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Windows 8.x and Business Continuity

As system administrators, you're often called upon to advise business leaders on your company's technology pathways. The newest dilemma to grab our too-short attention spans is whether to entertain a Windows 8.x upgrade, to stay with Windows 7 until January 2020, or to exercise our right to downgrade from Windows 8 to an older operating system. That's right, downgrade. Depending on your licensing agreement with Microsoft, you can purchase systems with Windows 8 preinstalled but trade in that operating system for an older one of your choosing – all the way back to Windows 95 or Windows NT 3.51. You might have many reasons for making the decision to downgrade, but the most compelling one is to maintain business continuity.

Company executives toss around terms like "business continuity" without a second thought, but to those of us in the trenches who face users directly, buzzwords take on different meanings. Business continuity to us means keeping servers and desktops running by preventing hacks, updating software, training users … wait, what? Training users is part of business continuity? Yes, it is. In fact, it's a critical part of continuity.

The catch with end-user training is that if you perform a mass desktop operating system upgrade, there's no time to train the users. It's just not possible. It's particularly impossible when your upgrade is from Windows XP, Vista, or 7 to something totally foreign like Windows 8.

So, the question becomes, "How do you maintain business continuity and upgrade to Windows 8.x?"

The answer, believe it or not, is very simple: You let the users drive the conversion.

Yes, that's another "Say what?" moment. Since when have we, as system administrators, ever let users drive any changes to the environment? It just isn't done. It's true; we don't allow users to drive changes. There's good reason for that. We know better than they do about what's good for them. Or, we used to know.

Windows 8 is today's Windows 95. When we used Windows 3.x, we were content. We knew how it worked, and we liked it. But when Windows 95 arrived and changed everything, it disrupted our calm and serenity. I hope you realize that I'm being a little sarcastic with that statement. IT is anything but calm and serene.

But, moving to Windows 95 was no easy task. It looked different. It worked different. It was just so different from Windows 3.x that converting to it en masse meant a complete disruption of business continuity. For this reason, many businesses didn't update to it until Microsoft released Windows 98. Why did it take so long for us to make the switch?

If you answered, "Business continuity," you're correct.

Another logical answer is that, "It was time." By the time the majority of businesses chose to convert, users begged for the conversion because they used Windows 95 or Windows 98 at home and were good at it. Are you beginning to see the light?

You have one thing in common – possibly the only thing – with your executive leadership: You want a smooth-running operation. You want that elusive business continuity. You don't want to have to spend hours on end teaching users to hit Alt+F4 to close applications; nor do you want productivity to come to a halt because of a new desktop operating system. So, you wait. You wait for users to make the switch at home, become proficient, and to beg you to make the upgrade happen.

Let the users drive the change to Windows 8.x. Keep your users happy. Let them believe that they have some power and some decision-making ability in the tools that they use. It will cost you less time, less effort, and less money to do so. You'll have happy users. You'll have happy executives. You'll have a happier you, and you'll have the ever sought after magical business continuity that you strive for.

Ken Hess * ADMIN Senior Editor