Small business owners like myself (and most of my clients) hate it when Microsoft releases a new version of their Windows operating system. Of course, new versions of Windows means new features and capabilities that will hopefully help us run our businesses better. And developers and other geeks look forward to it because there are always new tools available to help them build better applications (which helps us in the end). But we don't necessarily want new things - we just want to work with existing things that get better and better each time. And no one knows for sure if Windows 10, which is now planned for release on July 29, will be better for us until it's been out there for a while.
But here's one thing we do know: like it or not, it will be part of our lives and companies. And smart business owners who are thinking ahead are starting to consider the effects that Windows 10 will have on their companies. So here's what you should know right now.
1. Windows 7 and Windows 8 support will end sooner than you think.
Windows 7 support already ended in January 2015. Microsoft has extended support for Windows 8.1 to 2023 and its policy is to support products for up to two years after the release of its successor. Although nothing has been publicly announced, I would expect that Microsoft will stick to that policy and end general support for Windows 8.1 by July 2017. The company wants its customer base to move forward into the future and Windows 8.1 is not the future.
2. There is no Windows 9.
No, you're not losing your mind. Microsoft skipped a version. With all the things going on in your business, do you really care why? Thought not. Move on.
3. You have just one year to upgrade for free.
If your company is littered with Windows 7 and Windows 8 machines and devices then you want to have a plan for upgrading to Windows 10 sometime in the next twelve months. Otherwise, you're going to have to pay. Once upgraded you'll get all updates for free. Of course, being a business owner you know that nothing in your life is free. You will have to pay your internal or external IT people to perform these upgrades. And, of course, being a business owner you know that nothing in your life goes smoothly. So to avoid surprises and absorb the inevitable pain you'll experience, you'll want to plan out your upgrades in advance, have them done during your company's least active times and upgrade in phases, starting with your least critical devices. My recommendation is to also wait as long as possible for your upgrades - hopefully after the first bug-fixing build of Windows 10 is released. Let some other guy deal with the headaches before you.
4. "Most" of your hardware is "probably" fine.
I know - that sounds like a typical IT guy talking. And it is. That's because we just never really know. Sure, Microsoft's specifications for Windows 10 are pretty reasonable (1 gigahertz or faster processor, 1-2 gigabytes of RAM, 16-20 gigabytes of hard disk space) and well within the capabilities of most PC's and laptops. But read deeper and you'll see some "important notes" and "feature depreciation" (which definitely doesn't sound good) and "additional requirements to use certain features." So, like all software made by every software company in the world things should work fine about 90% of the time. Be proactive. With your IT person, make a list of your users and flag those that may be trouble because of the applications they use. Budget to replace 10-20% of your machines. And rather than complain, just be grateful that software companies don't build airplanes.
5. The more you invest in Windows 10 the more you will benefit.
Like most of my clients you're probably using just 20-30% of the capabilities of your business applications. Which means you're likely ignoring many features that could increase productivity and improve your profits. Windows 10 is no different. Standardizing this platform across all your company's devices (which is what Windows 10 does because it's now all just one code base) means that your employees will have a unified, simplified and synchronized experience for managing their data, communicating and collaborating with others. Learning how to use the enhanced, voice-driven Cortana tool will help you get things done faster. Diving into the new Edge browser will make your business more secure. Coughing up a few bucks for some basic training on all the new user features, time-saving tricks and tools contained in the operating system for your employees will pay itself back in happier, more productive people. Like life, the more you put into it the more you'll get out of it.
So is it worth it?
I'm going to bet yes. Windows 10 is Microsoft's first big release of its flagship operating system under its new CEO, Satya Nadella. If you read anything I've written before you'll agree that even though my firm is a Microsoft Partner (and no, I have not been compensated to write this) I do not often drink the Microsoft Kool Aid. But Nadella is making enormous changes to Microsoft's culture. He's turning the company back into a cool and innovative maker of software applications that help their customers do things quicker, better and wiser. If Windows 10 works reliably and quickly (and given my two decades of experience selling Microsoft products that's always a big "if") then I'm expecting it to be a good investment for my client base. And for you too.
A version of this column previously appeared on Forbes.com.