As odd as it sounds given its desktop PC roots, Windows may truly catapult small businesses into the mobile era.
Entrepreneurs, startups, and fledgling firms are already hip to the productivity-enhancing effects of mobile accounting, invoicing on the go, and various other business processes that workers can complete on their iPads and Galaxy smartphones. However, those experiences are generally disconnected from the desktop, where workers go for real, roll-up-you-sleeves number crunching and an assortment of tasks better suited for physical keyboards and mice.
Windows 10, the latest edition of Microsoft's flagship operating system (OS), promises to bring those worlds together in ways that can "mobilize" small businesses without skimping in the productivity department, according to Roy Eldar, vice president of customer service at SysAid Technologies, a provider of IT service management (ITSM) software.
While the industry fawns over Cortana, virtual desktops, and the Start Menu's triumphant return, one impressive new Windows 10 feature is flying under the radar, said Eldar. And small business owners that are serious about incorporating mobile devices into their Microsoft Office-based workflows should seek it out.
Considering that 1.2 billion people use Microsoft Office (or one in 7 people on the planet according to Microsoft's figures), it's a safe bet that many employees routinely fire up Word, Excel and/or Outlook to get work done. Windows 10 helps iPhones and Android phones get in on the act a bit more seamlessly.
"The new Microsoft Phone Companion app, a built-in app on Windows 10, makes it easier to integrate iOS and Android devices into the Windows 10 OS," Eldar told Small Business Computing. The app automatically syncs OneDrive, OneNote, Skype, Office Mobile and Outlook, ensuring that smartphones are on the same page as the Windows 10 PCs and tablets back at home base—with minimal configuration or other technical hoops to jump through.
Link an iOS or Android phone, and it "launches automatically and syncs everything," he said. "It creates the kind of smoothness similar to that of an iOS user connecting to a Mac."
Cortana, the Multi-OS Ambassador
Cortana, Microsoft's chatty virtual assistant, is more than the company's answer to Apple Siri or Google Now. It's another sign of how Windows 10 brings rival mobile platforms into the fold.
Windows 10's Cortana Android and iOS apps will help bridge competing mobile platforms.
"Cortana is now available as an Android app and will be available [soon] as an iOS app," Eldar noted. This expanded availability allows users to "continue the same experience on the desktop," a critical capability considering Cortana's inner workings.
Microsoft studied real life administrative assistants to determine how the best ones seem eerily able to anticipate their bosses' needs. This led to the concept of the Notebook, a configurable tool that stores a user's preferences, favorites and links to other services. Cortana also "learns" over time, becoming more proactive about its notifications, like suggesting an earlier departure time based on current traffic conditions so that a user can make a meeting on time.
True, people may not ditch Siri or Google Now any time soon. However, as Cortana grows smarter and more in tune with users, chances are that they'll seek out its help across all their devices.
Tablet When You Want, Desktop When You Don't
Finally, Windows 10 erases the sins of Windows 8. "Windows 7 was very successful," said Eldar. Unfortunately, Windows 8 "didn't continue the same experience as Windows 7."
In a bid to capture part of the white-hot tablet market, Microsoft added polarizing touch-enabled elements to Windows 8, most notably a full-screen Start experience that replaced the company's tried-and-true Start Menu.
This time around, a more polished user interface and the mode-switching Continuum feature, make it easier for people to switch between tablet and desktop views on their Windows tablets and 2-in-1s, encouraging them to unplug once in a while and do some work away from their desks.
Microsoft has done a better job of combining the tablet and desktop with Windows 10, said Eldar. As a consequence, "more businesses will tend to adopt Windows 10 than they did Windows 8," he predicted.
But don't rush into things. "Look at the core systems that [your] organization runs. Make sure those core systems run flawlessly on the new system," he advised. In terms of deploying the new OS, he also suggests "doing it in phases" and "making sure you have the patience and experience" to get average, non-techy users accustomed to the Windows 10 experience.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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