Although Windows XP remains the desktop operating system of choice for many organizations, it is quickly becoming outdated. The operating system was first introduced 12 years ago, and support will officially end for it in 2014. When you also consider factors such as the lack of updates to the operating system, it becomes apparent that there are benefits to making the transition to Windows 8.
Due to Windows XP's age, in-place upgrades to Windows 8 are not supported. Those who wish to make the transition will instead have to perform a clean installation. Although this does mean a bit more work on the part of the administrator, a clean installation may help to improve performance and security, since longstanding Windows XP deployments tend to carry a lot of baggage.
In some rare instances, it might be impossible for an organization to perform a migration from XP to Windows 8. A few years ago, for example, I knew of an organization that wanted to deploy Windows 7, but could not because no direct upgrade path was available. The organization depended upon an accounting package, but had lost the installation media years before. The company that published the accounting application had since gone out of business, so there was no way to legally obtain a copy (or a newer version) of the application.
In-place upgrades from Windows XP to Windows 7 are not supported either, and this particular organization could not perform a migration because doing so would mean losing a mission-critical application. Because there was a compelling business need for running Windows 7, the organization decided to take a chance with the unsupported upgrade path.
Although there was no direct upgrade path from Windows XP to Windows 7, it was possible to do an in-place upgrade from Windows XP to Windows Vista, and then from Windows Vista to Windows 7. This type of multi-step upgrade is not supported by Microsoft and should probably be avoided unless there is no other alternative. In the case of this business, however, the multistep upgrade allowed it to transition to a newer operating system without losing its mission-critical application. It is conceivable that a similar multistep upgrade path could be used to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 8.
For those who are looking at a more traditional migration to Windows 8, there are a number of considerations that must be taken into account prior to moving forward with the migration. The biggest ones revolve around application and hardware compatibility.
The first step in any migration planning should be to compile an inventory of all of the applications that are used throughout the organization. Upon doing so, it is important to verify that each application is compatible with Windows 8, and that you still have the installation media, product keys, etc. (See: Testing Application Compatibility for Windows 8.)
There are a number of different resources on the Internet that can help you to verify application compatibility. Microsoft offers a free tool called the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant. Vendor websites are also useful for determining whether the applications that you are using are Windows 8 compatible, or if you will need a newer version.
As you assess the various applications in use throughout your organization, don't forget to take into account any management software that is running on the desktop. This can include things like antivirus applications, backup agents, or remote assistance tools. These types of utilities play an important part in day-to-day operations, but are easy to overlook when verifying application compatibility.
When it comes to assessing desktop hardware, it is most important to verify that each desktop meets the Windows 8 hardware requirements and that Windows 8 drivers are available for all of the hardware used throughout your organization.
Assuming that the desktop PCs meet the minimum Windows 8 hardware requirements, you probably won't have to worry too much about desktop PC compatibility. Where you might run into problems is with older peripheral devices. Some organizations that have migrated to Windows 8 have discovered that they were unable to acquire device drivers for older peripherals such as printers and scanners.
Keep in mind that hardware and software compatibility research alone will not guarantee a successful migration. Before you delve into an enterprise-wide Windows 8 migration, it's a good idea to work through several lab migrations, followed by a pilot program in the production environment. Doing so will help you to iron out any kinks before you commit to a large-scale migration.