Life after Windows XP

Time's up

Today marks the day that the hugely popular Windows XP is consigned to history. Hopefully your office, as well as your home, has moved on by now. But if not where do you go from here?

Windows 7


Currently the most popular choice for business, both small and large. It is reliable, easy to administer and support (from an IT perspective). In the Pros column it will be fairly familiar to your users and you won't have to spend (too much) time supporting them through the transition. In the Cons column it has already been superseded which means the clock is already ticking till its retirement. Mainstream support ends on Jan 13 1015 and extended support 5 years later on Jan 14 2020. Lest there be any doubt it is extended support that has just ended for XP. During extended support the product is no longer developed but security updates will continue to be available. This does not make it a bad choice but is something to consider. Another thing to consider is that Windows has changed, like it or not your users will have to come to terms with the new way of interacting with their desktop at some stage. Oh and most retailers are now charging a premium for Windows 7.

Windows 8


WIndows 8 was released in October 2012 so it has already been around a while. Many corporate users choose not to adopt a new version of Windows until the first service pack has been released which allow any initial bugs to be ironed out. Windows 8.1 was release in August 2013 and the strangely named Update 1 for Windows 8.1 is available this week. In English that makes it Service Pack 2. So far I have found it to be incredibly stable and less buggy than Windows 7. For manageability and support it is at least as easy as Windows 7.

So what about the user interface


Microsoft has been much maligned for what has been seen as a dramatic departure from its traditional interface and not listening to its users. In my opinion much of this criticism is unfair. So what about those tiles?
Initially I was less than enchanted by these. Yes I understood that they made sense for tablet users but not on the desktop. Two things changed my view on that. The first was when I first used Windows 2012 server. As a server product nobody was trying to push the XBox experience, App Store or hundreds of widgets into my face. There were only 8 tiles - and these represented all the tools I needed to manage the server. The second was spending time on some of my clients' (Windows 7) PCs. I personally keep a clean desktop. So clean that I have nothing on it. Not everybody is like me - in fact it seems that most people aren't. Recently I asked a client where I could find a particular document that was causing problems. The response: On the desktop. Armed with this knowledge I was still unable to find it. The problem with bigger and higher resolution monitors is that they give us a much bigger area for dumping stuff and suddenly finding that thing that you parked on your desktop is a problem. Like may other users this user also had shortcuts to all of her regularly used applications on the desktop. Tiles to the rescue. Now you can group and order all those shortcuts that live on your desktop. The first thing to do is get rid of all the default ones that you don't need, and optionally uninstall the apps associated with them.Then you can customise away to create a desktop that works for you. Since Windows 8 we have seen an explosion in the number of touchscreen laptops available. I had considered this to be a bit of a gimmick, after all its much faster using the keyboard. Last week a small business asked me to purchase new laptops for the team. Interesting that touchscreen was right a the top of their list of must haves..

I am not personally a fan of the Metro user interface on a desktop, although I can understand why this would be appealing - especially to a new user (of computers). Fortunately the two obvious apps (Skype and Adobe Reader) that annoyed me were easily replaced by desktop versions.

So if you are choosing to stay with Windows I believe that Windows 8 is ready for prime time. Naturally you need to make your own decision but do make sure that the negative reports you hear or read are not just based on resistance to change.

OSX


The last few years have seen the Mac promoted to the mainstream. It is not uncommon to see more Macs than PCs on trains, in hotels or in conferences. This continues to be a great choice for a business computer. If you are moving from Windows bear in mind that there is a learning curve for users. Also bear in mind that if you do decide to move to Macs you are probably facing a significant outlay on hardware since the hardware and software come as a package deal.

Linux


The attraction of Linux for many organisations is that it is totally free and that you can replace all of your applications with free software. Depending on which distribution you choose the user experience can be very similar to Windows or even OSX. The applications will be different so if your users struggle with upgrading from one version of Microsoft Office to another they probably won't like using something completely different that does the same job. You are able to have the same amount of control over security policies and installed software as you could with Windows but you will need a competent system administrator to configure and maintain your systems. There are a huge number of choices available which is great but it does potentially cause an administrative problem. Windows administrators will probably accomplish most things in a similar way so that if you need a new admin any competent person could hit the ground running very quickly. There are literally hundreds of ways of doing the same thing in Linux and every administrator will have his own preferences so it is important to ensure that everything is thoroughly documented if you choose this route.

Anything else


Actually yes. Mixed environments are becoming more common although not necessarily recommended. The world is a far more compatible place than it was when XP was launched so it is no longer a problem if you choose to use Macs for your design team, Windows for your admin team and Linux for the tech team. BYOD (bring your own device) is also increasing in popularity so it is important to think about how this may work in your organisation and what the security implications may be. I have not mentioned Chrome OS as this is really only applicable if you are 100% browser based. The world is moving in that direction but for SMEs it is likely to be a while before users are prepared to relinquish the trusty word processor or spreadsheet for a totally on-line solution. Havin said that if most of your applications are browser based it really doesn't matter what operating system you choose since you primary tool is a web browser.