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Are you ready for Windows 8?
Should you be?

By Joshua Poje
ABA Legal Technology Resource Center

Why are so many firms and other businesses still living with Windows XP more than a decade after its release? The reason is understandable: fear of change. You’ve likely invested considerable time and dollars into your system, getting all of your software and hardware working together in just the way you need for your practice. Upgrading poses a real risk of disruption, forcing you to reconfigure, relearn and possibly rethink your technology entirely.

When an operating system is brand new, it’s prudent to delay upgrading until the developer — whether Microsoft or Apple — has an opportunity to work out some of the bugs. But delaying your upgrade for too long can simply mean more pain when you’re inevitably forced to upgrade, whether due to firm policy, the need for a new computer or to support software that’s become incompatible with older versions of the OS.

In the case of Windows 8, which was released just a few short months ago, the early reports are mixed: While the OS appears to be relatively light on compatibility problems, it does represent a significant departure in terms of the interface. For example, the start button has vanished, replaced instead by a new and quite different start screen, and shutting your computer down now requires using the new “Charms” menu.

If you’re considering upgrading an existing system or replacing an old computer with a new Windows 8 machine, how can you minimize your upgrade headaches? Here are a few tips:

  • To help smooth the transition to new versions of Windows, Microsoft launched a community-driven Compatibility Center where Windows users can share their experiences upgrading. Users can browse through popular software and hardware devices or search for specific devices they might be concerned about, vote based on their own experiences or start discussions with other users. The Center addresses Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows 7. 

  • If you’re worried about a less popular or common piece of software — particularly one geared just to lawyers — visit the developer’s website. Given that Windows 8 has been on the market for several months, you’ll almost certainly find some information about Windows 8 compatibility. If you don’t, that may be an indication that the vendor has yet to update its software or even that the software is no longer being actively maintained. When in doubt, try contacting the vendor directly by phone or email.

  • Changes in software permissions are a common source of compatibility problems. As a security precaution, newer versions of the operating system, including Windows 8, and to a lesser extent Windows 7, run applications in a sandboxed mode to prevent them from making systemwide changes without explicit approval. This helps prevent malware from running rampant on your computer. Unfortunately, it can also mean that older software is prevented from working properly due to insufficient permissions. To bypass this problem, right click on the application’s start tile or desktop shortcut and choose the option to run the application as the administrator. Be sure you use this only with software you know and trust.

  • When upgrading an older PC to Windows 8, there are several steps you can take to minimize compatibility issues with both hardware and software:

    • Before you consider upgrading, make sure your current device meets the basic system requirements for Windows 8: 1 GHz or faster processor; 1GB (32-bit) or 2GB (64-bit) RAM; 16GB (32-bit) or 20GB (64-bit) hard disk space; and a graphics card that supports Microsoft DirectX 9.

    • Thoroughly back up your data and, if possible, create a complete image of your PC before the upgrade. If the upgrade goes wrong or even if you simply find that you don’t like Windows 8, you need a way to restore your old setup. It’s also a good idea to make sure you have important information — like serial numbers or activation keys — for all of your software. 

    • Clean your PC thoroughly. Uninstall software you never use, run a good cleaning software (e.g., CCleaner) to wipe away as much junk as possible, and defrag. This should help improve system performance a bit, but more important, it should make it easier to identify the source of any problems that occur after upgrading.

    • Update before you upgrade. Many software developers offer updates in the months before and after a major operating system release specifically to address issues related to the new OS. If you’re careful to update all of your key software with the latest patches and fixes, you’re less likely to encounter compatibility issues when upgrading.

Update drivers for your hardware. When it comes to your “core” hardware — meaning your laptop/desktop and its internal components — a visit to the manufacturer’s website should lead you to any driver updates. For external devices like printers, scanners or other peripherals, you’ll probably need to visit the individual vendor websites.

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