Is It Time to Switch to Windows 10?
Read more from the latest issue of Billing.
Adoption Should Come Sooner
Rather than Later
There are many questions surrounding the release and implementation of Windows 10. What can you expect in the new operating system? Will it improve security? Why is Microsoft giving this product away? When should we upgrade? How about reliability and speed? Is it a good decision to implement this in your practice? And probably most importantly, how compatible is the new operating system with the applications that we use to run our practices?
Windows 10 was released by Microsoft on July 29, 2015. The operating system's (OS) key features include two-factor authentication, a new menu structure, universal applications, and on-screen application snapping to support larger monitors. Microsoft skipped calling this product Windows 9, hoping to distance itself from the mistakes of Windows 8.
First, it is important to recall that Windows 7's official end of life was January 13, 2015. There will be extended support through 2020, but it no longer makes sense to deploy new or updated computers with the older operating system. Windows XP has reached the end of extended support, so one of the worst mistakes you could make in your practice is to continue running this insecure and no longer patched product in day-to-day business operations. Windows 8.1 was more secure and faster than Windows 7 but was unpopular due to a new tile menu that confused users. There are numerous Windows shortcut keys to improve user productivity, but most users only need to remember a few combinations to be productive in their day-to-day work.
Although we consider operating systems fundamental and necessary, the fact that you choose to run Linux, OS X, or Windows probably makes less difference today if your primary applications are available on the platform of your choice or you run everything in the cloud or through a web browser. For a cloud-centric user, your choice of browser makes all the difference in your experience. Of the four popular web browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari), most people settle on one. The most popular today is Chrome. Likewise, for operating systems, most people have settled on one, and that is Windows. In Windows 10, there is a new browser, Edge, which is a minimalist browser like Chrome, but in the initial release it is missing many compatibility and ease-of-use features.
What about application compatibility? Our rule of thumb is that if an application works on Windows 7, it works on Windows 8. So far that same rule applies to Windows 10. A key question you need to ask is if the application currently works on Windows 7/8. The next important application question to ask should be directed to your software suppliers – Is your application compatible with Windows 10? If not, when do you expect to deliver a compatible version?
What's in Windows 10?
A NEW "START" MENU
This change from Windows 8 is an important concession to Windows XP and Windows 7 users. In the new Start menu, the left half looks much like Windows 7's. But the right half is a composite of scaled-down tiles similar to Windows 8 and 8.1. Both sides are customizable; you can click-and-drag or pin/unpin both menu items and tiles to build a custom menu that improves your productivity. Menus do not have to be customized, but you will find that doing so will give you the most rapid access to your most commonly used applications.
The menu structure is automatically duplicated from one machine to another, although it is rare that we use multiple machines for the same user in billing practices. In a home setting or for managers who have a machine in the office, a machine at home, and a portable machine for attending meetings, the menus will be automatically duplicated from one machine to another. This has proven to be a real convenience. If you drag a menu entry from the left side to the right side, it instantly turns into a tile. Unpin all tiles, and you end up with a Start menu that looks and works much like Window 7's – at least to a first approximation. Think of your menu as a mini dashboard that can have active tiles reporting information. Several native applications to Windows 10 work this way.
ONE WINDOWS FOR ALL
Another innovation for Windows 10 is the concept of "One Windows for All." Windows recognizes whether it is on a touchscreen device, tablet, or regular computer and responds accordingly.
Microsoft has made the core applications of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote available with a stripped-down menu structure that conveniently runs on mobile devices, in a browser, or on a computer. Further, billing clients can use these applications without having to license Microsoft Office on their computers. This makes collaboration or review of documents with clients more convenient and flexible. Although not every feature of these four Microsoft modules are available, the features included tend to exceed those available in Google Docs. Universal apps will now run on the standard desktop in their own floating, resizable windows, much like Stardock's ModernMix.
Microsoft envisions that developers can write a single app that runs inside Windows on the Windows 10 desktop, on Windows phones, and tablets – or on watches, refrigerators, servers, drones, etc. In reality, a universal app will need slight modifications for different platforms, but the application program interface (API) calls should be consistent, if not identical, no matter where the app finds itself. This means our billing vendors can modify their products to take advantage of these features, minimizing the license expenses to billing practices. In our experience, universal apps on Windows 10 are powerful and complete enough that some users won't really need to have Microsoft Office. The key shortfall in universal apps is the lack of an Outlook/email client replacement.
Windows 10 determines whether you have a keyboard and a mouse. If Windows 10 finds a keyboard, it takes you directly to the desktop. If Windows 10 detects that a device has no attached keyboard or if the keyboard is detached, like a convertible tablet PC, Windows 10 asks permission to take you to the Start menu. Microsoft calls this "Continuum." Windows 8.1 has some of this capability, but Microsoft still needs to refine it. Microsoft's vision in this area is to have Windows 10 running on computers, tablets, and phones with similar experiences.
With Windows 10, you can run whatever you like on one desktop, then flip over to another view of a desktop and run something different. You can add virtual desktops to Windows as far back as XP with third-party apps. It's a great feature for users who multitask or manage multiple projects. You can use this feature to set up one desktop for billing purposes, another for financial statements and month-end work, and another for marketing work. Switching between desktops is intuitive and fast. The switch is as quick as Linux/Unix and possibly quicker than the Apple's OS X approach. Unfortunately, at this time, we have not been able to determine how to save these desktops for repeated use in the future. We suspect this capability already exists and we have not learned how to do it.
ON-SCREEN APPLICATION SNAPPING
Up to four programs can be snapped into the corners of the screen. A similar capability has been available in Windows Vista, 7, and 8, but in Windows 7 and 8 the OS only allowed splitting a single screen in half vertically by using the Windows + right (or left) arrow key. Now you can easily open four windows in each of the corners of a large monitor. Universal apps can be snapped just like standard programs. There's also a new "Task View" icon that makes it easy to see and switch among running programs – or different desktops, as noted above. Windows 10 will help you see why we began encouraging the use of large (30"+) monitors a year ago, although the OS still supports multiple monitors. We theorize that larger curved screens, 4K, or touch monitors will become the standard monitor configuration, not two or three monitors like today.
OTHER ITEMS OF INTEREST
Cortana, the Windows voice recognition tool that first appeared as a phone assistant, is available in the new Edge browser, as well as from the Windows task bar. As noted above, Internet Explorer was replaced with a new, minimalist browser called Edge. This may have the most impact on billing practice applications that require IE compatibility. The new Notification Center includes settings, security, email messages, and more integrated into a single interface. One unsettling attribute of Windows 10 is that user IDs must be authenticated at Microsoft and certain settings are replicated by Microsoft. There does not seem to be any HIPPA issues with this, nor is any data specifically replicated in the process. We would prefer an alternative to this authentication process for a new installation of Windows 10.
What Risks do Billing Companies Have with Windows 10?
To date, few compatibility issues with Windows 10 have surfaced. Your practice has to run day in and day out without technology getting in the way. If you are currently running on Windows 7 or 8, there is no real rush to get to Windows 10, other than the free upgrade, which needs to be requested and completed before the end of July 2016. We would not be surprised to see Microsoft extend the deadline and likewise we would not be surprised to see them move the deadline earlier if they are having success converting users to the new operating system.
Are there risks in using Windows 10? Yes, but not too many. You should test your applications on a single machine, even if all vendors tell you that their applications are compatible. Once your test machine is working well, put this in the hands of a knowledgeable user. If that user is successful, pick two to three more users for further testing. If you have two to three users working successfully for two or more weeks, it is probably safe to roll the product out to all users.
Remember, there is no reason to put your practice at risk for the sake of pursuing new technology and the benefit of Microsoft. However, there are reasons to proceed because of security improvements, speed, and usability improvements.
What to Expect in 2016
A number of vendors that build products that are compatible with Windows and Office have some technical work to do. Developers currently have access to the released code for Windows 10 and beta code for Office 2016. While they have had over a year to work on compatibility, many did not take advantage of the opportunity, probably because they didn't expect Microsoft to give Windows 10 away for free to Windows 7 and 8 users. Microsoft is forecasting that one billion copies will adopt the new system in the first year. Based on the early adoption rate, they are likely to make these predictions. Many vendors don't work quickly to make themselves compatible since supporting a new product increases the amount of support calls they get on their own product. In other words, leaving things alone results in lower costs to the publishers. Because of this, some publishers only recently announced support for Office 2013 and Windows 8, more than two years after the release of Office 2013 and more than a year after the release of Windows 8 and 8.1.
We expect a number of vendors to drag their feet on adopting the new technology of Windows 10, Office 2016, and the Edge browser. While this allows continued focus on their own product instead of spending resources on making their product work on the latest Windows platform, we expect the modifications needed for Windows 10 and Office 2016 to be minimal. What won't be minimal is creating a universal app. This will require following a new set of APIs. While making an app universal is a much better long-term strategy, many vendors' application code base is not disciplined, documented, and structured enough to comply with a new set of APIs. That struggle will be occurring for software publishers while we wait for them to deliver new applications in the format we want.
Based on Microsoft's currently announced strategies and the quality of the release, we recommend adoption as soon as your software is compatible. Early adoption will increase speed and security of your day-to-day operations. We have found that old hardware, including hardware that was running Windows XP, is faster on Windows 10. Further, Microsoft Office is being revised and is likely to be released under the name Microsoft Office 2016. While Office 2016 is not a must-have upgrade like Office 2013 was, there are enough improvements, including Mac support, that it makes sense to get your organization on both of these Microsoft offerings as soon as it is reasonable for you.
Again, make sure you test your applications for compatibility. We expect some applications to not work properly, but a good working rule is if the application works on Windows 7 or 8, it will work with Windows 10. If the applications work with Office 2010 or 2013, they will likely work with Office 2016.
Although we usually discuss technology in the context of what should be considered in future purchases, this release of both Windows 10 and Office 2016 should be adopted sooner rather than later. Your costs should be minimal, and the learning curve should not be too steep. Further, I am predicting your productivity will go up from these products that run faster, with stability and more usability than any Windows OS release we have seen to date.