Windows 8 will be released at the end of this month (October 2012) and that is causing me fits. Why? We need new computers and buying hardware can’t be separated from getting a new operating system or from the choice of software that will run on it. We’re pressed to decide soon, because lighting candles may be all that keeps our current infrastructure running.
Realistically, the shelf life of business computers ranges between three to five years; our laptops are three years old while our desktops are more than five. These old computers are failing and that’s getting in the way of getting work done.
Side note: The geeky, raw sex appeal of a Mac Air or Ultrabook in no way influences this decision. Really.
Is Windows 8 the next best thing?
Until recently, everything I had heard about Windows 8 indicated it might be a terrific OS for tablets and phones – but a disaster for laptop and desktop users. Instead of relying on hearsay I installed the preview release of Windows 8 into a virtual machine and tested it for myself.
The verdict? Anyone who still accesses their applications with a keyboard and mouse (rather than a tablet) and expects to have multiple tiled windows open to multiple applications will be challenged by this new OS. Even Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has some problems with how Windows 8 works on his desktop.
Although I was not testing on a tablet or touchscreen device, I could easily imagine how the Windows 8 design would make sense on those devices. But when it came to doing work on a desktop it was awkward, non-intuitive and – in some cases – impossible to do what I wanted. I like learning new things. Yet the appeal of gaining knowledge is greatly diminished when at the end I have an unworkable system that makes me less, rather than more, productive.
My first and biggest fear was that it will be difficult or impossible to purchase a new computer with Windows 7 after the end of the month. I’ve since read that Microsoft will continue to support Windows 7 for some time. You can read the details on ZDnet but the summary is:
- Microsoft will still support XP SP3 until April of 2014 and Windows 7 until January of 2020.
- Microsoft will allow OEMs to sell computers pre-configured with Windows 7 until October 2013.
- Microsoft will also sell Windows 7 software for installation on a computer until October 2013.
- If you buy a new computer with Windows 8, you will have downgrade rights to Windows 7.
Is Windows OS 8 another Vista?
When Vista was released it was possible to purchase a computer with a downgrade to XP. It should be noted that in general, this option wasn’t available on consumer computers and the options to do this for business use quickly narrowed (unless buying a large number of machines).
A similar option might be available where you have your choice of Windows versions for awhile. That sounds great in theory but who knows how long that will work in practice. If Windows 8 turns out to be a disaster of Vista proportions for business users, then fasten your seat belt, because we’re in for a bumpy ride.
I got to thinking that, if forced to get a new OS as part of our computer upgrade, maybe it is time to consider getting an Apple, with an OS that will be a pleasure to learn. My impression of Apple’s newest OS X release (Mountain Lion) is that Apple still recognizes that a laptop or desktop computer is different from a tablet or phone. Microsoft’s Windows 8 seems unclear on that concept. Are they so focused on dominating the tablet market that they’re blind to the impact Windows 8 will have on computer users?
Although Apple borrowed many features first released in the iOS operating systems for iPads and iPhones, they have not succumbed to the same problems. The interaction with software and files on a Mac is more intuitive than on Windows 8. In fact it seems less a transition to move from Windows 7 to OS X than it does to move to Windows 8.
What about business software for Apple computers?
Can I get all the business applications I use in Windows 7 on the Apple? Well, no. We support Sage ACT! software, which does not run on Apple. But, initially it won’t run on Windows 8 either (depending on the time of the service pack that will support Windows 8). Mac gives us a solution right from the get-go, which is to run ACT! in a virtual machine using Windows XP or Windows 7.
But it turns out that other than Sage ACT!, most software we use or lust after is either available on Apple computers (such as Microsoft Office) or there are replacements that provide the same functions. If you’re an end user, even Sage ACT! features can be available through a browser interface presuming ACT! for Web has been installed on a Windows server.
We support other CRM systems in addition to Sage ACT! and the clear trend is SaaS / cloud service. For example, Zoho CRM and Nimble Social CRM are both web-based CRM products that don’t care what your computer platform is.
Traditionally the computers that run Windows have been less expensive than Apple Mac products. But we’re power users and are considering not replacing our desktops – just having powerful laptops.
One of the disappointments when I tried to configure an Ultrabook from Dell or Lenovo was how hard it was to configure a powerful computer with Windows 7 Professional. Most customized models end up with either Windows Home Premium and a lot of RAM plus a large SSD or Windows 7 Professional with less RAM and a smaller disk size.
As hard-core geeks we want the ultra-thin, ultra-light notebooks which Intel has named “Ultrabooks” but which are, in fact, attempts to meet the design of Apple’s Mac Air series of laptops. The Press has been pointing out how sales of Ultrabooks are disappointing largely because they are priced so high. But if you compare Ultrabooks to MacBook Air and MacBook Pro computers, there is little difference in price. If anything, the Mac’s seem the better buy. This is particularly true when looking at features like RAM, SSD size, ports and processor.
Apple doesn’t differentiate their operating system between professionals and consumers and I had no problem configuring 8 or 16 GB of RAM with a 512 GB SSD or even larger. The processor on the Apple was either a choice between an i5 or i7 or on the Macbook Pro with Retina display it was the i7.
Will I really make the switch to Apple? It’s a difficult decision and I just don’t know. Either of the options are more costly than I’d prefer (a non-Ultrabook Windows computer would save a bunch of money, but there’s that whole sex-appeal thing). And I have no doubt I could learn to use Windows 8 sufficiently to get through the day. But I also have no doubt it would be a constant irritant.
Microsoft seems to be pushing business users to reconsider whether they need Windows on the desktop if most of their work is in the cloud. If so, that’s a strategy that could backfire, as you may decide you just need an iPad. But if you are a power user at work, you’re not going to be happy with a new Windows 8 laptop or desktop until they figure out how to support multiple, simultaneous application access.