Opinion: The pros and cons of Windows 7 for business

If your users are on XP, the cons get a lot more weight.

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What's not

Gratuitous UI changes -- I love the Win 7 UI, but I have a lot of experience invested in the old Windows ways of doing things, and some of the changes just seem gratuitous and make no sense to me. Also annoying are on-screen UI targets that you have to hit with your cursor but that are so tiny they make you think that Microsoft is hiring a lot of young workers who have great eyesight and/or high-resolution monitors. And using Touch and fingers to navigate is somewhat of an exercise in frustration.

Performance -- All this goodness comes at a price. While most features are enabled to some degree on stock PCs, older machines might not be up to snuff. In my tests, Win 7 ran much better than Vista on older hardware, especially netbooks. Nonetheless, if you're coming off of XP and want to run the latest and greatest with all UI features enabled, you're going to need an upgrade.

Compatibility -- This is not a new issue, but users who skipped Vista (and they are legion) are going to have to deal for the first time in a long while with major backward-compatibility issues. In general, drivers and low-level utilities are worst hit, but all critical apps will need to be tested carefully to see what works and what's broken. Microsoft has created a virtual version of XP to help deal with older apps that won't run, but running that alongside your Win 7 installation is not a process for the fainthearted -- and it requires the care and fielding of two operating system clients on your machine, including dealing with malware and antivirus.

Migration -- Especially for IT organizations, this is the most critical issue. Moving from Vista to 7 isn't a big deal, if you're dealing with like versions or moving to Windows 7 Ultimate. Otherwise, you basically need to start from scratch, which means 1) backing up all your data and files to an external PC or HD, assuming you know where they are; 2) running the Win 7 install; 3) restoring all your data; and 4) re-installing all your applications (including finding install disks, downloaded versions and license keys).

And if your migration is from Windows XP, starting from scratch is the only choice. You can skip the Win 7 install if you buy new machines, but you'll still have to do all those other steps plus clean off all the vendor bloatware from the new computer.

This is Microsoft's one real misstep with Win 7. The company has addressed many of the shortcomings of Vista and therefore given XP users a compelling reason to finally upgrade. But then Microsoft makes the upgrade process so difficult as to be offputting. Given the number of XP machines out there, I wonder whether some user companies won't research their operating system alternatives before they commit to Windows 7.

Bottom line? There's a lot to like in Windows 7, but it's a lot easier to like it if you have an easy migration path, from Windows Vista. And given the level of hype we can expect from Microsoft for this launch, IT should make sure it's in charge of migration before users make the decision for them.

Michael Gartenberg is vice president of strategy and analysis at Interpret LLC. His weblog can be found at Gartenblog.net. Contact him at mgartenberg@optonline.net.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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