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Windows 7: On the Tarmac, Ready for Lift Off

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted Oct 20, 2009


Windows 7 launches in two days time. For many organizations its arrival won't be welcome.

OS Roundup: Windows 7 launches in two days time. For many organizations its debut won't be welcome.

Here's the problem: The overwhelming majority of businesses use Windows as their desktop operating system, and of those, a very significant proportion are still using Microsoft's eight year old Windows XP, rather than the newer, but deeply despised, Vista. They are quite happy with XP despite its security flaws and many other problems. Migrating to 7 will involve spending considerable amounts of time and money on testing and hardware upgrades.

Why not ignore Windows 7 and carry on as they are? Ultimately there's a time bomb ticking under XP that's due to go off in April 2014, when Microsoft stops providing security fixes for the operating system. So realistically everyone using XP is going to have to move off it by then (or pay through the nose for custom support). Besides, many software vendors will stop supporting XP well before 2014: Software that many organizations regard as mission-critical may be unsupported on XP within the next three years.

Research house Gartner points out that Windows 7 is really just a "polishing release" of Windows Vista that runs faster and uses less resources than the older operating system. This means the teething problems have been solved, the drivers have been written, and application and hardware compatibility is pretty much assured. So migration should be relatively painless.

Of course there's another option, and that's to switch to another operating system altogether, like OS X or Linux. But it doesn't look like that's an option being widely considered. A poll over at techrepublic.com found that none of the 12 members of the "CIO jury" questioned would consider moving to OS X. Here's what one member of the jury had to say on sister site Silicon.com:

Before recommending such a radical change for close to 2,000 in-house IT customers, I'd need to consider not only the costs of the software, hardware, and training; but also the intangible costs of inevitable downtime, stakeholder disgruntlement, and more calls to my service desk team whilst staff come to grips with a system that is reportedly 'quite easy' to use according to the many Mac enthusiasts out there, but probably more daunting a prospect to the millions who have grown up with a PC and Windows products all their life.

While the hardware costs wouldn't apply, a virtually identical argument could also be leveled against the adoption of a Linux desktop for large organizations.

Migrating from XP or Vista to Windows 7 will not be cheap. Gartner estimates moving from XP will cost businesses from $1,035 to $1,930 per user. But it may be inevitable. The only question is when. Gartner recommends most organizations start preparing in the very near future because planning and testing is likely to take a good 18 months or so. If any delays are encountered — and let's face it, they always are — it will be uncomfortably close to the time when support for critical apps starts petering out.

Apple may miss out on the corporate desktop spendfest that a mass migration to Windows 7 will involve, but the signs are that the company will not be too upset. That's because yesterday Apple revealed impressive quarterly computer sales up 17 percent, and net profits for the quarter up 47 percent to $1.67 billion.

But, perhaps anticipating all those lovely Windows 7 upgrades, Microsoft doesn't seem too phased by Apple. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, put it like this: "They've done a very good job of marketing to their 3.5 percent of the market. I think they do a great job for their 3.5 percent, and I'm glad we're doing a great job with the other 96.5 percent."

For a change it seems everyone is happy.

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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