SEMA News - August 2009
By Joe Dysart
Holding Out for Windows 7: A Wise Move?
Microsoft has posted an informational video on the forthcoming Windows 7 on its website.
The reason: Microsoft drove another bloody stake into XP on April 14, 2009, when it officially ended “mainstream support” for the OS. This means that your warranty on XP is void. It also means that if you want support on XP other than basic patches or basic security upgrades, you’ll have to pay Microsoft under a separate, “extended support” agreement.
Got an unusual problem you’re having with XP that you need resolved? That’ll cost you. Need to add a new device to your system that isn’t currently supported by XP? You’ll have to pony up for that, too. Even worse, Microsoft may return the bad news that XP will never support a new device or new software you’ve recently added.
It’s a nasty jolt that has many businesses once again re-evaluating their commitment to XP and wondering if they really can skip Vista altogether and simply wait for Microsoft’s next upgrade, Windows 7, which is due out in the first quarter of 2010.
Not surprisingly, the case for hanging tough with XP until you see the whites of their eyes is still very strong. Despite numerous attempts by Microsoft to convince businesses otherwise, Vista is still very much a flop. Initial reports that Vista was slower than XP, featured draconian, productivity-sapping security provisions and would not work with a raft of hardware and software have stuck. That same image continues to haunt the OS.
Even today, less than 10% of all businesses in North America and Europe use Vista, and 71% of those businesses still use and swear by XP, according to a January 2009 report from Benjamin Gray, an IT analyst with market research firm Forrester.
Indeed, business support for XP has been so strong that the sentiment has forced Microsoft to grant some major computer makers the right to continue to sell new XP PCs right alongside machines sporting Vista. Those same computer makers have also snagged the ability to woo buyers leery of Vista to “downgrade” to XP on any Vista machine they buy. Talk about a public relations nightmare.
Moreover, “hold-out” mentality is further being buttressed by the numerous, positive oohs and ahhs surfacing about the first beta version of Windows 7, which was released earlier this year. The evaluation by Matt Hartley, a reviewer for Lockergnome, a highly respected industry insider publication, is typical.
“After spending a few days with the Windows 7 beta, I will admit that overall, it proved to be vastly better than I expected on a few important fronts,” Hartley said. “The biggest front proved to be the speed front. From installation to the first boot, the OS release did really well.”
Vista never lived down its image as a cumbersome, resource-hogging, often incompatible operating system.
“More than five times as many users will run the beta version for Windows 7 as ran the beta for Windows 95,” said Michael A. Silver, an IT analyst with market research firm Gartner. “More importantly, the instrumentation by which Microsoft will get data back on performance and software features did not exist when Windows 95 was in beta and is significantly improved compared with what was available with Windows 2000. This enables Microsoft not only to receive more data, but also to characterize and classify the problems and work with vendors responsible for a large number of the problems to fix them before the product ships.”
Another plus: Microsoft plans to offer XP stalwarts an upgrade discount once Windows 7 hits the streets. Under the plan, XP users will still need to do a clean, complete install of Windows 7 rather than popping in a disk and letting XP do an auto-migrate to Windows 7. But even so, XP users know that they can save real money if they stay with what they have and upgrade only when Windows 7 becomes available.
Of course, there is some real risk involved for businesses that want to stick with XP until the bitter end. While basic security patches for XP will still be available, other more esoteric security threats may be less of a priority at a company that is more interested in selling Vista and Windows 7 than in supporting an OS that it considers passé. Essentially, IT managers who opt for tried-and-true XP won’t look like wunderkinds if a security breach brings down the entire company computer system and has no known solution.
Given that Windows 7 is really an incremental upgrade of Vista, there’s also a lot to be said for migrating away from XP to Vista, working out the kinks and being ready to go to Windows 7 when it hits the market. The reality is that, like it or not, companies planning to stick with Microsoft are going to be running on a Vista-like system during the next couple of years one way or another. They might as well get used to it.
Moreover, migrating to Vista in preparation for Windows 7 will also enable many companies to hold off on installing Microsoft’s first attempt at Windows 7 and instead wait for the first service pack for the OS to be released. The conventional wisdom with this approach is that businesses will be able to operate with a seasoned copy of Vista, allow pioneers to go through the inevitable growing pains anticipated with the initial release of Windows 7, and then be ready to migrate with a much more stable and refined Windows 7, SP1.
Deciding to let go of XP also makes sense considering that the OS would be already dead if Microsoft had its druthers. It’s hard to go up against a giant company, year after year, if that company really prefers that you part with more coin to stay in its good graces. Granted, XP users worldwide have been able to tame the Goliath from Redmond so far, given that reviews for Vista have been so uniformly negative. But this time around, initial reviews of Windows 7 are heavily in Microsoft’s favor. It’ll be much tougher to say “no thanks” to Microsoft if it rolls out a new, gleaming Windows 7 that has the same, positive reviews.
Bottom line: Business users who are perfectly happy with XP, do not plan on doing a major computer hardware upgrade during the next few years and are willing to assume a prudent risk when it comes to a security vulnerability that may or may not materialize will probably be staying with XP until Windows 7 delivers on its promise.
But businesses that are planning major computer hardware upgrades soon and would rather prepare for the inevitable move to Windows 7 than be last to the party will want to think long and hard about making an initial migration to Vista or being among the pioneering firms that adopt Windows 7 the moment it drops.
Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan, New York.