Practice - Technology
Should Your Firm Upgrade to Windows 8?
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
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Whether you use a phone, a tablet, or a PC, you get built-in support for Office apps.

If you try apps like Evernote after experiencing them in other environments, you can begin to appreciate Windows 8’s graphics potential.

QUICK QUOTE: 37% of respondents in the FP Tech Survey still had at least one computer running an operating system that’s 11 years old.

After months of hype, Microsoft released Windows 8 -- the latest edition of Microsoft’s operating system -- in late October. Whenever Microsoft releases a new operating system it is a significant event, since between 90% and 95% of all PCs run some version of Windows.

And Windows 8 -- designed to work on desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones -- is much more than an operating system for your PC. By tightly integrating PCs, tablets and smartphones with SkyDrive cloud storage, Microsoft Office 365 (cloud-hosted Office apps, including Exchange Server) and other Microsoft properties, Microsoft now offers a business-class alternative to similar Apple and Google properties.

Yet for Windows 8 to achieve its full potential for financial advisors, it will not be sufficient for advisors to embrace it; custodians, broker-dealers and third-party vendors must embrace it as well. If they do, Windows 8 has great potential to help advisors become more productive, under the right conditions.

BIG CHANGES

In the consumer press, Windows 8 faced criticism related to the initial user experience. Microsoft’s new Metro interface does away with the traditional “Start” button in the lower left corner of the screen, replacing it with a Start screen or page, which can be customized and populated by tiles. Tiles can be links to applications, or other types of information; some “live tiles” can display data that gets updated constantly.

Some critics have viewed the Metro interface as a disadvantage. I don’t think it is, but if you do, you can easily bypass it and work from a screen that is almost identical to the Windows 7 desktop.

One of the reasons for the interface overhaul was to make Windows 8 compatible with touch-screen devices. While this applies primarily today to smartphones and tablets, I am already seeing the release of Windows 8 desktop and laptop computers with touch screens. As these touch-screen PCs become more prevalent, they will revolutionize the way advisors interact with their computers.

One thing to ponder when evaluating Windows 8 -- or, for that matter, any new technology -- is the use case. Consumer reviews of Windows 8 have tended to focus on usability and, in the case of smartphones and tablets, the number of apps available. While these are certainly important, advisors have specific needs that need to be addressed.

Here are a few key things you should understand about how Windows 8 will affect your work.

1. SECURITY IS MUCH BETTER

Windows 8 features a few new security benefits, but one of the most important is Secure Boot. This requires that all applications running during the boot sequence be pre-signed with valid digital certificates. Essentially, it ensures that files loaded during startup have not been tampered with; if a rogue file tried to load, Secure Boot will intercept it. (Bonus: It also starts up much faster than its predecessor, the old BIOS system.)

Microsoft has also beefed up its free security software to include antivirus software. And it has altered the order in which it loads drivers, so that security software runs first; this applies whether you use the free Windows Defender suite or the security suite of your choice.

By acting as a gatekeeper, the Windows 8 app store is itself another security enhancement. If users purchase their software through the online store -- likely, since it will be more convenient -- and if Microsoft does a good job of checking for malicious applications, safety will be further enhanced.

Windows 8 also quarantines applications and Internet Explorer plug-ins, isolating them from the operating system to limit the damage that malicious apps can cause.

There are a number of other security upgrades aimed at enterprises. One of the most interesting is Dynamic Access Control, which goes way beyond what previous versions of Windows could do. Administrators can now deny access to almost any piece of data based upon almost any claim or attribute. For example, you might deny folder access to certain individuals unless they were trying to access the folder locally from a company-issued tablet. Principals might be able to access the same data offsite, but again, only from company issued devices.

2. USING OFFICE SOFTWARE WILL BE EASIER

For advisors, perhaps the greatest frustration with iOS is the lack of native support for Microsoft Office software. Mac versions of Office are available, but they are generally less robust than the PC versions. Windows 8 offers a unified Office experience: Whether you use a phone, a tablet, or a PC, you get built-in support for Office apps. Furthermore, Window 8 and the upcoming Office 2013 integrate tightly with SkyDrive, Microsoft’s cloud file storage system. If you save an Office document to SkyDrive, it is easily accessible from any Windows 8 device.

Among tablets, the iPad is a great device for consuming data, but it is much less adept at creating it. With a Windows 8 tablet and Office, creating content become more practical.

3. THERE ARE SOME OTHER SWEET EXTRAS

Windows 8 offers a few other features that should appeal to advisors.

Live tiles: These have a lot of potential, once developers within the industry start to take advantage of them. Unlike iOS icons, live tiles can contain information that updates in real time. Think about the power of custom tiles that contain alerts when your best clients email you, or when funds are deposited in a client account. Tiles can also contain photos and graphics.

Customization: This is another Windows 8 strong suit. Advisors can decide exactly what they want to see on the initial page of their phones, tablets and PCs. All can be configured with the same tiles, or each can be configured differently, as the user wishes.

Integrated contact management: The included People app can pull in contact information from all of your online sources, including Outlook, Gmail and LinkedIn. As these and other capabilities become available to the CRM applications that advisors use, staying up to date on your relationships should be simplified.

Graphics: The improved graphics capabilities of Windows 8 are not yet fully appreciated in the marketplace, because there are few advisor-specific Windows 8 applications available today. But if you try apps like Evernote in Windows 8 after experiencing them in other environments, you can begin to appreciate the potential. I did preview one early advisor-facing Windows 8 app: FinFolio’s portfolio management software. The graphics are amazing. As other developers come to market with Windows 8 apps, I expect that advisors will be anxious to use them.

4. APPS ARE STILL LIMITED

While Windows 8 is very appealing, a few cautionary notes are in order. App availability is an issue: To reap the full benefits of Windows 8, developers have to write or rewrite apps to take advantage of its abilities. This is currently a work in progress. There is also the issue of compatibility with the applications you currently use. Make sure that your vendors, B-Ds and custodians are Windows 8 compatible.

There are other issues. Due to the level of customization that Windows 8 offers, there is somewhat more of a learning curve than there is for iOS. A little training can go a long way toward alleviating any initial apprehension.

Some critics also view the Metro interface as a disadvantage. I don’t think it is, but if you do, you can easily bypass it and work from a screen that is almost identical to the Windows 7 desktop.

There is also a great deal of confusion surrounding the Microsoft Surface tablet and other similar devices. The Surface tablet runs on an ARM processor, the same processor that powers most popular mobile devices today. This means that the Surface tablet can only run applications written for an ARM processor -- not software written for the Intel processor powering your PC. Your Windows-compatible programs will not run on the current Surface tablet. (The Surface Pro, due for release in early 2013, will run on an Intel processor, so it will be able to run most current Windows applications.)

5. THE LONG-TERM PROGNOSIS IS GOOD

I expect that advisors will gravitate to Windows 8 sooner rather than later. I know from the recent Financial Planning Technology Survey that 37% of respondents still operate one or more computers running Windows XP, an operating system that launched in August 2001. What these users may not know is that on April 14, 2009, Windows XP reached the end of its mainstream support period. Microsoft currently provides monthly security updates for XP, but free technical support, warranty claims and design changes are no longer offered.

Not convinced? Be aware that on April 8, 2014, all support for XP security patches and hotfixes is scheduled to end. At that point, one could argue that it would be irresponsible to use an XP machine in a business setting.

I believe that the release of Windows 8 will encourage a new round of technological innovation for advisors. Those who adapt the system sooner are likely to be the greatest beneficiaries of these innovations.

(?) What Do You Think?

Do you plan to upgrade to Windows 8? Why or why not?

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