You're finally ready. You punted on Windows 8, and like many businesses, you're currently running Windows 7, or even Windows XP. So Thursday's free download isn't for you. But when Windows 8.1 hits Microsoft's digital store shelves Friday, your business is going all in, lured by the promise of a direct-to-desktop option, tighter cloud integration, and the return of the Start button.
Take Thursday to make sure you have a solid plan in place, designed to head off problems before they wreak havoc. Consider hardware and software compatibility and other factors before you install Windows 8.1. And of course, back up your crucial data.
DIY or go pro?
Are you prepared to undertake this upgrade on your own, or does it make sense to bring in outside experts? Installing a new operating system isn't necessarily a task that requires a professional, but we're dealing with the backbone of your business operations here.
If you have only a handful of computers, the rest of this article is probably all the guidance you'll need. But if you run a larger business, or if you have critical systems or applications—invoicing or accounting systems, customer management applications, or inventory tracking databases—this is a time to call in an IT pro.
Microsoft offers a resource to help match businesses with Microsoft Partners that can assist with the transition. You might also try third-party resources, such as the XPMigrations service set up by SMB Nation, that help small businesses find local, certified IT experts.
How's your hardware?
Determine whether your existing hardware can even handle an upgrade. Start by reviewing the minimum hardware requirements for Windows 8.1. Your Windows 7 or Windows XP systems probably just make the cut. But trying to get by on the minimum requirements when you're running a business is a horrible idea. If you haven't purchased new PCs since President Obama answered to "Senator Obama," save yourself the headache and buy new machines with Windows 8.1 preloaded.
Check for compatibility issues
Just because you're ready to make the leap to a new operating system, doesn't mean your applications and peripheral devices are. The Windows Compatibility Center lets you search for specific pieces of hardware and software to determine if that gear is "certified compatible" with Windows 8.1. If you don't find your devices or applications on the list, though, don't panic. Your equipment still may work fine with Windows 8.1, but the vendor might not have invested the time and effort to get it officially certified by Microsoft. Contact the device or software vendor to find out for sure.
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