Windows 7 is on a (slow) roll

Enterprise IT wants Windows 7. It's just not in a hurry to get it.

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Jim Thomas, director of IT operations at Pella Corp., expected to be wrapping up his Windows 7 deployment by now. The window and door maker, an early adopter of Microsoft's latest Windows PC operating system, began deployment in February 2009, just four months after the product shipped. Plans called for half of Pella's 5,000 desktop and laptop users to transition by the end of 2010, with the rest following by this December.

"We are not going to get there," Thomas concedes. Today, Pella has 1,800 machines running Windows 7. The rest remain on Windows XP, which celebrated its 10th birthday in August.

Jim Thomas
Jim Thomas, IT director at Pella, says the economy has done a number on his Windows 7 plans. Less than half of the company's desktops have implemented the new operating system.

Pella has plenty of company. Nearly two years after Windows 7 was released in October 2009, users in most enterprises remain on Windows XP, this despite Microsoft's ending mainstream support for XP over two years ago. (Most skipped Vista, XP's unpopular successor.)

In a September survey of Computerworld readers, 88% of respondents said they have begun or are planning a move to Windows 7. Of those who said they have already moved to Windows 7, or will, some 82% say their organizations are still running XP -- down from 93% in our January 2010 survey -- and 73% say they're running Windows 7.

But 55% of those still running XP expect to fully transition to Windows 7 by the end of 2012, and 34% said they would transition some time before Microsoft ends extended support for XP in April, 2014. And 11% said they would continue to run XP after that date. (During extended support, no-charge incident support ends, warranty claims won't be honored and design changes and feature requests aren't available.)

According to Microsoft, about one in four enterprise machines runs Windows 7 today. Erwin Visser, senior director of the Microsoft Client Commercial Group, says enterprise adoption is growing fast. But as Computerworld's survey shows, many large IT organizations are taking their time.

Over what period of time will your organization complete the transition to Windows 7?

We are finished now - 19%
Within the next few months - 10%
6 to 12 months - 20%
12 to 18 months - 18%
18 to 24 months - 13%
24 to 36 months - 11%

Source: Computerworld online survey; 210 respondents

Most mid-sized and large organizations are at least planning for the migration, says Gartner Inc. analyst Michael Silver, and many mainstream deployments got under way either late last year or in the first half of this year.

Organizations that aren't well into testing at this point are late to the party, he says, and may face hardware and software compatibility issues as third party software and hardware support for XP phases out over the next 2-plus years. "They are the ones that will be in danger when a new app comes in that requires Windows 7, or when new machines with XP drivers start to dry up."

Unfortunately, says Silver, "There are a decent number of late organizations."

A new mindset

IT executives cite several reasons for the foot-dragging. At Pella, it's the economy. "The housing industry has not recovered [so] we have tightened down our investments," Thomas says. PC refresh cycles, which used to rotate in new machines every 3 1/2 years, have been extended out to about 5 years -- which in turn extends the timeline for Windows 7's rollout. Pella doesn't expect to see a rebound in the housing market this year - or in 2012, for that matter. But Thomas says they won't run their machines into the ground either. "I have a feeling that [the Windows 7 migration] will drag out until the end of 2012," he says -- but not beyond.

Deployment delays due to the economy aren't just limited to businesses in the housing sector. Nearly one quarter of Computerworld's survey respondents who say they have started or plan to move to Windows 7 reported that the slow economy has interfered with their usual migration schedules.

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