Businesses should completely get rid of Windows XP by the end of 2012, Gartner says.
About 80% of Gartner clients skipped Windows Vista, and are relying mainly on the aging Windows XP, the research firm says.
Windows 8 is "nowhere in sight," so "most organizations should be planning and testing Windows 7 this year," Gartner says.
Microsoft has pledged to support XP until April 2014, seemingly giving businesses a long lead time to migrate to a newer operating system. However, by 2012 the new versions of many applications will not support XP, and various independent software vendors will start eliminating XP support, Gartner says.
Planning, testing and piloting a new operating system takes 12 to 18 months for most companies, so businesses should start testing Windows 7 this year.
"Most organizations should try to eliminate Windows XP by the end of 2012," Gartner says.
One-quarter of respondents to a CDW customer survey earlier this year were already planning to move to Windows 7 within 12 months. But half of the 618 respondents had no plans to migrate and some said they would wait until Microsoft no longer supports their current operating system before switching.
Still, the early signs for Windows 7 are better than for Windows Vista, which was widely panned by customers.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently admitted that Vista "was just not executed well," but seems optimistic about Windows 7, urging businesses to upgrade now.
Home users are already moving off of Windows XP, and if businesses don't do the same "most people will ask their boss why the heck they don't have the stuff they have at home," Ballmer said more than a year ago.
Although Microsoft has struggled in some areas, and lost the title of "world's most valuable tech firm" Apple, Windows 7 could end up being a big success. Already, positive reviews of the new operating system have helped Microsoft dramatically improve its customer satisfaction scores, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index survey.
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