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Should You Upgrade to Windows 8.1? Questions to Consider

Windows 8.1 has a brand-new look and feel, so make sure it is right for your nonprofit or library.

should you upgrade to windows 8.1 
Ginny Mies - November 08, 2013

Windows 8.1 offers some new features that may help your staff's productivity as well as the performance and longevity of your organization's computers. To help you decide whether Windows 8.1 is a good fit for your nonprofit's or library, we've come up with four questions for you to consider.

Windows 8.1.1 is unlike any operating system Microsoft has ever released — and that's a good thing. The bigger, bolder user interface is built for touchscreen tablets and PCs, as well as traditional desktop and laptop computers. The new Start screen resembles what you'd find on a smartphone or tablet with a clean font, bright colors, and dynamic images. But Windows 8.1.1 also retains many of the features from Windows 7, so your staff should have no trouble getting used to the new interface.

Looks aside, Windows 8.1 also offers some new features that may help your staff's productivity as well as the performance and longevity of your organization's computers.

To help you decide whether Windows 8.1 is a good fit for your organization, we've come up with four questions for you to consider.

Will Your Organization Benefit from Windows 8.1's New Features?

With the new Start screen, you can "pin" apps, contacts, and favorite websites to the Start screen to quickly access them. Microsoft has a variety of special Start screen apps (both free and paid) through the Windows Store, which you can get to by clicking its dedicated tile on the Start screen.

If you'd like the more traditional desktop view, you can click the "Desktop" tile. To switch back to the Start screen from the desktop, click the Start button in the lower left-hand corner. You can also toggle between the two views by pressing the Windows key, found on the lower left-hand side of your keyboard. If you can't get used to the new Start screen, you can opt to boot directly to the desktop mode.

One of the big design changes in Windows 8.1 is the addition of "charms" in both the desktop and Start screen views. Hover your mouse to the right edge of your screen, and you'll see icons representing Search and Sharing functionality. Using the Search charm, you can easily search within a folder or application, or use it to prompt a Bing search in Internet Explorer.

Here are a few more advantages of Windows 8.1 to consider:

  • Better performance: Windows 8.1 uses less RAM and fewer CPU resources than Windows 7 and therefore runs faster. For more on Windows 8.1's performance, see this benchmark comparison between Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 from PCWorld.
  • Works well on older machines: Windows 8.1 will not only work on your older IT equipment, but it runs faster than Windows 7.
  • Energy efficient: Windows 8.1 saves battery life by dropping to a low-power state when you're not doing anything power-intensive.
  • Security: Windows 8.1 comes with Windows Defender, which protects against malware and spyware. For more on Windows Defender and other security enhancements, read Windows 8.1 Security: What's New, What's Different.
  • Protection against hardware failure: Windows 8.1's Storage Spaces employs a software-based RAID system to protect data and ensure that it remains available in the event of a computer crash.
  • SkyDrive integration: Microsoft's cloud storage program is built into just about every application in Windows 8.1. You can even sync your PCs settings to SkyDrive and save files for offline use.
  • Multilingual: You can more easily switch between display languages, and additional display languages are available in Windows 8.1, which is of value to multilingual organizations.

Does Your Hardware Support Windows 8.1?

Next, you should confirm that your computers can support Windows 8.1. If your hardware supports Windows 7, you should have no issues upgrading to Windows 8.1. Though Windows 8.1 is also designed for touch-friendly devices, you can comfortably operate it with just a mouse and keyboard.

Windows 8.1 is available in a 32-bit and a 64-bit version. These versions have different requirements.

Requirement 32-bit 64-bit
Processor 1 GHz or faster 1 GHz or faster
RAM 1 GB 2 GB
Hard disk space 16 GB 20 GB
Graphics card Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver

Will Your Programs Run on Windows 8.1?

Before upgrading, you should also determine whether your programs are compatible with Windows 8.1. If you're upgrading from Windows 7, you should be able to keep most of your existing software.

First, evaluate what software you have. If your organization's computers aren't standardized (in other words, if not every computer in your office runs the same programs), you may need to survey your users or use a free auditing program like Spiceworks IT Desktop to determine which programs are running on your computers.

Next, check if your software is compatible with Windows 8.1. You can run the Windows 8.1 Upgrade Assistant before you install the operating system. Alternately, you can also check Microsoft's Windows 8.1 Compatibility Center, which lists the compatibility status of Microsoft and third-party products and software. Don't see your software listed? You can also check your software vendors' websites to make sure your programs run on Windows 8.1.

If you have programs that run only on Windows XP, you won't be able to run them on Windows 8.1. Unlike Windows 7, Windows 8.1 doesn't have a special XP or Vista mode for running those programs. You also have the option to install Windows 8.1 on a virtual machine, like VirtualBox or the VMWare Player on an actual Windows XP machine. For more on virtualization, read TechSoup's Virtualization 101 article.

Which Edition Should You Get?

Microsoft has simplified the Windows 8.1 editions line-up, giving customers four different versions to choose from: Windows 8.1, Windows 8.1 Pro, Windows 8.1 Enterprise, and Windows 8.1 RT. Windows 8.1 Enterprise has the same features as Windows 8.1 Pro plus six additional features for businesses. Note that if you are currently running any Home edition of Windows 7, you will not be able to use the Windows 8.1 Pro or Enterprise upgrade software available through TechSoup. However you may be eligible to request the Windows 8.1 Get Genuine full OS software. Read our article How to Upgrade to Windows 8.1 for more information.

The following chart shows feature differences between Windows 8.1 Pro and Windows 8.1 Enterprise.

Feature name Windows 8.1 Pro Windows 8.1 Enterprise
Start screen, Live Tiles, Apps (Mail, Calendar, People, Messaging, Photos, SkyDrive, Music, Video) x x
Windows To Go x
BitLocker and BitLocker To Go x x
VPN client x x
DirectAccess x
Remote Desktop x x
Client Hyper-V built-in virtualization (64-bit versions only) x

For the full list of features for each version, visit Microsoft's Windows Blog on the editions. For more on Windows 8.1 Enterprise's features, see our Windows 8.1 Enterprise product page.

Conclusion

Windows 8.1's revamped look will likely require a learning curve for your organization's employees. A brown bag workshop on Windows 8.1's new features and functionality might be useful for your staff before upgrading.

Note: As of April 8, 2014, Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP, so if your organization's systems are still running Windows XP you should start planning an upgrade to either Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 as soon as possible. Windows 7 and Vista support will continue until 2017, if you decide that now is not the right time to upgrade.

Image: Upgrade sign, Shutterstock