Deja vu all over again: Windows 7 will be the new XP

Start planning now for booting Windows 7 out of the enterprise, urge analysts

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The major problem for organizations will remain application compatibility, and as a corollary, regulatory requirements related to the applications.

"Application compatibility and support will continue to be the biggest issue for migrations to new versions of Windows," Gartner said. Some organizations, particularly government agencies and those with compliance requirements -- financial firms, for instance -- can only run applications after the vendor officially supports them on a new version of Windows, or after the applications have been validated for the new OS. That process can take as long as 18 months after Microsoft ships that new edition.

"Even if your applications all work, and a migration is flawless, that doesn't mean that ISVs [independent software vendors] will support it running on, say, Threshold, or provide that support quickly," said Silver. "It doesn't mean that organizations subject to federal regulations are going to be able to validate those applications.

"Microsoft has not grasped that many organizations have a need for longer-term stability," Silver added, referring to the Redmond, Wash. company's faster tempo of OS upgrades. He blamed enterprises' reluctance to adopt Windows 8 partly on that pace; they saw Microsoft ship Windows 8.1 12 months after the original, then require those customers to apply the Windows 8.1 Update 1 less than 10 months later.

Which brought Silver to Microsoft, and what it could to ease enterprise migration pain.

"Microsoft has to come to terms that organizations and consumers are different," said Silver, repeating a call he's made for years that Microsoft has ignored. "In fact, there are at least a couple of different kinds of organizations."

If Microsoft wanted to help out its biggest, most valuable customers -- commercial firms and government agencies -- it would separate Windows into two buckets, one for consumers, the other for everyone else, and apply different release tempos for each. Consumers, as Silver and every other analyst who follows Microsoft has said, benefit from frequent OS updates, a pace Silver has characterized as "like a phone OS."

But large organizations not only do not benefit from the faster cadence, it puts them in a bind.

And there are clues that Microsoft will make it worse for them. "Another reason for Microsoft to do something different is the rumors of free upgrades for Windows," Silver said of the chatter that Threshold will be offered to customers, likely consumers only, free of charge. That's what Apple did last year for all its OS X customers.

"If it makes [Threshold] free, and upgrading as easy as on a phone, Microsoft could reduce the lifecycle for consumers," Silver said. "But it still needs a long-term solution for organizations."

Until Microsoft separates consumer from commercial, the latter will continue to skip one or more iterations of Windows, their only real answer to the high costs and disruption of upgrading.

For Windows 7, that means organizations will go through the same machinations they did with XP. Or maybe even balk at dumping Windows 7 at the same pace as the venerable Windows XP, making things worse.

"[A repeat of Windows XP] is certainly likely to happen," said Silver. "One of the big differences that's been under-considered is that because Vista took five years to come out [after XP], there were eight years between XP and Windows 7. So Windows XP felt pretty old.

"But there will be only six years between Windows 7 and Threshold, so Windows 7 won't feel that old to people," Silver said. In other words, don't be surprised if organizations hold onto Windows 7 with a death grip, even as 2020 approaches.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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