By Randy Johnston, Executive Vice President, K2 Enterprises
For those of us who use technology to get a job done reliably and quickly, we shy away from adopting the latest technology first or early in the product’s life. The old adage “the pioneers take the arrows, the settlers take the land,” reminds us that very few firms want to be first to try something new; instead we wait until the technology is proven. However, we also understand that early adoption of new technology can be a competitive advantage when used to manage a practice.
Microsoft® Windows® XP and Office 2003 will reach the end of their lives on April 8, 2014. Their cousin, Windows Server 2003, will reach the end of its life on July 14, 2015. So, you’ll need to make a plan to replace any 2003 Windows Servers within the next year as well.
Because all of these products are currently reaching the end of their lifecycle, we need to think about an orderly way to run our practices without them in the very near future. For most firms, that means you should replace all XP and Office 2003 systems by November 30, 2013 and all 2003 Windows Server technology by November 30, 2014.
The main concern in continuing to use an end-dated system is the lack of future security updates – making your firm vulnerable to security risks and attacks. A secondary concern is lack of support for new hardware platforms. And finally, there are concerns with running advanced, sophisticated software on aging and slow hardware. You have very little time left to act thoughtfully. So, which operating system should you choose and what version is the wisest choice?
A natural, safe position might be to run Windows 7 since it has been out for four years. However, the end of mainstream support for Windows 7 is January 13, 2015. Does it make sense to make a long-term strategic decision for technology that will begin end of life in 18 months?
So what about Windows 8? It’s still new to the market. The press has not been kind; in my use of the product, I’ve found it to be more like Windows 7 Version 2. The operating system runs faster on the same hardware than Windows 7, has greater security, and offers Bitlocker disk encryption in both the Pro and Enterprise versions. All CPA firms should have all laptop, desktop, and USB drives encrypted to minimize breach reporting risk and Bitlocker offers that feature as part of the operating system at no extra charge. The Windows 8.1 or “Blue” version was released on June 26, 2013.
Windows 8 does require a little bit of training, but has a fairly short learning curve once you understand a couple of key points: (1.) You can access the key features of the operating system by moving your mouse to the corners, and (2.) you can use the operating system in desktop mode, much like you have done since Windows 95. In our testing, we noted any application that runs on Windows 7 also runs on Windows 8. One last suggestion to make the most of Windows 8: Load the Windows 8-specific mouse drivers from Microsoft or Logitech for the best experience. Running applications on touchscreens is an option, but not mandatory if you have the right mouse support.
Microsoft has also released the latest version of Microsoft Office. Office 2013 and Office 365™ ProPlus are the newest versions of this mainstream productivity application. There are so many accountant-centric improvements, that I recommend moving from any prior Microsoft Office version to the new Office 2013 for the productivity gains in all modules including Excel®, Word, Outlook®, PowerPoint® and OneNote®.
The time you save in handling email alone could make the upgrade worthwhile. Again, I recommend training for your Microsoft Office end users. There are so many improvements to usability, as well as changes in functionality, that some level of training is required to maintain maximum productivity. Make sure you consider Open Licensing with Software Assurance for Microsoft Office, or that you subscribe to an advanced plan of Office 365.
Finally, all major tax and accounting software publishers will support Windows 8 and Office 2013 after October 15, 2013. So, why wouldn’t you skate to where the puck is going to be rather than where it has been? Change is hard, but changing twice is harder. We’ll miss you Windows XP and Office 2003, but it’s time to pay our respects and move on to the latest technologies. Goodbye, dear friends.