Windows 7: when to make the move

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When Microsoft released its Windows Vista in 2007, it's safe to say it didn't light the world on fire. A lot of businesses decided to stick with Windows XP. Gartner thinks as many as 80% of businesses took a pass on Vista. As a result, Net Applications estimates that XP still holds over 60% of the enterprise market today.

Last autumn's Windows 7 release got considerably more positive reviews than its predecessor. This favourable response has resulted in a significant number of those organisations still using the nearly decade-old XP to take a closer look at the possibility of an upgrade. The question becomes when, and how?

Sooner rather than later
For my money, organisations should abandon XP by the end of 2012. Why the rush? That's when new versions of many applications are expected to no longer support XP, and a number of independent software vendors are likely to eliminate support for the dated operating system.

Watch out: by April 2014, even Microsoft will no longer support XP. At that point, you'll no longer receive Microsoft patches and updates to address new vulnerabilities, so there's a risk of leaving your system open to security breaches.

For the estimated 50% of enterprise users running Windows XP with service pack 2 (SP2) instead of SP3, time has already run out. Support for SP2 ended this summer.

Changeover: where to start
There are two main possibilities when it comes to implementation:

  • Attrition: migrate to Windows 7 as new PCs are acquired and older XP machines are phased out.
  • Managed phase-in: migrate to Windows 7 in stages, across the board (new and existing PCs).

When considering your options and mapping out your transition timeline, ask yourself:

  • What key software does my business depend on to operate? How long will the associated vendor support my XP environment? Is this software compatible with Windows 7? (If application compatibility is an issue, you might consider extending the life of XP with SP3 while you work out the details of migrating to Windows 7.)
  • What is the price of running and supporting multiple versions of Windows within my organisation, and how can I minimise these costs?
  • What is my organisation's per-PC cost of upgrading from XP to Windows 7, including licensing and any necessary hardware and software replacements? (Gartner estimates migration costs at $1,035-$1,930.)
  • Does my organisation have original CDs and licence details for all of its software? What about access to OEM drivers and updates? (Upgrading to Windows 7 requires that each PC be wiped and all applications re-installed.)

The reality is that most businesses need 12-18 months just to test and pilot Windows 7 before beginning roll-out. Given the timeline outlined above and the typical PC refresh rate in many organisations (3-5 years, and even longer when budgets are tight), a managed phase-in is really the only viable option for most.

Edwige Cottigny

Within the digital team of Orange Business Services, I lead content and special projects.