Oh, that Microsoft. Always keeping us on our toes. First it splurges a hefty $1.5-$1.8 billion on a fancy marketing campaign to whet our appetites for Windows 8, launched in late October. Then Windows executive Steven Sinofsky ups and suddenly announces his resignation. Talk about a spotlight stealer.

But amid all the hand-wringing and brow-furrowing his unexpected departure has undoubtedly caused, many small and mid-sized businesses (especially those still running Windows XP) are now struggling with a more important dilemma:

To continue their planned upgrade to Windows 7 or skip ahead to Windows 8?

As a leading hosting provider, SherWeb’s raison d’être is to help SMBs increase productivity and lower costs with business cloud services like Exchange 2013 and Sharepoint. We know that most SMBs struggle with limited resources and have little room for steep learning curves, let alone serious errors in judgement.

With that in mind, here’s what our experts have to say about Windows 8, and whether upgrading now makes sense.

Change Can Be a Good, Albeit Painful Thing

It needs to be said that moving from Windows XP to 8 won’t be smooth sailing all the way. But that being said, organizations shouldn’t simply dismiss Windows 8 out of hand, because the Windows 8 OS is the first real overhaul since Microsoft introduced Windows 95 17 years ago. Even though it may be seen as a “riskier” choice compared to the tried-and-true Windows 7, the latest OS has a number of impressive features that will help many SMBs better compete.

Another factor to bear in mind: Even if you do decide to continue with your planned upgrade to Windows 7, there’s the risk that you might want to upgrade to Windows 8 sooner than expected.

The Upside of Updating to Windows 8

#1 Better mobility

SMBs have embraced the mobile business model—and for good reason, as it affords many opportunities to reduce costs and increase productivity. But until now, Windows prevented them from achieving full mobility because it didn’t have full family of devices running on a single mobile platform. Now SMBs now longer have to use iPads or Androids for their mobility needs. The Windows 8 family now includes Windows 8, Windows RT and the Windows 8 Phone, along with all the hardware that runs on it – desktops, laptops, surface tablet, etc. Mobility is now built-in across the line.

#2 Better speed and performance

Being able to boot up from an off state in 10 seconds is like music to the ears of overworked employees who have to wait 10 minutes just for their old clunker of a desktop to open Windows XP. Windows 8 comes with other backend improvements, too, like better dual monitor support. There are also a number of user interface changes that are redefining the look and feel of running Windows.

#3 More hardware choices

Windows 8 makes ultrabooks, convertibles and tablets genuine business tools. Rather than being limited to laptops and desktops, organizations can now better choose their devices based on the specific tasks to be done.

#4 Touchscreen capabilities

What with our widespread use of touchscreen smartphones and tablets, it’s no surprise that this feature finally showed up on our desktops. But what is kind of surprising is that Microsoft got there before Apple. For many on-the-job tasks (whether it entails sitting or not), a touchscreen just makes more sense than a mouse. Sure, most SMBs won’t rush out to replace all their monitors overnight, but we’re betting the majority of them will gradually phase them in over time.

#5 Increased security

Sure, BitLocker hard-drive encryption is not new to Windows, but it’s new to Windows 8 Professional, the entry-level business edition. BitLocker allows users to encrypt all data on their hard drive—an especially important feature for mobile devices.

#6 Business apps

Windows 8 allows Microsoft to finally get into the modern app game, with real business tools from Skype to Lync and SharePoint (not to mention all our favorite games and other nifty apps that we now can’t live without).

#7 Hip factor

Let’s face it. Microsoft is a lot of things but “cool” isn’t one of them. Windows 8 is a slick step in that direction. And what employee wouldn’t be happier working on a sleek new machine? When it comes to happy employees, little details like these can sometimes go a long way. And for businesses that want or need to appeal to a young, hip workforce, Windows 8 makes Microsoft an acceptable choice.

We’re certainly not suggesting that Windows 8 is a perfect solution for SMBs (we just ran out of space). In an upcoming article, we’ll look at some of the drawbacks of upgrading to Windows 8… at least for the moment.

If your company has a BYOD policy, would you consider using it as a low-cost way to test Windows 8 in a business environment?

Written by JP Mercier Employee @ SherWeb

JP is SherWeb’s community manager. He has been working for IT companies since 2010, in both the software and cloud computing industry. JP has a degree in communication and specializes in online marketing. As a good Canadian, he is (overly) polite and loves hockey.