Microsoft's Windows 7 Means End of XP for Business, Says Report

Microsoft's Windows 7 will likely spell the end of Windows XP before the end of the aging operating system's extended support in April 2014, according to a new report issued by research firm Forrester. A majority of corporate PC decision-makers surveyed by Forrester intend to upgrade to Windows 7, although their timeframe for adoption varies widely. Despite data suggesting a Windows 7-fueled tech refresh is imminent, a few background factors could impede its spread in the enterprise.

The bell tolls for thee, XP.

Microsoft's Windows XP powers 80 percent of all commercial PCs, according to a new report by research firm Forrester, but the reign of the increasingly aged operating system is finally coming to an end. But XP's end will also not come quickly, even after the launch of Windows 7 on Oct. 22.

The factors contributing to the end of "Windows XP's corporate reign," writes Forrester's Benjamin Gray, include the need to refresh aging IT infrastructure, the upcoming end of Windows XP support, a squeeze in XP's availability, Windows 7 features that make an upgrade potentially useful, and Windows XP Mode removing the application-incompatibility barrier.

"When the recession hit, one of the very first levers that IT managers pulled to lower their IT costs was to extend the life of their existing desktops from four to five years and laptops from three to four years," Gray wrote. "Many more have held off on refreshing their systems even longer because they're looking to tie in their PC upgrade with their Windows 7 deployment."

Once Windows 7 enters general release, the ability of IT shops to deploy Windows XP will decline. Within 18 months of the release, or with the release of the first Windows 7 service pack, "the OEM licenses bundled with every PC will no longer carry downgrade rights to Windows XP." This means, essentially, that deploying XP within an enterprise or SMB (small and midsize business) will require either falling back on unused Windows XP volume licenses or purchasing volume license copies of XP along with new PCs. That adds an extra step to the procurement process that IT administrators may be unwilling to take.

Support for Windows XP is also ending, which further complicates matters for any IT shop wanting to hold onto the older operating system. Extended support for Windows XP Service Pack 3 will end in April 2014, with no updates or patches offered after that date.

Research firm Gartner, in an Oct. 13 presentation, came to similar conclusions as the Forrester report, suggesting in addition that a generalized lack of XP support from independent software vendors (ISVs) will start around the end of 2011, with a support "XP danger zone" developing at the end of 2012.

Gartner analysts Stephen Kleynhans and Michael Silver, in their presentation, suggested that IT shops could potentially find benefits in Windows 7's applications and features, including better UAC (User Account Control), BitLocker and BitLocker To Go, AppLocker, Direct Access, and an updated user interface.

Click here for more information on features of Windows 7The Forrester report cites many of those same features as potentially useful to the enterprise, adding that IT administrators need to prepare for their deployment:

"The top five Windows 7 features that IT professionals need to prepare for are: 1) DirectAccess, which promises to simplify connectivity for Mobile users; 2) BranchCache, which promises to improve branch access networking; 3) BitLocker and BitLocker To Go, which promise to secure the data on hard drives and removable USB thumb drives; 4) AppLocker, which promises to deliver more granular control of user applications, and 5) federated search, which promises to simplify access to data across local and remote resources."

The last hurdle to Windows 7 adoption, Gray believes, was potential application incompatibility with the new operating system; something he feels that Windows XP mode, which allows those applications to be run in a virtual XP-compatible environment, will solve that issue for administrators.

An accompanying Forrester survey of 653 PC decision-makers at North American and European enterprises and SMBs found that six out of 10 firms plan on moving directly to Windows 7, despite the lack of an easy upgrade path for those firms currently deploying XP. Some 32 percent of those firms using Windows Vista hadn't decided on their next step, while 2 percent planned to migrate to a non-Windows platform.

Click here for more information about open-source and Mac alternatives to Windows 7.Of the PC decision-makers surveyed:
  • 7 percent had "specific plans to deploy Windows 7 in the next 12 months or have already begun."
  • 10 percent had "specific plans to deploy Windows 7 but won't start in the next 12 months."
  • 49 percent "expect to migrate to Windows 7 but have no specific plans yet."
  • 27 percent reported not having looking at Windows 7 yet, "so we're not sure."
  • 1 percent planned "to skip Windows 7 and wait for the next release."

  • 1 percent planned "to migrate from Windows to a different platform."
  • 5 percent said "Don't know."

Forrester recommends that those still using Windows 2000 complete their migration before July 13, 2010, when extended support runs out. Those using Windows XP should plan the start of their deployment of Windows 7 within 12 to 18 months of the new operating system's release date. IT shops that deploy Windows Vista should "Consider starting your Windows 7 evaluation now with Windows 7 RTM," Gray wrote. "Plan for the eventual Windows 7 upgrade on new PCs initially with Windows 7 SP1."

The Forrester and Gartner reports' data seems to correlate with that of other surveys, all suggesting that the enterprise and SMBs will engage in a tech refresh that, although widespread, will be somewhat dampened in its speed by the effects of a moribund economy.

In an Oct. 12 report, Jefferies & Co. analyst Katherine Egbert suggested that a "Win7-inspired upgrade cycle can start in late 2010 and run through early 2013," with new hardware purchases expected to precede software upgrades by around six months. That echoes earlier surveys by Deutsche Bank and others that suggest companies are looking to upgrade their infrastructure with Windows 7, particularly those with an interest in either virtualization or 64-bit computing.

Another survey by IT asset management company Softchoice suggested that 88 percent of corporate PCs meet the minimum hardware system requirements to run Windows 7, a problem that plagued Vista during its release.

That being said, a handful of background factors could potentially impede the adoption of Microsoft's new operating system or dissuade certain firms from plunging wholeheartedly into a Windows-centric tech refresh. Those factors include a "wait and see" attitude by firms that felt burned by the much-maligned Windows Vista, a mishandled marketing campaign toward businesses or lingering issues with upgrading or adoption.

In an attempt to prevent this scenario and disseminate the operating system as rapidly as possible through the enterprise, Microsoft has been particularly aggressive in its promotional efforts around Windows 7, including offering a free 90-day trial edition of Windows 7 Enterprise for IT administrators in addition to price cuts.