Windows 8.1 was officially released today (Oct. 17). This update offers a host of fixes and upgrades from Windows 8, but is it suitable for businesses?
Windows 8.1 offers several new features that will be a breath of fresh air for Windows 8 users, such as the return of the Start button and a boot-to-desktop option to bypass the tiled start screen. The update also offers many improvements for Windows users as a whole, such as a better Windows Store experience, built-in apps and enhanced personalization options.
Businesses, however, have additional areas to consider. Other than BYOD integration and direct connectivity with Office 365, SkyDrive and other Microsoft cloud computing services, experts say Windows 8.1 may or may not be suitable for your company, for several reasons.
Windows 8.1 security
New operating systems are generally more secure than past iterations. Microsoft has introduced security fixes and enhancements with Windows 8.1, making it the most secure version of Windows to date.
"Windows 8 is more secure than Windows 7 because of enhancements to the core of the operating system, and much more secure than the decade-old Windows XP," said Jason Fossen, Windows security consultant and instructor for the SANS Institute, a cooperative research and education organization focusing on information security training and certification. These changes include stronger encryption and remote wiping, along with improved authentication, malware detection and data protection.
"These enhancements make it more difficult, but not impossible, for hackers and identity thieves to create Windows 8.1 exploits, which should translate into less downtime and lower associated clean-up costs," he said.
Windows 8.1 will also be the most-supported version of Windows. If your company is still using Windows XP or Vista, now is the time to upgrade, according to Andrea Eldridge, tech columnist, CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, an on-site computer and laptop repair service, and author of "Smartphone 101: Integrating Your iPhone Into a Windows World" (101 Publishing, 2012).
"Microsoft ended Mainstream Support for Windows XP in 2009 and Vista last year. While there is still Extended Support to ensure that they will release patches for security holes, at least eventually, this means that there will be no more service packs or updates to fix general use glitches and bugs," Eldridge said.
This is because Microsoft will focus on maintaining newer versions of Windows and fixing software the company wants users to upgrade, Eldridge said. "This means that older Windows operating systems become more susceptible to viruses and malicious code as patches are longer in coming."
In addition to the dwindling Windows support, if you don't update to the latest version of Windows, you'll also miss out on software support. Eventually, your system will no longer be compatible with newer software or hardware, Eldridge said.
"New software programs are written for the new version of Windows 8. If you haven't already found a program that isn't compatible with your older operating system, that day is coming," she said.
"Every piece of hardware that runs on your machine, from internal components like graphics cards to external components like monitors and printers, have software — known as 'drivers' — that allows it to be recognized by your operating system. When the time comes to replace a piece of supporting hardware, you may find that there are not drivers to make it run on your machine."
Eldridge added that not upgrading to the latest version of Windows is often the root cause of system instability.
"Many users that are resistant to upgrading Windows live with annoying errors and system crashes. These are often caused by bugs that are no longer a priority for Microsoft to fix, or [by] incompatibility between a newer software program or device and your older operating system. Upgrading Windows will typically fix these glitches," she said.
Drawbacks of Windows 8.1
Although Windows 8.1 offers enhanced security features and better software, hardware and operating system support, this latest update is not without its drawbacks.
Tim Morgner, president of CSI, an IT solutions firm, said it may not be time to upgrade to Windows 8.1 just yet. CSI has, in fact, been advising clients to hold off on upgrading.
"Any new operating system should be given time to go through their first testing phases and get rid of all of the bugs in the system before a client would be advised to have it implemented," Morgner said.
Even though the latest operating system is more compatible with the latest software and hardware, it also risks unnecessary complexity. For instance, Windows 8.1 fixed many of the intricate problems of Windows 8, but the inherent over-complication and the resulting incompatibility issues are a huge factor to consider, Morgner said.
"Whenever a new operating system is discussed, you must consider whether your ROI will be worth the investment to upgrade all of your stations," Morgner said.
Furthermore, businesses should keep in mind that Windows 8.1 is an update that is much like a "fixer" for Windows 8.
"Windows 8.1 is Microsoft's tacit admission that Windows 8 was lacking," said Heinan Landa, CEO of Optimal Networks, an IT support, management and consulting services firm.
"I would recommend treating it like a new operating system and considering it only in the context of your next PC upgrade," he said. "The notable exception to this is if you already have Windows 8. In that case, I would wait a month or two and then, if the reviews are positive, jump on the upgrade."
Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.