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Which Windows 8 version is right for your small business?

Brad Chacos and Chris Hoffman | Feb. 4, 2013
Microsoft released no fewer than four separate versions of Windows 8 into the wild. Which is right for your SMB? We explain the pros, cons, and key features of each.

Regardless of whether your business is Fortune 500 big or mom-and-pop small, transitioning to a new operating system is a major endeavor--and a major headache. There's a reason why so many companies still use Windows XP, after all. So when you do bite the bullet, you want to make sure you're picking an operating system that meets all your needs.

But wait! The decision-making process isn't done once you've decided to transition your company to Microsoft's latest operating system. Like previous versions of Windows, Windows 8 comes in several editions. There's the basic, straightforward Windows 8--similar to the Home edition in previous versions of Windows--as well as costlier Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 Enterprise versions, both of which offer additional business-friendly features.

Which is right for your business? It all depends on your company's particular needs. Let's break down what each version of Windows 8 brings to the table.

Windows 8

Most small businesses will be fine running the standard version of Windows 8, which we covered in-depth in our official Windows 8 review. While the flashy visual overhaul may have given the OS a whole new look and feel, Windows 8's desktop mode is basically Windows 7 sans a Start button--along with several under-the-hood tweaks that improve the operating system's overall speed and responsiveness.

That's not to say the stock version of the OS skimps on new features. Windows 8 raises the bar on the security front, offering a multitude of core improvements, while the addition of file histories, improved multi-monitor support, native ISO and VHD mounting, amalgamated Storage Spaces, and a streamlined Task Manager make it easier to get things done on a day-to-day basis. From a direct productivity perspective, Windows 8 boots up, shuts down, and wakes from sleep faster than greased lightning, especially if your business has invested in solid-state drives.

Before you dive into any version of Windows 8, however, consider the potential training and support costs you might incur by adopting Microsoft's new-look operating system. The modern UI-style Start Screen is a radical shift from the traditional Windows desktop (which is just a live-tile click away), and usability experts say that  Windows 8's flat design and hidden controls are unintuitive for average users. We found the learning curve moderate at best, but you will need to invest some resources in educating your employees about Windows 8. If touchscreen support isn't a major concern, think hard about whether Windows 7 or Windows 8 would be a better fit for your business.

Windows 8 Pro

Windows 8 Pro costs more than Windows 8, but you receive some nifty new features in return. The ability to install the optional Windows 8 Media Center Pack for $10 probably won't appeal in a business setting, but other Windows 8 Pro additions are firmly business-friendly, albeit highly specific in nature. Here are the highlights:


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