There is little doubt that touchscreen applications are becoming more popular each year. But with most companies still running their enterprise apps on older platforms like Windows XP, touchscreen has become a staple of the consumer market but rare in the business-world.
That could be changing as Windows 8 starts integrating into the workspace. Many businesses may be unaware that Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP in April of 2014. That means company IT leaders will be forced to make a decision soon regarding their PC future, specifically between moving to Windows 7 or the newly unveiled Windows 8. Both changes will likely require major application rewrites but Windows 8 will also include the engaging, yet challenging, touchscreen technology.
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So the question now becomes, which operating system is right for your business? Is it worth making the longer leap to Windows 8 or should business simply move one step up to Windows 7, which Microsoft has promised support for until 2020? The answer could depend on several key issues you and your management team should start considering now:
You’ve certainly seen the commercials and read all the articles on Windows 8. The most notable feature of the new operating system is the ability to utilize touchscreen technology. With tablet computers becoming more and more common both at home and in the office, this appears to be a valuable benefit of Windows 8. But while it is definitely impressive, business leaders need to ask themselves, “Is touch actually relevant to our business?”
The truth is that most businesses probably don’t need touchscreen technology to be efficient at their jobs. If you and your colleagues work predominantly on a desktop or laptop, it likely isn’t worth the expense to develop your internal applications for Windows 8.
If you have a relatively mobile workforce, however, Windows 8 may be worth the time and money. Many employees carry laptops on the road, but they can be cumbersome and few enjoy working with the finger touchpads every day. Tablets and Windows 8 offer a more efficient combination on the go. So put it simply: where are your employees working?
Anytime a company, large or small, makes a major IT change like switching operating systems, it will require some employee training. What management must decide is how much training, and the ensuing learning curve, they can budget for without affecting regular business. For those currently running enterprise apps off of Windows XP, a switch to Windows 7 or 8 will both require some getting used to for employees. However, the Windows 8 jump may be a bit larger, so businesses choosing to adopt touchscreen should make sure their users are intelligent enough to make the switch seamlessly. The best way to ensure this smooth changeover is to discuss the decision well before it ever happens. Talk to the users about how their experience will change and how they can use new features to benefit their workloads.
Microsoft vs. Competition
Of course, Microsoft isn’t the only game in town. Both iOS and Android have led the mobile space for some time now, but their consumer-focused features may not be the best for business efficiencies. When it comes to every day work processes, Microsoft is still the dominant platform, in large part because of the Office suite: Outlook, Word and Excel. Even the ability to save, transfer and print files with a USB port (something the iPad lacks) affords business-users a more compatible, flexible option in the field. For this reason, most internal enterprise apps will be written for Windows 7 or 8.
Overall, rewriting applications is a big project. You’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of each system and make sure your chosen platform can handle the business’s needs for many years to come. If it’s Windows 7 or 8 you are deciding between, take an honest look at your workforce and project if touch is important enough to take on the extra expenses and training time necessary. Your next step should be to talk to a development partner who has experience with both platforms. They should be able to help you make the right decision for your end goal, as well as walk you through the rewrite process without causing any disruption to your employees.
Patrick Emmons is co-founder of Adage Technologies and an accomplished technical architect with more than 15 years of programming and web development experience. Prior to Adage, Patrick was a principle for another web development firm and also worked as a developer and consultant for Ameritech, Motorola and Baker Robbins.
Edited by Brooke Neuman