Seven Things You Need to Know to Prepare for Windows 7

NEWS ANALYSIS: Enterprises shouldn't wait on making preparations for Windows 7, especially if they're in the majority running Windows XP. eWEEK identifies seven factors IT organizations should consider as they mull over when to deploy Windows 7. Windows 7 is not a choice, but an inevitable destination for most enterprises, and what you do now will determine how easy or arduous the path will be.

Microsoft almost certainly will ship Windows 7 in 2009, and the release candidate is expected no later than May 30. The timing is bad for many enterprises because of the economy's impact on IT spending. But if your organization is running Windows XP-and the majority of organizations are-migration is inevitable. Mainstream Windows XP support ended on April 14. The question is, What does your organization need to know to prepare for Windows 7?

According to a Dimensional Research report commissioned by Kace Networks, only 17 percent of enterprises plan to upgrade to Windows 7 within 12 months. Of the 1,142 IT professionals surveyed, 43 percent cited the economy as a factor delaying deployments. Interestingly, 17 percent of those surveyed are running Windows 7 Beta 1 and the same number are planning first-year upgrades. The number planning Windows 7 deployments jumps to 59 percent within two years.

1. Most enterprises will need Software Assurance. If your organization doesn't have an Enterprise Agreement or Software Assurance applied to Select or Open agreements, Microsoft will require annuity licensing upgrade protection to get new deployment tools or Windows 7 Enterprise or both. Vista carried the same requirement, but it had little impact since so few businesses upgraded from XP or Windows 2000. According to a Forrester Research report published April 14, less than 10 percent of European and North American businesses have deployed Vista; 71 percent have XP installed. According to Dimensional Research, which released its report on April 13, 83 percent of IT organizations will skip Vista and go right to Windows 7. Startlingly, 53 percent of enterprises will do this to avoid Vista.

The Software Assurance requirement isn't for your benefit but for Microsoft's. More than 80 percent of Windows sales come from new PCs. Microsoft wants something more like Office or server software where annuity licensing accounts for about 40 percent and 65 percent of sales respectively. That's money in the bank to Microsoft, because businesses pay up front, annually, under two- or three-year commitments-29 percent of desktop software pricing and 25 percent for server software.

Businesses could avoid the Software Assurance requirement by deploying Windows 7 Business instead of Enterprise, but they would still need coverage to get Microsoft deployment tools.

2. Application compatibility will be better with Windows 7, but not necessarily great. Many enterprises found that Vista broke their existing applications or that third-party hardware drivers were not available. Windows 7 won't inflict as much pain on enterprises, if for no other reason than they got it with Vista. Microsoft has made big compatibility promises about Windows 7, but with a catch. Applications certified for Vista should be nearly universally compatible with Windows 7. Most XP applications broken by Vista likely will be broken by Windows 7.

The Dimensional Research survey found software compatibility to be IT decision makers' top concern about Windows 7-chosen by about 88 percent. Since most organizations will migrate from XP, many software compatibility problems observed with Vista will continue with Windows 7. The majority of application compatibility problems trace back to security infrastructure changes instituted in Vista, and they will carry forward to Windows 7.

Enterprises should continue qualifying applications for Vista as they prepare for Windows 7's release. But IT organizations shouldn't buy into Microsoft's assurances of improved compatibility. That said, Microsoft has greatly improved the "Compatibility" function available from any application's "Properties" tab. While clunky in Vista, based on eWEEK testing, the feature works surprisingly well in Windows 7.

In the aforementioned Forrester Research report, analyst Benjamin Gray recommended, "Firms that have begun their Windows Vista deployments should continue their enterprisewide rollouts and only revisit whether to transition these deployments to Windows 7 after its release." He emphasized: "These organizations will be in a much better position to move to Windows 7 sooner after its release than Windows XP shops because their applications and hardware will remain compatible."