatibility with existing Office documents. But if your document needs are fairly simple, it may be just fine.
But you have to ask yourself whether you can depend on Microsoft, given its inconsistent update and support history, and its history of disastrous Windows versions. Can you afford to risk your company’s productivity to a company that suffers such abject failures as Microsoft has so far?
The answer, of course, is that you can’t. Right now, your only option is to keep using Windows 7 in your company and hope that Windows 9 is a vast improvement over Windows 8, that Microsoft delivers it on time in a form that’s workable and stable. In the meantime, you should start planning for alternatives, such as machines from Apple.
Microsoft, unfortunately, doesn’t have much to say about the current difficulties that have beset Windows, except for a brief official comment from a spokesperson. “We are aware of some issues related to the recent updates, and we are working on a fix,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. There was no additional explanation available.