As Windows XP nears its end, businesses weigh Windows 8 upgrade

Microsoft will cease to support Windows XP on April 8, 2014. The operating system’s product lifecycle will come to an end, Microsoft will stop producing security patches and other updates, and organizations will be faced with a dilemma: To continue using Windows XP, one of the most popular versions of Windows, despite the security risks of running an unsupported system, or to upgrade to the unfamiliar Windows 8 or another more recent OS version.

Microsoft, for one, would prefer businesses to move off XP and has made this one of its top sales priorities for fiscal year 2014, along with winning over businesses to the benefits of Windows 8.

The Windows XP end-of-life date will affect more than 10 million PCs. If your business accounts for any of them, you might want to start considering an upgrade. The following video will highlight the new features released with Windows 8, explain how Windows 8 affects your volume licensing agreements, and offer next steps for implementing Windows 8 in your organization.

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Microsoft Experience Center with SHI lets organizations try before they buy

When making a major investment, most consumers want — and deserve — a clear sense of what they’re buying. For example, would you purchase a new car without taking it for a spin around the block? Probably not, and for good reason. Without a test drive, you have little way of knowing whether you’re investing tens of thousands of dollars in a car that will meet your needs, whether for size, comfort, safety, or utility.

In nearly every major purchasing scenario today, consumers have the option to try before they buy. And yet this concept is often conspicuously absent in the technology world. Organizations are frequently required to invest considerable sums in software and hardware without ever being given the chance to test them in a real-world environment.

That’s why SHI has teamed up with Microsoft to offer hands-on introductions to the Microsoft Productivity Suite. In a Microsoft Experience Center (MEC) session, we bring technology decision-makers into our labs to test drive Microsoft software in a number of true-to-life, work-related scenarios, such as working remotely, social networking to locate expertise and share information, and connecting in real time with coworkers and customers via video and voice conferencing, instant messaging, simultaneous SharePoint and document editing, help-desk and IT ticketing. Continue Reading…

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Is your Microsoft licensing in compliance? A quick reference guide

This is a big week for Microsoft — the Windows 8 launch today, the release of Microsoft Surface tomorrow. Media and techies have been hyping these new products for months, both for their innovation — some are calling Surface the “PC of the future” — and also for the licensing re-haul associated with them.

Caitlin already touched on the licensing changes inherent with Windows 8, so we won’t be going there today. Instead of looking forward, we thought we’d take a quick look back at how Microsoft got here. Below we’ve compiled a handy table recapping the new Microsoft products launched in 2012 and the licensing models associated with each. Let this serve as a quick reference to make sure your software licensing is in compliance. Continue Reading…

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Windows 8 licensing: Your old license is obsolete, and so is your old BYOD policy

With the debut of Windows 8, Microsoft is also unveiling a new licensing model that has significant impact on companies that are using desktop virtualization and, specifically, have BYOD policies. With this post, I’m going to explain what these changes are and then we’ll make some recommendations for how your BYOD policies needs to be updated to align with the new licensing. First, let’s look at the changes.

Traditionally, Windows desktop licensing has always been an OEM license that came with the option of upgrading and adding software assurance via volume licensing. That was meant to cover basically any device that was connecting to a virtualized desktop installed on a server. With Windows 8, Microsoft is making it very important that you are the primary user of the primary licensed device in your environment.

Now, you not only get the virtual desktop access rights that you’ve always gotten (four virtual machines per licensed device), but it also comes with Windows To Go rights — meaning you can sideload a full Windows 8 OS onto a thumb drive for remote usage. Take that, Linux fans! Continue Reading…

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What’s new in Windows Server 2012 and why does it matter?

The excitement about Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 is definitely hitting the marketplace, because last month I found myself fielding a ton of questions on both. When it came to Windows Server 2012 customers were concerned about the order in which they should perform their updates, the effect it will have on their existing cloud services, and the exclusive use of the Metro interface.

All of those are important issues, but the number one issue for SHI customers is how Windows Server 2012 will affect Windows OS licensing. That’s what I’d like to address today.

Windows Server 2012 will revamp the world of Windows Server OS versions, licensing, and capabilities in an effort to facilitate easy management and integration in highly virtualized public and private clouds. There are three major changes to the volume licensing of Windows Server 2012 that SHI customers need to be aware of:

Continue Reading…

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Windows 8 shows us the next generation of Microsoft

Microsoft plans to release the next full version of its desktop OS, Windows 8, later this fall. On the heels of this announcement last month, I took to the SHI Blog to outline the 4 most important ways customers can prepare for a smooth update process. Now, with the release date fast approaching (in fact, Microsoft revealed today that Windows 8 has been released to manufacturing), I want customers to know the top features of this new OS and how it will enhance their business.

Windows 8 is geared toward a full range of disparate hardware, including PCs, laptops, and touch tablets. People can expect the same solid foundation Microsoft laid down with Windows 7, but with a totally new look and Start screen. The new Start screen centrally locates all the information the user needs in a single panel, including contacts, appointments and calendars, weather, websites, favorites, playlists, photos, and favorite applications. Users have the ability to organize their view preferences easily, allowing them to act faster and more efficiently than ever before.

But the most important part of this update is that it was designed for today’s mobile society. In other words, Windows 8 will be fully compatible with all of your organization’s BYOD needs. Here’s how:

First, Windows 8 aims to standardize the OS user interface across a multitude of devices. This way, users can use whatever device they want, whenever and wherever, with a similar and familiar view and experience. Windows 8 is fully capable of running (and in fact, was built to run) on touch-enabled PCs and tablets. Users can choose between two touch-screen keyboard modes: a full-sized keyboard with large buttons, or a thumb keyboard that splits the keys to both sides of the screen for comfortable and portable use.

Second, Windows 8 is completely cloud-connected right out of the box, making users’ Microsoft accounts more portable and personal. As soon as the user signs in, his Windows 8 device is personalized and cloud-connected. Users storing information in the cloud can start a project on one Windows 8 device and finalize it on another. Unifying the experience even further is the People app for Windows 8, which pulls all contacts from major social networks, such as Hotmail, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and more. This creates a fully connected address book.

Third, Microsoft has significantly reworked the features and functionality to include important mobile broadband features, such as 3G and 4G telecommunication and a broadband metering feature to help manage data usage and costs.

Fourth is Windows To Go, a feature of Windows 8 Enterprise that will allow IT administrators to place a corporate Windows image on a USB storage device for off-site and mobile workers. With Windows To Go, employees are able to work with a consistent and personalized desktop that is as secure as a regularly managed PC. Also, a part of the Windows 8 Enterprise update is Direct Access, which allows remote users to reach into their Windows 8 OS remotely without the need for a VPN connection.

The final benefit of the update that I predict my customers will take advantage of is BranchCache, which has been improved to store ample data, serve more clients, store files more efficiently, and eliminate duplicates.

To me, it has always been easy to see that adopting Windows 8 will give customers bandwidth savings and better network performance. I believe that through both its basic and mobile improvements, Windows 8 is a true representation of the next generation of the Windows desktop OS by Microsoft. In fact, I would even go as far as to say that it promises to change the way entities work — anywhere and everywhere.

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Top 4 questions customers are asking about the migration to Windows Server 2012

In my last post, I went over how those planning to switch to Windows 8 can best prepare for the conversion. However, in addition to Windows 8, Microsoft will also be gearing up to release Windows Server 2012.

My prediction is that (assuming the server is clear of any last-minute bugs), the two will be released within a month of each other. Some are even saying that they will be released on the exact same day. On June 4, Windows Server 2012 came out of its beta stage, and Microsoft made the first release candidate available for those that want to participate in the evaluation of the release.

But while discussions and previews of Windows 8 have dominated the media spotlight for the past year, Windows Server 2012 hasn’t caught much mainstream interest. However, our IT and enterprise customers have tapped me several times looking for more information on it. So today, I’d like to share the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Windows Server 2012:

1. Should customers planning on moving forward with both Windows Server and Windows 8 install them in any particular order?
The answer is no. They can move piecemeal. They could even upgrade Windows Server first, wait a year, and then go to Windows 8. As long as an older version of Windows is still supported, they can still run it and shouldn’t see any problems.

2. What is the most important thing to watch out for during these updates?
My advice is to treat this as if it were any other update. Do this by making sure that all the applications running on the desktop are going to be compatible.

3. The slogan for Windows Server 2012 is “every app to any cloud.” What effect will Windows Server 2012 have on the private cloud?
Well, it will make the cloud easier to manage for even the smallest of our customers. In fact, it can basically produce a private cloud by itself. There’s definitely going to be symmetry between on-premise installations and any cloud-based solution. I anticipate a seamless interface between those two, whereas before we might have seen more of a login-type scenario. Overall, Windows Server 2012 will provide users with a common identity and management framework, giving enterprises with highly secure and reliable cross-premises adequate connectivity.

4. The Windows 8 previews showed that users will be able to choose between the Metro interface and the traditional Windows interface. Will those options be available on Windows Server 2012?
Judging by the Windows Server 2012 release candidate, it looks like Metro will be the exclusive interface. This might take some additional adaptations on the user’s part.

Of course, there’s a lot more that can be said about this after the product has been evaluated by a significant number of users. In the meantime, if organizations are interested in participating in evaluating the release candidate, they can download the operating system by registering on the Windows Server 2012 website.

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4 ways to prepare for the Windows 8 update

No matter what type of customer I’m speaking to — large or small, desktop or application — one topic has risen to the forefront of every conversation: virtualization, and how it will be impacted by the upcoming Microsoft updates.

Later this year, Microsoft will release both Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012. I’ll be on hand during our customers’ update process to answer any questions about licensing and compliance, re-evaluating current licensing and deployment infrastructure, and providing best practices for any implementation. In the meantime, I’ll be outlining four things that can be implemented to best prepare for the switch. Let’s start with Windows 8.

1. Become an expert in the environment

The first step to prepare is to re-evaluate the virtualization infrastructure on both the desktop and the application side. In other words, get a full view of the environment’s hardware and software infrastructure. This will provide a transparent look into the virtual environment. To do this, identify whether each connected device is personally or company-owned; whether the device is on or off the company site; and whether it’s already covered under the corporate licensing scheme, or if it’s the employee’s responsibility as owner of the device.

Continue Reading…

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