In recent conversations with IT departments of all shapes and sizes, many have stated that they see Windows 7 as the last major upgrade they plan for their desktop estates. This is a pretty bold statement, considering Windows 8 has been out for six months and its successors are already lining-up. Nonetheless, we see organizations digging their heels in and making plans to stick with Windows 7 for a long, long time. Why?
- Migration between major Windows versions has historically been expensive. The major upgrades from Windows 95/98 to Windows XP, then XP to Windows 7 both required hardware upgrades. However, Windows 8 is actually quite happy with the same CPU/RAM resources that give a good Windows 7 experience, although you will need new hardware if you want to use the touch screen interface or use your laptop as a tablet.
- Migration between Windows versions takes time. For an enterprise it takes 12-18 months to plan a major Windows migration, and a further 2+ years to complete it. This is primarily because of application compatibility, especially when moving between operating system versions with major architectural differences like Windows XP and Windows 7. Again, this problem is significantly reduced with Windows 8 which has few significant underlying changes from its predecessor Windows 7 in the “desktop” interface.
- Windows XP is hard to remove. While the end of Windows XP support is slated for April 2014, many are still struggling to eliminate the 40% or so of Windows desktops in the enterprise still running XP. They’ve known about the April 8th deadline for a long time, but that doesn’t help with applications and users that are welded to XP. The idea of another major Windows update in the foreseeable future is laughable to these organizations.
Of course, we should remember that Microsoft has already announced the end-of-support plans for Windows 7. That’s right folks, “mainstream” support is already scheduled to end on January 12, 2015, and that’s assuming you have Service Pack 1 installed, because support for the original “RTM” version of Windows 7 will no longer be supported as of April 9th this year – yes, 2013! However, extended support including hotfixes and security updates will continue for Windows 7 (with latest service pack) until 2020, and those dates could get extended. Think back to 2007. Windows Vista was a nightmare and things were tough for Microsoft. With commercial organizations reluctant to adopt Vista they extended the life of Windows XP at least three times: September 2007, again in April 2008, and then once more in June 2009. That said they are very likely to continue to issue hotfixes for critical security flaws for Windows XP, even after April 2014.
Back to our initial question, is Windows 7 really the last enterprise migration upgrade? Well, there are reasons why it might be a “yes” and others why it might be a “no”.
Why Windows 7 Isn’t Going Anywhere, Anytime Soon:
- Many organizations still depend on legacy 16-bit Windows applications. (Heck, I met with a well-known restaurant chain that was still dependent on a 16-bit DOS app only 2 years ago). Windows 7 x86 (32-bit) runs many of these applications just fine. Future versions of Windows will gradually reduce compatibility with legacy appslications.
- Windows 7 x64 will support all the RAM that applications are likely to need for at least the next 20 years. The x86 32-bit architecture arrived with the 386 in 1985 and was limited to 4GB RAM in theory, but 3GB in practice. This was considered ample for 99% of users until at least 2005, so expecting 30 years from x64 is not unreasonable. An investment in Windows 7 should last a long time.
- Relatively little user retraining is needed for Windows XP users when moving to Windows 7. With Window 8 the start menu has gone and the whole new “Metro” or “Start page” interface is very unsettling for entrenched workers.
- The hardware driver model and underlying “plumbing” have not changed significantly between Windows 7 and 8. In other words, don’t expect a wave of “Windows 8 only” hardware any time soon, undermining investment in Windows 7.
- IP v6 will eventually become mainstream, and Windows 7 handles it just fine.
Why Windows 7 Will Eventually Have To Go:
- ARM. Unless Intel can work a major miracle, ARM processors and SoCs will continue to rewrite the rules on power consumption and CPU power for computing devices. Windows 7 does not have an ARM version.
- Touch. If touching the screen and gestures become as mandatory for the next generation of workers as the mouse was for my generation, then Windows 8 will be essential.
- Tablets. New form factors and the increasing usability of tablets could mean that (in the long run) the days of the PC are numbered. Windows 7 on a tablet UI is uncomfortable, which is why Windows 8 has such a radically altered UI.
All in all, it is a little premature to refer to Windows 7 as the last Windows upgrade for the enterprise. If organizations are stalling migrations in hopes of the Windows demise then they are ignoring the number of Windows applications in the world – but then again, we covered that in a previous blog post.
Do you think Windows 7 will be your last enterprise migration? If so, why?