Operating-system upgrades tend to garner a lot of excitement from end users, both in the consumer and business spheres. That hype can lead many to undertake a potentially costly upgrade before it's necessary, or wise, to do so.
With Microsoft's Windows 8 hitting the open market on Oct. 26, there are many factors that can help you decide whether or not you or your business should upgrade right away. We'll examine both the benefits and the potential problems with immediate upgrades, plus a loose estimate of the cost of upgrading.
The basics, only better
One of the biggest benefits for day-to-day Windows use is the enhancement that Windows 8 brings to the basic functioning of the operating system.
"First, Windows 8 is faster than its predecessor in startup times — much faster," said Mike Romp, a senior consultant at SWC Technology Partners in Oak Brook, Ill. "This is due to Windows 8's ability to hibernate just the system kernel. Windows 8 will also run on any machine capable of running Windows 7.
"Second, users who upgrade can run the new Windows 8 applications," Romp said. "This probably won't be a deciding factor for many organizations, but the number of Windows 8 applications is expanding every day. Eventually, users will be able to run the exact same applications across all devices, from desktops to tablets to smartphones."
Special features, even without a touchscreen
With its sleek Modern interface, Windows 8 is the first Microsoft desktop operating system designed especially for touchscreens. But there are some other cool special features that you may want to consider.
The biggest news for users who don’t have touch screens is the support for multiple monitors from a single graphics card. If you hate waiting for your PC to start up, then you'll find Windows 8 a relief, as boot times will be halved in some cases. Windows 8 also speeds up software installs and allows updates without restarts.
"There are a lot of minor tweaks that probably won’t affect the average user, but will really improve the desktop experience for us tech folk," Romp said. "Client Hyper-V finally brings a real hypervisor to the client OS. The improved Windows Explorer, along with its enhanced file/copy dialogue, makes a lot of everyday IT tasks a lot more streamlined. And then there are the little under-the-hood things, like native USB 3.0 support."
Who benefits most, and least, from an immediate upgrade?
A workforce that is on the go, or that uses lots of company-assigned mobile devices, is one that will benefit from an early upgrade to Windows 8. Other types of organizations may want to stay the course with Windows 7 or XP a little while longer.
"Organizations with a large, static workforce could probably hold off on Windows 8 for a while," said Romp. "While there are definite improvements, it may be hard for these companies to justify the additional user training that will be required."
A mixed option
If your company is not ready for a full upgrade, then you may want to consider a mixed upgrade. Users with a need for multi-screen or touch-screen devices can get the newest version of the OS, and the rest of the systems users can stay on Windows 7 or XP.
For most users of third-party software, this should not prove a major barrier, as long as they support the Windows 8 versions at launch.
If your systems are running Windows XP or any subsequent version of Windows, the upgrade will cost you about $40 per seat, unless you have a special licensing agreement that allows for a reduced cost.
Newly bought hardware may qualify for a separate $15 upgrade discount offered by Microsoft. If you bought your PC after June 2,the odds are good you qualify. Just be sure to have the computer's serial number and your registration key on hand when you contact Microsoft.
As for the required hardware specifications, the costs are going to be much higher if the physical systems need a serious upgrade as well. The minimum requirements, per Microsoft :
— One-gigahertz processor
— One gigabyte of random-access memory (RAM) for 32-bit systems; two gigabytes for 64-bit systems
— Sixteen gigabytes of hard-disk space for 32-bit systems, 20 gigabytes for 64-bit systems
— Graphics card capable of running Microsoft DirectX 9, with WDDM driver
Additional specifications will be required to use certain features. You'll need a touch screen with multi-touch support to use Modern's touch features. To access and use Windows Store, Microsoft's new app store, you'll need an Internet connection and a minimum screen resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels.
So should you upgrade?
Are you ready to take the plunge? In the end, only you can say whether upgrading is right for your organization. Hopefully, you've now got enough information to begin to answer that question yourself.