It is finally here. Microsoft’s most anticipated operating system in years is ready for prime time, and all around the world the enthusiasts are downloading bits, stores are putting out their new offerings with the new OS, and IT Pros around the world are asking the same question they have asked for years: do I need to upgrade my organization?

Of course, this is not a question that is going to be new to you as IT Pros. You evaluated Windows 7 and the answer was a resounding yes. For many organizations that transition has only recently completed or, in some cases, is still going on. For enthusiasts the question may be as simple as ‘what’s new and exciting?’ but for professional organizations you as IT Pros will have to make a business case that demonstrates a solid return on investments (ROI) and a lower total cost of ownership (TCO).  In this article I will demonstrate the value of win8 that will help make the decision to begin a transition plan for your organization easier.

The Application Compatibility Story

One of the biggest roadblocks that organizations had to consider when planning their migration to Windows 7 was application compatibility. It really didn’t matter how good the new OS was, if their business applications did not work then they had a problem. Fortunately there were several mitigations for incompatible applications, and most organizations were in the end able to deploy Windows 7. Nearly all of those mitigations will port over to Windows 8 (including the Application Compatibility Toolkit shims, Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V), and Remote Desktop Applications (RD Apps). In short, if your applications worked in Windows 7, they will work in Windows 8… period. The goal of the development team was a one hundred percent (100%) application compatibility story between Windows 7 and Windows 8, and it looks like they achieved it. Wow.

But what about Windows 8 (modern) apps?

Windows 8 apps are not backward compatible to earlier versions of the OS; but that is not what you are trying to achieve. All of your Windows 8 apps will work on Windows 8, as well as all of your Windows 7 apps – whether they be on the desktop, in an RD session, or in the modern interface.

I’ve already built this whole deployment infrastructure for Windows 7…

Whether you used the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) or System Center Configuration Manager (ConfigMgr) as the engine to deploy Windows 7, you have already built the deployment infrastructure needed to deploy Windows 8. You may need to upgrade MDT (updating MDT is not a difficult process, and from there upgrading your MDT Deployment Points (DPs) is a right-click away) or apply a service pack for System Center, but once you have done that all you are going to have to do is import your Windows 8 into your DPs and then create a new Task Sequence (TS). That’s it… nothing more. Once your DPs are updated you are ready to deploy Windows 8, and since your application packages from Windows 7 are all compatible with Windows 8, you are golden!

But what about Windows 8 (modern) apps?

While your modern apps are going to install differently from your legacy apps, rest assured that they will still deploy from your MDT and ConfigMgr deployment points. Of course you have probably heard about the Windows Store, and as a one-off you will still be able to buy apps from there; however for your deployment scenarios you will be able to side-load your modern apps from your DPs.

Won’t I have to retrain my users?

When you start Windows 8 it is going to look different from Windows 7 – you guessed it, the Start button is gone. In its place is a full-screen Start Menu that is going to take most users 5 minutes to understand and not much longer to get used to. Beyond that, the OS goes out of its way to be more user friendly than its predecessor. The new interface is optimized for touch, but is just as easy for users working with the mouse and keyboard to navigate.

Now it is true, as the IT Pro you may need a little more training than your end-users; not much, but some. Chances are you will be able to read a few blog articles (such as those on the Canadian IT Pro Connection) to get up to speed, but if you do need more there is training already available for you in many forms – the Microsoft Virtual Academy will have lessons that you can go through in order to get up to speed quickly. Microsoft Learning currently has a number of courses in beta[MDG1] which you will be able to take at a Learning Partner; additionally there are several exams that you will be able to take to prove your competency in the new platform, both to yourself and to potential customers and employers. The Microsoft Certified Solutions Advisor (MSCA) is a great way to prove that you are not only competent, but that you have taken the time to learn it right and to prove it.

Microsoft Learning has revamped their certifications in this its twentieth year of operations. The Solutions in MCSA means that certs are no longer focused on individual products, but on the infrastructure as a whole, which means that you should not be surprised to see questions about some of the Solution Accelerators that Microsoft offers (such as the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, and the extremely handy Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit. They have been listening to you and understand that we are not deploying Windows in a vacuum, and understanding the different components of the ecosystem and how they work together is more important to you than knowing what button to press.

How do I know what SKU is right for me?

Once again Microsoft has listened to you; the Windows 8 SKU line-up is now simpler, with Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, Windows 8 Enterprise, and Windows 8 RT (for ARM based devices)

For businesses large and small there are really only two editions: Pro builds on Windows 8 with key security, mobility, and virtualization features. The most notable feature improvement in Windows 8 Pro over Windows 7 is BitLocker, the drive encryption technology that was previously only available in the Enterprise SKU.

Windows 8 Enterprise brings key mobility benefits such as Windows to Go (WTG), Direct Access, and BranchCache, as well as even more virtualization benefits with Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

Windows RT is a new member of the Windows family, and will come installed on devices with ARM processors. For users who have been asking for tablet devices that will be light, easy to use, has a long battery life, and delivers a high quality and predictable experience, tablet devices running Windows RT is the obvious answer. They are the only tablets on the market that run the same applications as you do on your desktop. That means there is no need to convert your files, and you will not lose any formatting going from one device to the other. Additionally if you buy a app from the Windows Store for your desktop it will immediately work on your tablet as well.

Windows RT offers another distinct advantage over competitive devices – security. With on-device encryption you can rest assured that the data that is important to your business remains secure.

But what about my legacy apps?

It is true, Windows RT will not have a desktop mode that other editions will have. However it will have the same Remote Desktop application that all Windows 8 devices have, and will be a great platform for RemoteApps and Remote Desktops, and is the ideal platform for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) scenarios.  Additionally it comes complete with several VPN clients built in, including Cisco, CheckPoint, and of course the Microsoft VPN client.

Some of my users love the Windows 8 features, but occasionally need Windows 7…

It is not uncommon to hear of situations like this, which is why Virtual PC was such a popular download in Windows 7. Client-Side Hyper-V is going to be very popular for those people who want the speed and security of Windows 8, but also need to support older platforms. Hyper-V on Windows 8 offers the same Layer 1 hypervisor that you use in your datacenter servers, and allows you to run an operating system within your operating system – whether that is Windows 7, XP, Windows Server, or any supported flavor of Linux. In fact, as long as you can install it on x86 hardware, you can install it in a virtual machine.

If you are tight on RAM then dynamic memory in Hyper-V will be a godsend to you, allowing you to set Startup RAM, Minimum RAM, and Maximum RAM per virtual machine so that it only uses what it needs at any given point. For advanced users running multiple VMs in your client the Memory weight and Memory buffer make it easier to allocate contention resources where they are most crucial.

With very few exceptions, almost all of the features of Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 are available on the client, with a few obvious exceptions that nobody is really going to miss. Knowing that, many IT Pros will seize this opportunity to get to know Hyper-V before they set out to deploy it in their datacenter servers!

I feel the need… for speed!

Windows 7 was the fastest OS that Microsoft had released in many years; once it was booted, it was faster on Windows XP (on hardware that supported both systems), not to mention Windows Vista. Windows 8 has only improved on this, with a much faster boot time, as well improvements to memory management that prevents memory clogs where applications that are loaded but not in use cause your system to slow down. The development team was very conscious of the fact that modern users do not want to be kept waiting by their PCs, laptops, and tablets; you need devices that move at the speed of life, and Windows 8 will do just that.

Microsoft has made the hardware certification process much stricter on Windows 8 than it has been, ensuring higher quality devices and minimizing compatibility issues. However if you have recently gone through a hardware refresh never fear… Windows 8 runs amazingly well on legacy hardware as well!

Where do I start?

The best way to get to know any operating system is to start using it. Download your free trial today, and if you do not have hardware to dedicate to it, there are several ways you can try it out without having to go out and spend the money – there are a number of articles on the best ways to do that, and we recommend you try out one of them on your existing laptop today.

Of course, if you are a real enthusiast, then you may want to head down to the nearest retail outlet (such as the Microsoft Store) and purchase a new Designed for Windows 8 device on October 26th, and if you are like me, you will want to get a touch-enabled device!