Windows 8 migration? Let’s open the debate

It’s the CIO’s nightmare scenario. The chief executive boots up on a Monday morning and spits coffee and pastry as he struggles in vain to find the essential application feature once close to his fingertips. The look and layout of a vital business program has changed with a software upgrade and now the company’s most important end user gets trapped in a confusing array of menus.

This is a typical argument used against changing application or operating system layouts. Apparently ROI projections will disappear in a puff of smoke as productivity plummets and IT resources get jammed up with helpdesk calls.

But the launch of Windows 8 is a confession by Microsoft that change is more important than familiarity. Who can blame them? And the good news is we can now (finally) start to focus on which operating system delivers the best business case and technical features (things a CEO really does care about).

This blog series won’t be about rubbishing Windows 8. It will be a place to debate our alternative to the expensive upgrade cycle. We hope you will join it. But first some insight into why we want to have it now.

Seamless Migration?

Businesses often point to familiarity as a big reason why Windows has remained the de facto standard for the computing. Why risk a user backlash? A seamless migration (if there is really such a thing) is the easy choice.

That’s why a section of the IT media reacted with astonishment when Microsoft rejected this mantra and unveiled plans for a radical new look and feel for this month’s launch of Windows 8.

The interface adopts a flatter, simplified look, initially dubbed Metro but now more prosaically called Windows 8 style UI, designed to unify Windows across smart phones, tablets and PCs. Some critics say Windows 8 makes sense for touch screens but is awkward on mouse-and-keyboard PCs and laptops (still the work horse for the majority of organisations).

The End of an Era

There are lots of changes. One example is the replacement of Start menu with a Start screen with access to applications, calendar, email updates and management tools on a single ‘homepage’. It looks different and the way to get there has changed beyond all recognition.

That’s why one blogger, Andrew Orlowski, described Windows 8 as a “severe disruption to the everyday experience caused by integrating Metro front and centre. The Start menu has gone, but pressing the Windows key now throws the user into a radically different environment with a completely different design, behaviour and even scaling.”

Other reviewers like the changes. “The Start screen and all the apps which share its modern UI, are beautiful to look at and great fun to use, but it is important to note that you don’t have to have anything to do with them,” argues PC Advisor’s Matt Egan.

And that’s the paradox. Why shouldn’t Microsoft look to change their user interface? The idea that familiarity beats a great user experience has always been flawed. Too much familiarity simply breeds contempt.

Time for Change

The bulk of users (especially enterprise users) are some way off Windows 8. In fact, according to StatCounter, a third of desktops still run Windows XP.

But there’s a well publicised trigger point coming: users of Windows XP will be forced to migrate as Microsoft support ends (for Windows XP support ends in 2014). The launch of Windows 8 signals that change is inevitable for an operating system to be fit for purpose. And that can only be great news for businesses desperate for a better deal on licensing and support.

The Open Option

If you’re running XP or Vista and planning a Windows migration, we hope to show you why it’s time to consider a rational argument for features and a more rewarding business case.
In the posts ahead we’ll outline why Ubuntu is easy to use. Why Ubuntu is changing things in the cloud with desktop client software. And why it’s proving invaluable to thousands of users in business, government and not-for-profit sectors around the world.

We look forward to debating with you. Starting with our next post on licensing complexity in a week’s time.

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