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Notes From an I.T. Service Shop

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June 01, 2012
Geoff Griswold - geoff@atlantaomnigroup.com

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Windows® 8: Upgrade options as Microsoft sunsets XP

Microsoft, MSN and Windows Vista are trademarks of the Microsoft group of companies.

Microsoft® has been doing a good job getting the word out about Microsoft Windows® 8.  The technology giant is touting the operating system’s ability to run on desktops, notebooks, tablet computers and smart phones. While Microsoft remains king of desktops and notebooks, it is far from dominant in either tablets or smart phones. In fact, its market share in the tablet and smartphone categories is 5 percent or less in each.

Apple® dominates tablets with the iPad® but devices running the Android™ operating system are gaining ground. Android is a trademark of Google Inc. Smart phones are also dominated by the same two platforms. Can Windows 8 change all that? Windows 8 will run on Intel and AMD processors as it always has. In addition, the operating system will run on ARM processors, the main technology used in tablets and smart phones.

Many hoteliers are still running Windows® XP for property management, back office, office automation and other business-oriented tasks. Windows Vista® was a dud so many hospitality vendors did not even bother to tweak their software products to run on Vista. While Windows 7 cured many of the problems in Vista, the majority of hotels still use Windows XP instead of Windows 7.

Support of Windows XP  will end in a few years, so hoteliers will have the choice of either moving to Windows 7 or Windows 8. Windows 7 has proven to be a solid performer.  It was a breeze for users migrating off Vista, but has some learning curve for those used to Windows XP.  However, there is a thing called XP mode which allows Windows 7 to run just like Windows XP. In addition, Windows 7 is somewhat backwards compatible with older versions of Windows software.

Windows 8 can be reviewed by downloading the consumer preview evaluation copy from the Microsoft website. A touch-screen kit, a device that fits over a non-touch monitor, makes any screen touch activated. Any place that a mouse can click, the user can touch to activate.  The kits do not require Windows 8 to operate and are available for under $100 from some suppliers.

Windows 8 seems to be more of a tablet operating system placed on a PC. It supports touchscreens, which have been used for decades by hotels for point of sale applications. While touchscreens work well for limited input applications, they seem out of place in the production business application environment. It is cumbersome to reach to a screen and touch an icon that is more easily activated with a mouse. A touch (virtual) keyboard is available, but the regular keyboard works much better.

The familiar desktop display is available on Windows 8, and switches between the large icon touchscreen (default Metro user interface). The Metro interface seems more consumer than business oriented.  Real time information from various apps (such as weather and stocks) is displayed on the start screen. The desktop can be customized by pinning icons from the start menu to the task bar.

While the touch features are a perfect fit for tablets and smart phones, the vast majority of desktop users do not have touchscreens and probably do not want to spend the money to upgrade.  However, Windows 8 seems to work fine using the traditional keyboard and mouse.  Some things are a little cumbersome, but, with some practice and switching between Metro and desktop interface, a reasonable experience can be had without a touchscreen. One large difference from previous versions is that the Microsoft start button is not what it used to be. It now only switches the user back to the metro interface. Microsoft is offering an app store similar to what Apple and Google have done. While this may prove useful for certain limited applications, it will not be a replacement for business-oriented software that will still need to be purchased.

Some of the items mentioned above are subject to change, as Microsoft readies the product for release this fall. Some drawbacks noted above may be improved upon or corrected altogether.

Should Hoteliers Consider Windows 8 over Windows 7? 
The ability of Windows 8 to run on many platforms might be an advantage with integration. This might not necessarily be the case. In today’s environment, integration between devices comes from cloud computing or accessing data from remote servers. This is already being addressed by Google, Apple and third-party software vendors. Windows 8 entry into these established markets will do little to change them. While Windows 8 surely will not be the bomb that Windows Vista was, any new product can have issues at the start. It is probably best to wait on Windows 8 until the first service pack is released and the market has had time to thoroughly evaluate the product.

Windows 7 is a solid version and a worthy upgrade consideration. But for now, we’ll keep an eye on Windows 8.

Geoff Griswold is a field engineer and general manager of the Omni Group, an IT services company specializing in the hospitality industry. He can be reached at (678) 464-2427 or geoff@atlantaomnigroup.com.

©2012 Hospitality Upgrade
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