Opinion: Windows 7, FUD and slow news days

Did you know that Windows 7 is a flop already? That's the conclusion drawn by "reporters" the world over, interpreting, interpolating and extrapolating magical and mythical information from a survey by ScriptLogic Corp.

Computerworld columnist Jeff Ello
Jeff Ello

Take this question and its results:

Which below represents the most accurate statement about your plans to deploy Windows 7?

We have no current plans to deploy Windows 7: 59.3%

We will likely deploy Windows 7 by the end of 2010: 34.0%

We plan on deploying Windows 7 by the end of 2009: 5.4%

We have already deployed Windows 7: 1.4%

Seems like a reasonable question, but any middle schooler can tell you that eWeek's headline "Microsoft Windows 7 Will be Skipped by 6 in 10 Companies, Says Survey" is at best an illogical conclusion, at worst a flat-out lie, and at minimum poor reporting. Reuters mirrored that headline, while Infopackets went for direct sensationalism with "Win7 Doomed, Says ScriptLogic Survey." Of course, the Mac and Linux Web sites are only too happy to jump on the train. And yes, even Computerworld ran with the headline "Survey: 6 in 10 companies to skip Windows 7."

TopNews said, "60% of companies giving Windows 7 a miss!" If you can't be bothered to do the research, use an exclamation mark!

ChannelRegister even mentioned that "the data runs counter to an apparently emerging industry wisdom that Microsoft's next client will be a relative shoo-in." I'm not sure what that assertion was based on, but I do think that if you find data running contrary to belief, you might examine the data with a little more scrutiny and report it appropriately.

It happens every day in the media, sometimes as part of an honest mistake, but often not. Consider the source credibility for the above stories. A company that is trying to sell a product dedicated to making it easier to deploy Windows 7 commissions a survey that explains how hesitant companies are to deploy Windows 7. But hey, "thar be numbers in them thar PDFs"... so that makes it credible, right? That's roughly what goes into making a headline on a slow news day.

Even worse are the news outlets that pick up an already botched story and simply rewrite it so they can share a bit in the click-fest. Plagiarizing poor reporting really might be the lowest form of life in the news business.

Back to the survey behind all those news stories:

"What is your biggest barrier to deploying Windows 7?"

In the eWeek article, this became, "When asked for their reasons behind non-adoption...." Does the question ask why respondents aren't adopting Windows 7? No. It simply asks what the biggest barrier is not the same thing. In fact, none of the questions in the survey asked whether the respondents had decided not to adopt Windows 7.

In any event, nearly 43% of those answering the actual question (the biggest barrier to deploying Windows 7) cited a lack of time and resources. You'd be amazed how many news stories reported this by saying things like "Nearly 43 per cent of the IT administrators who said they'd skip Windows 7 cited 'lack of time and resources' as the reason." But had any of them actually said they were going to skip Windows 7? If they did, you can't tell from the questions that were asked.

Another intriguing data item is the 34.8% who said that they have skipped upgrades or delayed purchases as a response to the question, "How has your department saved the most money?" Granted, we are living in tough economic times, but would the answer to that question be any different when we're living high on the hog? Companies have always had a tendency to skip a generation with many kinds of software as a cost- and time-saving mechanism.

But ScriptLogic got crafty here. Of the 1,100 respondents, 42.7% cited a lack of time and resources as the biggest barrier to Windows 7 deployment. And of that group, 37.3% said that they skip upgrades and delay purchases to save the most money. The conflation that the media ran with is that six in 10 companies are going to skip Windows 7, and mostly because of a lack of time and resources -- as though this were a challenge Windows 7 has to deal with and the rest of the tech sector doesn't.

The problem with that interpretation is that 34.8% of all respondents said they skip upgrades and delay deployments to save money. So, regardless of whether time and resources is the biggest barrier to Windows 7, or whether a company is currently planning to deploy Windows 7, about 35% to 37% of companies still say skipping upgrades of all kinds and delaying purchases of all kinds has saved them the most money.

If there is any statistically valid conclusion that can be made from the ScriptLogic survey, it is that there is no correlation between the act of skipping upgrades as a general practice and the hardships of time and resources related to Windows 7 deployment, which is what ScriptLogic, and most of the articles on this topic, would have you incorrectly believe.

In the end, TMCNET gets the award for "craporting" by actually supporting its article with quotes from ScriptLogic that conveniently conflate the question with a sales pitch:

"This survey highlights the impact the economy has had on IT, with thirty five percent of respondents saying they've saved money by skipping upgrades and delaying purchases," said Nick Cavalancia, vice president of Windows management at ScriptLogic. "This is likely a reason why IT administrators will put off a Windows 7 migration. ScriptLogic continues to upgrade and enhance our Desktop Authority product line. So, when our customer base is ready to deploy Windows 7, we will have the solutions available to simplify the process."

That about sums up the relevance of the survey and the subsequent articles about it. I have to hand it to ScriptLogic, though; it managed to turn most of the blogosphere into a ScriptLogic advertising engine for a day.

Stay classy, bloggers.

And by the way, here's a little unpaid-for opinion for what it's worth. I am not Microsoft's greatest fan, but as someone who has been doing this stuff for over half my life, skipped Vista without any regrets, but conducted an in-depth review of Windows 7 for deployment in my organization, I personally can't wait to replace XP with Windows 7. I can at least confirm that in my organization, it will save a lot of time and personnel resources over supporting XP. If your organization is primarily Windows-based and your director or CIO puts a "6 in 10 skipping Win 7" article in front of you as some sort of bolstering argument for not at least doing a proper shakedown of Windows 7, arm yourself with the facts.

Jeff Ello is a hybrid veteran of the IT and CG industries, currently managing IT for the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University. He can be contacted at jello@techoped.com.

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