With just weeks left until the release of Windows 8, many businesses are in the process of determining if they should make the leap to the new operating system.
Switching operating systems is no small feat, and experts agree it's critical that small business owners weigh the pros and cons, because while the features might be enticing making such a move isn't always a smooth ride.
The newest version of Windows builds off Windows 7, with a goal of making it easier to use across all platforms, including PCs, tablets and smartphones.
Onura Amobi, editor of Windows 8 Update and founder and CEO of Nnigma, an online marketing company based in Pasadena, Calif., said the speed at which Windows 8 runs is one reason businesses might want to consider switching to the new system.
A new application of kernel-based memory allows the machine to keep a user's session in hibernation even when they turn it off so that boot time is minimized, which Amobi says could increase productivity in the long run.
"It is much faster from a performance perspective," Amobi told BusinessNewsDaily. "It is much more of a performance-driven system."
Sleep and shutdown time, as well as load and run times for applications and programs, are all faster on Windows 8.
Additionally, businesses looking to enable employees to work outside the office will like how Windows 8 uses the cloud, Amobi said. With Windows 8, apps, files, games, music, photos and settings are all stored online rather than on a PC, giving employees greater access to their work wherever they are.
"Similar to Apple, there is a lot of integration with the cloud," he said.
Michel Cherry, lead analyst for Directions on Microsoft, said businesses that use or hope to implement tablets may also want to consider switching to Windows 8.
According to Microsoft, Windows 8 tablets combine the mobility of a tablet with the productivity of a PC.
"It does support touch much better," Cherry said. "If an organization is using iPads, they might want to look at it."
Businesses that will be making the switch to Microsoft 13, also due out in the fall, may want to make the move to Windows 8 at the same time, according to Amobi. The latest version of Microsoft's popular office software, which contains new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote applications, is designed to work specifically with Windows 8.
"The look and feel of Windows 8 is going to transfer to (the new) Microsoft Office," he said.
Amobi also points to the Windows to Go function as another feature that businesses of all sizes will appreciate. Windows to Go allows businesses to save a standard version of Windows 8 to a flash drive so that it can be distributed to those who need it, such as outside contractors.
Instead of having to spend time searching for a workstation around the office for a contractor to work at, Amobi said they can bring their own laptop and attach the flash drive with the saved version to start working immediately
On the safety side, Amobi said Windows 8 has been developed with increased security features – making it particularly enticing for businesses in a time when they're more concerned than ever with keeping their networks safe.
The operating system's Windows Defender monitors and helps protect PCs against viruses and other malware in real time, detects and removes any threats should a computer become infected and has easy-to-deploy data encryption.
"It is a lot more secure," Amobi said. "They have built a lot of these features with security in mind."
But despite Windows 8's many tempting features, Cherry said it's not right for all businesses. New operating systems, particularly those as redesigned as Windows 8, can take employees time to get used to, potentially resulting in less work getting done upfront.
"It is quite conceivable that there is going to be period of down productivity," Cherry said. "There is a tremendous cost associated with that."
A contributing factor to that potential down time will be employees getting used to the new interface, which some businesses might not enjoy, Amobi said. A tile-based Start screen replaces the Windows Start menu, with customizable and live tiles that include notifications. The interface has the ability to snap and resize an app to the side of the screen for multitasking.
"It is very different from what traditional users are used to," Amobi said. "Companies really have to think strategically about how much they are willing to take on right now."
Another downside of the new operating system is that it won't necessarily work on older PCs, which mean a business may end up having to purchase new computers just to use Windows 8, Cherry said.
"If your hardware is too old, you might have to buy new (equipment)," Cherry said. "That can be a very big expense."
Before making a switch, Cherry said businesses must determine which of their systems will work on the new operating system. If the main programs aren't compatible, using Windows 8 might not even be an option.
Cherry said Microsoft is advising users that all programs compatible with Windows 7 will work on the latest version. But until the new system hits the shelves in October, he said it's hard to know for sure.
"People need to check with their vendors," Cherry said. "You would want to check with each of them to make sure they are going to support you."
Meanwhile, statistics show many companies are just now making the jump from Windows XP to Windows 7, and it's likely they'll want to stick with that for awhile, Amobi said.
While it's always tempting to jump on the newest version of anything, Cherry said there are advantages to sticking with Windows 7, which he called a stable operating system that has been well-tested.
Microsoft is taking orders now for Windows 8, but the new system, which will cost between $15 and $40, won't be delivered until Oct. 26. A preview version is currently available for download on the Microsoft website for those wanting a sneak peek.