By Peter Han

When the economy is at extremes, businesses often revert intuitively to their own extremes: expand or contract, risk or conserve, innovate or get back to basics. What’s the right move when the economy is in flux? According to Chase and J. P. Morgan’s “Wisconsin Economic Outlook,” the state’s economy continues to recover but the pace of that recovery has slowed in recent months. So, what’s your intuition telling you to do with your business, your R&D and your investments in an economy that is tentatively improving?

While many businesses are proceeding with great caution, now can be a great time to evaluate your assets, including technology, and make confident decisions that will position you to better compete. As my high-school Latin teacher used to preach, “Audaces fortuna juvat”, or “Fortune favors the bold.”

There’s a good chance you’re aware of or eagerly anticipating Microsoft’s launch of Windows 8 in October. It may surprise you to know that Microsoft isn’t necessarily recommending that all businesses, organizations and consumer wait for Windows 8. In fact, the decision many PC users should make with confidence is to upgrade to Windows 7 first.

Once you have the facts around how to most seamlessly transition to Windows 8, you’ll see why moving to Windows 7 first makes good sense. Windows 7 is a critical launch pad onto Windows 8 for users currently on Windows Vista or XP and more than 40 percent of all U.S. PC users – many in Wisconsin – are still running these systems. Users on these older systems should plan to make a move to Windows 7 right away, and if you’re in the process of moving to Windows 7, you’re encouraged to continue with your deployment. As Windows 8 builds upon Windows 7 functionality, users will experience the smoothest move following this upgrade sequence.

But there’s more to a Windows 7 upgrade than an easy Windows 8 transition. Windows 7 can help businesses operate in a more competitive way, immediately. The operating systems features a more intuitive interface, advanced hardware support, better wireless networking, performance improvements and compatibility with devices and hardware — like tablets, touchscreens and smartphones — that businesses in 2012 need to create, respond and grow at the speed of a recovering economy.

Crunch the numbers and you’ll find moving up from a dated operating system to Windows 7 makes even more business sense. Consider the following financial benefits with a Windows 7 upgrade:

· A savings of nearly $1,700 per PC over three years in reduced IT labor support and lost productivity.
· An impressive 12-month payback period on the deployment.
· A 137 percent ROI, over a three-year period, when moving specifically from Windows XP to Windows 7.
· A cost-effective upgrade to Windows 8 down the road. For only $14.99, those with Windows 7 can upgrade to Windows 8 when they decide they are ready.
· A free Windows 7 Value Pack with the purchase of a genuine Windows 7 PC. This DVD consolidates Microsoft’s most useful software, including Microsoft Security Essentials, Windows Internet Explorer 9, Skype and more.

Ultimately, the phased upgrade before getting to Windows 8 is a road worth traveling. If you’re wondering what all the excitement about the October launch is about, consider how Windows 8 might affect your world:

— For developers, Windows 8 presents a huge opportunity to build great new apps for a variety of form factors;

— Small- to medium-sized businesses and enterprise customers will be able to take advantage of new possibilities in mobile productivity, end-to-end security, virtualization and management advancements, and the business tablets today’s workforce wants;

— Consumers and remote workers will love remote connectivity improvements and the automatic tie-in to SkyDrive, Microsoft’s cloud-based storage and synchronization platform.

The time for Wisconsin businesses to invest in technology like Windows 7 is now, when opportunities are riding in on the wave of our recovery. This Wisconsin marketplace must be prepared to win and sustain new business and talent and technology can enable this success, so don’t wait – arm yourself to win tomorrow, today.

Han is vice president of Microsoft’s U.S. Original Equipment Manufacturing team in the United States. He is responsible for OEM sales of Windows, Office and Server. He also oversees all sales through the OEM distribution and reseller channel in the U.S. Earlier in his career, Han worked in strategy consulting and a startup, wrote a book, ”Nobodies to Somebodies,” and produced two documentary movies. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, with a degree in government and philosophy.