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Windows 7 vs. Windows 8

By Aaron Suzuki, CEO of Prowess, special to Network World
August 15, 2011 02:50 PM ET

Network World - This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

With Windows XP support slated to end in less than 1,000 days and Windows 8 release rumors swirling, companies are left with several questions. What operating system (OS) should I deploy? Is it worth upgrading now? And perhaps most important, how can I make that upgrade as seamless as possible?

Most organizations disregard FUD about Windows end of life and are comfortable plugging along according to their own timetable. But companies that six to eight months ago were planning an upgrade to Windows 7 now have to be wondering about holding off for Windows 8.

MICROSOFT: Buy Windows 7 today, keep same PC for Windows 8 upgrade

There are many factors to consider before migrating to a new OS, but first let's look at why so many companies have chosen to stick with XP, which is more than 10 years old. According to a recent Forrester report, as of March 2011, Windows 7 is in use on only 20% of enterprise desktops while Windows XP is on 60%. So what's the hold up?

* Applications. Application compatibility has been a problem since Windows Vista started to be discussed, much less released. Windows 7 uses the same core OS foundation and therefore has the same challenges as Vista from an application compatibility perspective. The challenge is that many people skipped Windows Vista, and in so doing, also skipped the IT due diligence to see what needs to be done to get the full suite of a given organization's applications in an operable state on the new platform. Don't think for a second that Windows 8 will have some kind of magical XP application compatibility solution.

* Internet Explorer compatibility. Developers probably thought that by making a Web application, they would avoid OS-related platform dependencies. However, many Web applications were developed for IE6 and are now facing all kinds of compatibility issues with IE8. When it comes to getting these applications to run, you're still left with two options:

a. Wait for an upgrade, whether you write it yourself or have a vendor on the hook.

b. Perform some intense IT acrobatics to get an instance of IE6 accessible to your Windows 7 users.

Most organizations opt for the former and just stay on Windows XP. The latter usually involves some form of application virtualization or desktop virtualization. Both are expensive, add management overhead and require more hardware resources.

* Hardware. If you have XP workstations that are 5 years old, it is probably a bit optimistic to think they're going to run Windows 7. Fortunately, most organizations are prepared to trade up. Hardware is less of something to worry much about, but it is something to approach intelligently. You want to think both in terms of immediate needs (consider how you are deploying and managing the systems) and future needs (does your future include any aggressive new technology like desktop virtualization?).

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