Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can benefit in a number of ways from upgrading their operating system (OS), it has been claimed, writes Alex Broadman.

The launch of Windows 8 creates an obvious dilemma for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) - upgrade now or wait until later? The economy may have emerged from recession in the UK, but for many companies, budgets remain tight and there is little available in the way of spare finance. Companies are also eager to maximise the return on their existing technology investments before committing to further IT spend.

Also, for most businesses, Windows 7 works perfectly well as an operating system (OS), allowing them to derive value from IT. The system is advanced in itself, allowing businesses to work flexibly, productively and securely online. Yet business leaders are all too aware of the importance of keeping up with innovation. The last thing they want to do, particularly in a tough economic climate, is concede any form of advantage to their rivals. And as such, many understand the case for upgrading sooner rather than later.

So why upgrade operating system?

In general terms, there are a number of benefits which may persuade companies to upgrade when a new OS emerges. According to eHow's Alex Whiting, speed of operation is one of the primary draws. "In each successive
version of an OS, the designer uses new technology and design techniques to increase the speed with which the system can complete tasks," he noted. And with SMB bosses and employees notoriously pressed for time, these
small savings soon add up to something meaningful - allowing people to work more productively on a day-to-day basis.

Ease of operation is also a principle attraction - with new OS generally bringing about the changes IT users have been demanding. Developers spend a great deal of time and energy obtaining customer feedback, so where problems with an OS are identified, the chances are they will be addressed by the next solution in line. Clearly, the purpose of redesigns is to increase ease of use and introduce new features desired by users - otherwise SMBs would still be using Windows 95. New OS may retain the feel of previous versions - for the sake of familiarity - but they tend to represent a leap forward in terms of functionality and the ability to support productive work.

Upgrading OS may also be necessary for the purpose of compatibility, Mr Whiting suggested. If SMBs persist with an archaic system, there will come a point where they are unable to support newer file formats. "Some video players, music files and even word processing documents cannot be opened with outdated operating systems," he noted. With the cloud increasing in importance, and more companies looking to make use of hosted solutions, this
is particularly the case. Installing a new OS also presents an opportunity to remove programmes that may be cluttering up a computer and impacting on system performance, Mr Whiting said. "During the installation process, the new OS will check a system for necessary and unnecessary files, maintaining the former while deleting or disabling the latter."

Reasons to upgrade to Windows 8

Upgrading to Windows 8 can add value to SMBs - whether they are using an older OS or are currently working with Windows 7. Usually the older the operating system, the more pressing the need to invest - however even those
with the previous system can benefit from and upgrade.

Writing for PC World, Lloyd Case claimed Windows 8 offers "numerous small improvements" to the desktop user interface, making many computing tasks easier to perform. He noted that the flat - rather than hierarchical
- Start screen may initially have divided opinion, but the simplification in design makes it much easier to navigate. "If you can’t find an application by pointing and clicking, start typing its name; you’ll likely find it via search," Mr Case said.

A number of the biggest improvements are "under the hood", he noted, with the new graphics subsystem making the OS more responsive as users move windows or scroll through the Start screen. Mr Case added that Internet
Explorer 10 and Microsoft Office 2013 also feel faster, leading to an improved experience for business users.

"Both printing and printer handling work significantly better, thanks to Windows 8’s use of an extensible print-class driver framework," he noted. "Instead of having to keep track of thousands of individual printer drivers, Windows 8 can use a single class driver to support multiple similar printers. In addition, the user interface for managing print jobs and printer features is simpler and more visual than in Windows 7."

Another improvement is the upgraded system refresh capability, he claimed. Mr Case told the news provider that this allows users to restore a system to its clean-install or almost-clean-install state after a poorly written
application has damaged it. This can be achieved while retaining all files and settings, he said. "Furthermore, if you’re willing to work from the command prompt, you can customise what the refresh system keeps and what it
discards," Mr Case added.

Supporting mobile working in the enterprise

For many companies, SMBs and larger businesses alike, the biggest appeal of Windows 8 lies in the arrival of a common app ecosystem. For the first time, businesses can run their PCs, laptops, media tablets and smartphones on the same OS - making it much easier to work across multiple devices. And with an increasing number of businesses embracing mobile working, this solves a major logistical problem for growing businesses.

More employees are looking to take advantage of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) schemes, which allow them to use consumer devices in the workplace. Businesses face great challenges supporting the wide range of handsets employees want to use, and ensuring they can be utilised safely on corporate networks. But if more of the devices are using the same OS as the business works with in-house,
this is at least one problem solved for the IT department.

"Having a common app ecosystem that will run on PCs, tablets, and even phones brings Microsoft into the second decade of the 21st century," Mr Case told PC World. "Though old-school PC users may lament the changes
that their desktop system has undergone, the ability to navigate through a phone or tablet similarly to the way you would through a laptop or desktop PC promises to make your computing life easier."

Conclusion

SMBs have a variety of operating systems to choose from - of which Windows 8 is the latest and arguably most advanced. Whatever their preference, companies should be aware of the benefits of upgrading OS, in terms of speed, practicality of use and productivity gains. Delaying this investment may preserve budgets in the short term, but lead to reduced returns in the near future and concede an advantage to competitors who do invest.

Posted by Alex Boardman