Most business computers use some version of the Windows operating system because it's cheaper to install on multiple machines, which is ideal if your company has 10 or more computers. When you purchase one of the best business computers, you'll have a choice between using Windows 8.1 Professional or Windows 7 Professional. You're actually purchasing the Windows 8.1 Professional license, but this includes the rights to downgrade, which could be in the best interests of your business.
Both versions of Windows present specific advantages and disadvantages. Since the operating system will be the architecture for how all of your critical software works on your business PC, you should carefully consider the pros and cons of each so that you can choose the best version for your business.
Released in 2012, Windows 8.1 is the most current version of the Windows operating system. As such, it's easy to fall into the "newer is better" mindset. Windows 8 entered the market with a sleeker look and entirely new design. However, it was developed with tablets and touchscreens as the priority. The Windows 8.1 included updates that made it much easier to use as a traditional desktop.
Pros: If your business uses touchscreens and tablets, Windows 8.1 is ideal. The tiled layout and intuitive touchscreen interface work seamlessly together, which means that there's a lot more of a symbiotic relationship between your tablet and your PC, because they exist in the same digital ecosystem. Data synchronizes between the devices seamlessly and the interface is the same, which means the experience is the same. Imagine searching the inventory of your warehouse for a specific product on your business computer, then switching to a tablet while you're in the warehouse retrieving the product. All of the same information is synced on the tablet. The only difference is moving from a large screen to a small screen.
Another advantage of Windows 8.1 is the aim toward the future. Windows 8 was a dramatic shift from previous Windows updates. In many ways, it doesn't resemble previous versions at all. This requires becoming familiar with all the functions and layout of a new interface. Since it's more likely that the interface of Windows 9 (and so on) will resemble Windows 8.1 more than Windows 7, you'll prepare yourself for the future of Windows OS by becoming familiar with the direction that Windows is moving, and you will be ready when the market share of software moves to the newer operating systems.
Cons: Most businesses don't use tablets and touchscreens yet. Touchscreen technology currently aims more at the consumer than for businesses. It's great for scenarios where you might transition between your computer and your tablet, but if your business doesn't use these touchscreen devices, then the interface experience feels awkward and many of the functions are unnecessary. The Windows 8.1 update improved the desktop experience from Windows 8, but it still isn't intuitive enough in desktop mode.
Another problem is software market share. Windows 7 currently still holds the lion's share of the software market, which includes all of your vital business software. The bulk of the software you use for your business was optimized for Windows 7. Most of these software programs run on Windows 8.1, but the experience isn't as smooth and can be frustrating. Eventually, the market share will shift to newer Windows versions, which will result in software developers creating programs optimized for it, but this may very well not happen until after Windows 9 is released.
Released in 2009, Windows 7 included some new features, such as handwriting recognition, and was generally perceived as an improvement over Windows Vista, but it holds to the traditional Windows desktop format.
Pros: The biggest advantage that Windows 7 has over Windows 8.1 is familiarity. Windows holds the greatest share of the business computer market, partly because you can license it to multiple different machines. As a result, you've likely been using Windows 7 for years. If not, you've been using Windows XP or Windows Vista. Either way, the interface and layout is familiar. You know where the features are and how to access various functions from experience.
As mentioned earlier, Windows 7 holds the market share of business desktop computers, which means that the majority of software developers build software for Windows 7. Even the current version of Microsoft Word hasn't been optimized for Windows 8.1. Not only does this mean that the programs that run your business work better in Windows 7, but it also means that updates are easier. This reason alone makes it the current favorite of most businesses.
Cons: Eventually, Windows 7 will become outdated, the market share will shift and software developers will start optimizing business software for newer generations of Windows. Now, this might not happen until long after Windows 9 is released, which means you may be able to skip Windows 8.1 altogether. For example, Windows XP held the market share until Windows 7 overtook it in 2011, which means most businesses skipped over Windows Vista altogether.
The older an operating system gets, the less love and attention it receives from Microsoft. This means that it won't receive as many security updates and support. Microsoft will eventually stop making security updates, which puts your business at risk. The average support lifecycle for a Microsoft product is 10 years, which means that Windows 7 is already halfway past its projected life cycle.
Touchscreen interfaces will undoubtedly have a major role in the future of business computers, but unless touchscreen technology provides an immediate advantage to your business, downgrading to the Windows 7 operating system is the better option at least for the next few years.