Despite Microsoft’s warnings, many Canadian firms skipping Vista entirely

If anyone can be described as a Windows XP diehard it’s Bill Lake, managing director of Lakeway Associates at IT systems integrator based in Vancouver.

Lake’s small company looks after about 100 computers in 20 different offices. There’s one thing he knows about those computers for sure –XP is the operating system (OS) they’ll be running in the foreseeable future.

“I’m proud to say they all run WinXP with no Vista systems in the lot. And there are no requests from my clients to implement Windows 7 and no push from me either.”

After all, XP is now bug free and there’s no driver problems, he reasons. Why fix what’s not broke?

Small Microsoft shops such as Lakeway might get away with biding their time on making an operating system transition. But larger enterprises that have volume licencing agreements with the Redmond-based software giant must start planning a transition strategy now, according to consulting firm Gartner Inc.

Running an XP environment is quickly going out of style.

“Our feeling is most companies are not sure about what to do with Windows Vista and Windows 7,”says Steve Kleynhans, the vice-president of Gartner. “They’re just going to stick with Windows XP and put the decision off. But if you don’t plan right now, a lot of decisions are going to be made for you.”

It’s no secret that Windows Vista never grabbed much of the corporate market share. Whatever the reasons for a slow adoption, the statistics tell the story. Only about 10 per cent of corporate desktops in North America run Vista, and that’s higher than the rest of the world, Kleynhans says.

“It hasn’t made a significant dent yet,” he adds. “It’s behind what we thought, but not dramatically behind what we thought.”

2009 may well have been the year that many large companies finally made the move to Vista. But with the intervention of a disastrous recession and the impending release of Windows 7 by Microsoft, the waters have become muddied.

“Microsoft has started beating the drum for Windows 7, so a lot of companies are saying they’ll just skip Vista,” Kleynhans says. “That may be the right decision. But don’t put off that decision – take the reins today and decide on a strategy.”

Microsoft will cut support for XP in April 2014.

That might seem like plenty of time to get ready, but most large corporations can take up to 18 months poking and prodding a new OS before they’re even ready for deployment.

Then it can take as long as three years to roll it out to all the desktops used in the company.

Microsoft is recommending that companies transition from XP to Vista well before that happens.

“The belief is that many mission critical applications most organizations use will stop being updated in the 2012 timeframe,” say Elliot Katz, the senior product manager of Windows client for Microsoft Canada. “People who haven’t started to deploy or plan should realize it’s getting quite late in the game to start your planning.”

Also, don’t skip Vista, he adds.

“We don’t think that’s the right thing to do. By skipping one version of an operating system, you’re going to lose application support. If you move too slowly, you’ll lose your OS support.”

Gartner has a different view of the situation.

About half of enterprises will likely pull off a quick migration from Windows XP straight to Windows 7, Kleynhans says. In fact, it is probably your best bet if your company hasn’t spent any time kicking the tires of Vista. But those companies have to get moving quickly and start testing the Windows 7 beta release candidate before it is too late.

“Then you better be able to do your migration relatively quickly,” the analyst says. “You need a good confidence level that you can upgrade all of your PCs.”

Moving to Vista before a Windows 7 transition does have its advantages. Vista can serve as a proxy for Windows 7, Kleynhans says, if your applications works in Vista then it will probably work in Windows 7. If it doesn’t work – then it won’t work in the new OS either.

Users who move from Vista to Windows 7 will also be able to use the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Package (MDOP) to ease the transition, Katz says. The package provides tools that help you deploy the new OS and company applications in the new environment. It also provides virtualization capabilities so the two different OSes can run in walled-off environments.

Jude Silveira is a system administrator with Talent Technologies Inc. in Vancouver. He has performed migrations to Windows 7 from both a Windows XP and a Windows Vista environment, and says that both are doable, but the transition from XP takes longer because there is no upgrade option offered by Microsoft.

“It took me about 45 minutes to backup all my applications and then 20 minutes to move everything back,” he says. “I’d like to see it a bit quicker than that.”

A Vista upgrade to Windows 7 only took about 17 minutes in all before he was finished. But his company bosses decided long ago they wouldn’t update to Vista.

“There were too many annoying messages,” he says. “I tried to convince my bosses you could turn those off, but it wasn’t something they were willing to go for.”

For IT systems integrator Lake, similar feelings persist about Windows 7.

“I hear that Windows 7 is a Vista core with a simplified front-end,” he says. “For God’s sake what would make me want to move to that? Double or triple the CPU requirements, double or triple the RAM requirements, and exactly for what?”

Windows 7 is projected to become a major presence in corporate environments by 2011, according to Gartner.

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