Time’s a-wastin’ for Windows 7 upgrade decision

A memo on Microsoft’s TechNet Web site indicates the software maker is eyeing May for a Windows 7 release candidate rollout – leading to predictions the new operating system will likely be out sometime in September.

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Meanwhile, Microsoft says it will make Windows 7 available for trial by companies next month at its Tech Ed conference in Los Angeles.

“Windows 7 Bring Your Own Apps Lab” will allow participants up to 75 minutes of free time with the new operating system, to test if their business applications are compatible with the incoming Vista replacement.

Seventy-five minutes seems hardly adequate to thoroughly test application compatibility.

If anything the event demonstrates that the window for reviewing and selecting a suitable Windows upgrade options is quickly getting smaller, say Canadian technology experts.

Nagging questions for many businesses are:
Do I stick with Windows XP, which Microsoft is slowly killing, and vendors keep resuscitating? Should I switch to the much derided Vista as a bridge to Windows 7? Or is it better to wait and then jump to Windows 7 the moment it arrives?

What ever your inclination, experts say, you have to make up your mind now.

“Every month that goes by means you lose your flexibility,” says Steve Kleyhans, Caledon, Ont-based research vice-president for analyst and research firm Gartner Inc.

Whether you’re an XP lover or a Vista fan, the key is to allow your IT or operations staff enough time to test Windows 7 and determine compatibility issues, he said.

He suggests that companies give themselves up 18 months to determine operations compatibility with any new operating system.

That breaks down to approximately six to nine months of engineering and applications testing and followed by another six to nine month of pilot testing with actual users.

“You don’t want to be stuck with an operating system that’s not supported or to be scrambling at the last moment to train your staff on a new one.”

But for many XP users breaking up a rewarding relationship might be easier said than done.

Seventy-two per cent of 1,100 IT professionals polled by Dimensional Research Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif. said they are concerned about the cost and overhead charges of migrating to Windows 7.

They said they would prefer to support the eight-year-old Windows XP.

Only 28 per cent of the respondents said they were more worried about holding onto XP than migrating to Windows 7.

Windows XP is clearly the most popular Microsoft OS.

A report by market research firm IDC estimates that both XP Home and Pro versions had an installed base of 538 million copies in 2006.

Microsoft’s support for XP ends in April 2014, but users need to be on the latest service pack within one year of it release for continued support. Some XP, Vista PCs are also eligible for free Windows 7 upgrades.

While there are also numerous ways for users to cling on to Windows XP forever, this should not lull users into complacency, according to Kleyhans.

For instance, while Microsoft support might still be available for at least five more years it could become harder to locate new hardware and applications that run on XP once Windows 7 is out.

Kleyhans provides some pros and cons concerning your possible choices:

Sticking with XP – It’s a very capable OS. Countless organizations find it more than adequate for their needs. You can stave off migration expenses until the support deadline of April 2014 or even longer if Microsoft is swayed once more to dole out another lifeline.

As time goes by, you might find it harder to find compatible applications and hardware. You may be shortchanging your users with regards to providing adequate time prepare and train for a new OS.

Leaping to Windows 7 – Reviews on this Vista replacement has been almost glowing overall. It’s much more stable, more user-friendly and not a memory hog. Which means it’s more likely to get widespread hardware and software vendor support right off the bat.

But you have to play your cards right. There could still be some kinks that need to be worked out of the software. Also, for many organizations this uncertainty-fraught economic environment might not be the perfect time to be thinking about migration expenses.

Going with Vista – After all that’s been said and done why would anyone in their right mind, consider Vista? The Texas Senate has even banned government agencies from upgrading to Vista.

However, the Vista version available now is much better from the one pilloried a few years back, says Kleyhans. “The bad rap has stuck, but the OS is definitely better now.” The software is now also very well supported by hardware and software vendors.

Of course, if you buy Vista now it’s bound to be an old OS within the next few months. And it’s not exactly a classic in the good sense of the word.

Bridging the gap

One Canadian company, however, believes it has gained from its decision to move to Vista, even with Windows 7 just over the horizon.

Axcan Phrama Inc., the Mont Saint Hillarie, Que-based pharmaceutical manufacturer, rolled out Vista in September 2007 as part of move to consolidate its computing environment.

The site-by-site deployment across its global locations — spanning North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Oceana, Africa and the Middle East — took until June of last year.

“Management and users are very pleased with the OS,” says Jean Morin, senior director of IT solutions for Axcan Pharma.

He said Vista works well with existing hardware and applications, and that users have adapted well to the OS.

The decision to move to Vista was prompted by the need to get Axcan’s dispersed workforce under one system.

Before the rollout, the firm’s facilities in France were using Windows XP and Office 2003 while those in Canada were also on XP, but stuck with Office 2000.

Morin said one of the main benefits of moving to Vista is improved document management capability.

“Vista boosted the performance of our Sharepoint Server 2007 and that elevated out document management capability,” the IT director said.

He admitted while considering Vista, they had heard of Microsoft’s plans to develop a replacement for the OS. “But we never expected it to come out this soon.”

Did he feel shortchanged?

Morin ins’t sure exactly how the purchasing decision would have gone were there definite knowledge of the upcoming Windows 7 release. “But we don’t think we made a mistake. We’re happy with Vista as it is.”

Will Axcan Pharma switch to Windows 7 when it arrives?

“Business need is the main driver for our technology refresh,” he said. “We don’t just change the OS because there’s a new one out.”  

The company’s refresh cycle is around three to four years. Axcan will probably keep Vista until 2012.

For now the company is seeing Vista as a bridge to their Windows 7 adoption.

This is a good strategy for companies not yet prepared to purchase Windows 7, says Elliot Katz, senior product manager for Windows client at Microsoft Canada in Mississauga, Ont.

“Vista is a very good proxy if you don’t want to migrate right away to Windows 7 when the OS comes out.”  

While Windows 7 is a definite improvement over Vista, the two operating systems share enough look and feel, that the older OS would be ideal to ease users into Windows 7, Katz said.

Organizations that prefer to wait for developers to smooth out the creases on Windows 7 can also use Vista as a bridge OS since improvements of the older software has made it a more stable product, he said.

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