Move to Windows 7 by 2012, experts advise businesses

As Microsoft Corp. prepares to finally pull the plug of Windows XP sales, industry insiders say Canadian and American businesses may be facing a shortage of Windows 7 migration experts.

It’s not a Y2K-style crisis, but with only a four-year window until Microsoft ends support for Windows XP, the need to migrate from XP to Windows 7 “will create an extra budgetary and resource burden on companies from 2011 to 2012,” according to recent report by Gartner Inc.

A Canadian technology analyst however was quick to ease users’ fears by saying: “The sky is not exactly falling.”

“Anytime you have a mass migration like this, there’s bound to be some shortage of experienced technicians, but I think Gartner is pointing to the hardships facing Fortune 1000 companies with large deployments,” said Mark Tauschek, director of research at Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.

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“SMBs (small and medium sized businesses) that drag their heels may experience a shortage within the next two years, but a large number of businesses will still be able to migrate to Windows 7 before the deadline,” he said. Tauschek expects much of these Windows 7 migration will take place as part of normal hardware refresh.

Goodbye XP

Microsoft has extended the sale and support for its beloved operating system several times in the past. The OS actually had some sort of resurgence when netbooks came into vogue. But the software company said it is finally killing XP sales in Oct. 22 this year. Support for XP will end in Apr. 8, 2014.
Gartner analyst Steve Kleynhans said IT shops should line up Windows 7 contractors early.

“Begin talks with suppliers now about putting in place contracts that can deliver flexible levels of resources at a fixed rate,” he advised.
The report said IT shops have three migration options: accelerate the replacement of desktop PCs with Windows 7 machines, upgrade the operating systems on existing machines, or move some workers to hosted virtual desktops.

“Most organizations will need to find extra funds or redirect budgets away from other projects to complete the Windows migration on time,” the Gartner report concluded.

Gap between readiness and willingness

For many businesses, there appears to be a gap between the willingness to migrate and the readiness to adopt the new Windows OS, according to Dean Williams, senior division manager for Softchoice Corp. a Toronto-based IT services firm. “Businesses want to know how to go about migration, what would it entail or what version of Windows 7 should they deploy.”

“There’s definitely a widespread interest on the topic Windows 7 migration among Canadian SMBs. This has been one of our busiest years,” he said. Some time in August, the company held an information session on the matter and of the 185 customers who showed up, more than 100 had signified their desire to upgrade before 2012.

Williams said there were basically four major areas of migration challenges that the typical business faces:

Hardware readiness – Will existing devices be able to accept Windows 7? Williams said Softchoice encountered this during the Vista migration mainly because not a lot of existing PCs then could handle the bloated OS. “A lot of laptops and PCs needed RAM and CPU upgrades to accommodate Vista. But now many businesses have new machines and Windows 7 has more limited demands on machines.”

Software compatibility – Businesses need to carryout compatibility tests to make sure that existing applications and software will work with Windows 7.

Ownership of Windows 7 – Many organizations are not sure how to go about acquiring the software and which version of the OS to deploy. Furthermore, Williams said, some businesses may not be aware that they already “own” Windows 7. “If your business is enrolled in Microsoft’s Enterprise Agreement Program and renewed each year you may be entitled to a new Windows 7 install.”

User Training – IT administrators or business operators need to ensure that employees are familiar with how to use Windows 7. “Users need to be aware of how to operate the new OS in relation to their everyday functions,” said Williams.

Don’t drag your feet

Williams said it took Softchoice from June to August this year to switch its more than 1,000 laptops and desktops from XP to Windows 7. “We estimate that clean install takes no more than 40 minutes per PC.”

Tauschek of Info-Tech says companies with up to 1,000 PC should not have any trouble meeting the Apr. 8, 2014 end of support deadline for XP. “If the company started a hardware and software refresh in 2010, even if the process took three to four years, they should still make it before the deadline.”

The analyst said organizations should have very little difficulty upgrading from XP to Windows 7 because Microsoft developed many tools to ease the migration.

“The key,” he said, “is to start migration by 2012 because by then you’ll start seeing XP support from app developers waning.”

Tauschek said that an Info-Tech survey of 231 businesses worldwide this year indicated that 79 per cent of the respondents intend to switch to Windows 7 by 2012.

About 54 per cent of the respondents cited application compatibility and testing as a major concern.

Why have many businesses kept their XP for so long?

“Simply because the OS works and they still have many apps that run on it,” said Tauschek.

(With files from Mitch Betts)

Nestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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