By Harry Brelsford
Alright already, I heard you. You "hate eight," and you don't even want to consider Windows 8 as a replacement OS after April 8, 2014 when Microsoft stops all support for Windows XP. Windows 8 represents an enormous paradigm shift, and the consensus I hear from many small business owners goes something like this: No sir, keep me on XP or at most, I'll happily move to Windows 7.
That caustic thinking turned upside down on Friday, August 23, when Microsoft quietly released the new Windows 8.1 desktop operating system to manufacturing. This process, known as RTM, means that the updated OS will be out in six weeks, or mid-October. I've been using the Windows 8.1 Preview edition (a.k.a. beta) for a few months, and I like it. Here's why: the Start button is back.
Windows 8.1: Off to a Good Start
The number one complaint about the original Windows 8 concerned the lack of a Start button (although third-party independent software vendors, or ISVs, quickly filled that void). Windows 8.1 combines the Start button with modern security, modern apps and improved performance.
If you're one of the many small business owners wondering where to go after Windows XP, the answer in my opinion is to consider Windows 8.1. The timing couldn't be more perfect. Just as everyone in North America returns to work after a glorious summer, Windows 8.1 will be here. You don't need to "debate eight" versus invoking the downgrade rights to Windows 7. Nope. It's all forward to the future as you prepare to migrate away from Windows XP.
A Windows 8.1 Drawback
To be honest, the only negative experience I've had with Windows 8.1 thus far is its apparent lack of 1394 FireWire support. I want one of my Windows 8.1 machines to act as a video conferencing telepresence unit with an HD camera. The camera uses a FireWire connection. As of this writing, I can't use that camera.
I'm still researching it, and I've retreated to use a smaller, USB-based HD camera that is sufficient but not great. Does this sound too esoteric to care about? No. My co-worker, Chris Bangs, is a weekend musician and much of his sound equipment is FireWire-based; he will likely encounter the same challenge. I'll keep you posted on how I resolve the FireWire in Windows 8.1 matter.
Profiles in Roaming
I'm betting that one of my favorite Windows 8.1 features can win over any small business skeptic. When you first set up Windows 8.1 and configure it with your favorite settings and wall paper, a bit of magic happens in the background; Windows 8.1 creates a roaming profile. Technically, this takes place when you "Sign In" to your Microsoft account during setup.
Now, when you log in to any Windows 8.x device, your roaming profile follows you, including your Windows Phone and a Windows 8 tablet. Practically speaking—my coffee-addiction warning wallpaper now follows me to any Windows 8.x device that I log in to. And the story gets better. During the Windows 8.1 setup, you create a SkyDrive. And if you use Microsoft Office 2013 (recommended), the SkyDrive becomes the default "save" location for your files. If you do that SkyDrive-save step, your data will be available on any Windows 8.x device you log in to.
Furthermore, Microsoft announced this week that it upgraded the SkyDrive Pro service for its customers. Each user's SkyDrive Pro default allocation will now grow to 25GB (up from 7GB). You can also increase individual storage beyond the default quota (up to 50GB and 100GB), and a new "Shared with Me" page will also make it easier to find important documents that have been shared with you previously.
Over the next few months, I'll continue to discuss the Windows XP migration, the April 8th deadline and what it all means for small business. I'll also pursue unique and interesting angles to this story. Feel free to leave comments below. I'd love to hear your thoughts and concerns about life after Windows XP.
Harry Brelsford, founder of SMBNation, is passionate about helping small businesses understand the issues and implications surrounding the end of Microsoft's support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. You can reach him at Harryb@smbnation.com.
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