Windows 7: A chance for IT to be the heroes

OK, this is getting a little confusing. Gavriella Schuster over at the Windows Business blog is telling customers:

“We know some of our customers are considering waiting for Windows 7 instead of deploying Windows Vista today. We want these customers to understand the following considerations, so they are not surprised later on: You may find your company in situations where applications are no longer supported on Windows XP and not yet supported on Windows 7. You will want to take time to evaluate Windows 7 just as you evaluate any new operating system for your environment prior to deployment (see deployment realities above). As Windows 7 is planned to be released in about three years after Windows Vista, the total period that many customers will likely be waiting prior to deploying Windows 7 in their environment will likely be in the range of five years after Windows Vista release.”

So what’s the story here? I’m more than a little confused. What exactly are these apps that are no longer supported on Windows XP and not yet supported on Windows 7, and how does going to Vista help in that scenario? Is it really good advice for Microsoft to recommend a costly double migration from XP to Vista and then Vista to Windows 7 as opposed to testing the merits of Windows 7 and then making the migration decision? I know Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) doesn’t want the market frozen while users wait for Windows 7. It would love to sell Vista licenses today (or at least get IT folks to deploy the Vista licenses they’ve acquired), but this advice seems contrary to the operating system compatibility story that Microsoft has been telling.

The reality is that Windows 7 is likely to go Gold Master later this spring (after all, it’s really an update to Vista). Assuming Microsoft meets that timetable, IT departments have an unprecedented opportunity. By skipping Vista altogether, they can use the interim to get their houses in order in preparation for Windows 7. They’d be IT heroes who were smart enough to skip a costly Vista migration while they could still get life out of XP. For this to happen, what does IT need to do now?

Clean house. Get rid of anything that doesn’t work on Vista. If it won’t run on Vista, there’s a good chance it won’t run on Windows 7, either. Time to phase out those older apps and think about new deployments.

Get organized. A managed PC environment is much easier to support than an unmanaged one. Get there, and your administrative tasks will become easier, your support costs will be dramatically lower, and your change process for upgrades will allow smooth transitions — when you’re ready to make the change, not when Microsoft tells you it’s time to move.

Upgrade at your own speed, but upgrade. This one’s painful, but it’s time to get off all older operating systems like Windows 95, 98 and 2000. You don’t need to do this all at once, and a phased migration that gets you onto Windows 7 as part of normal machine replacements will serve you well. Machines that are XP-capable will have mixed results under Windows 7, so it’s important to use that beta for testing. Focus your efforts on XP Service Pack 3 today and Windows 7 when it’s released.

Upgrading doesn’t necessarily mean Windows either, despite Windows 7’s attractiveness. The next two years are a good time to evaluate where in your organization alternative operating systems might be appropriate. While Linux still has a long way to go at the desktop, it’s getting better and is appropriate under certain circumstances. Mac OS X is a reliable Unix-based alternative that can meet a number of business computing needs without creating an overly burdensome drain on support resources.

Every IT department faces two consistent challenges: to stay off the obituary pages and every so often to get in the headlines. The launch of Windows 7 is a real opportunity to make some positive headlines. As long as you don’t take Microsoft’s advice too seriously.

Michael Gartenberg is vice president of strategy and analysis at Interpret LLC. His weblog can be found at Contact him at [email protected].

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