As we wind down the celebration of Windows XP’s eighth birthday -- what, you didn't get any cake? -- it’s definitely time to look forward. While a lot of companies still happily use Windows XP, many organizations have Windows 7 on their radar, even if they’re not yet actively deploying it.
Why you should upgrade -- in a nutshell
By now, most businesses know the reasons to upgrade, not the least of which is Microsoft’s ending of the long-extended Windows XP support period. With no more major fixes on the way, it’s time to switch to something new. Windows 7 is also becoming necessary as organizations buy new hardware and driver support for Windows XP dwindles. Finally, there are the usual arguments of better security, improved stability and so forth.
Windows 7’s Windows XP Mode should allay any software compatibility concerns, since it allows you to run Windows XP on top of Windows 7.
The upgrade hurdle
We worked with a company that asked its PC and laptop vendors to perform a “bulldozer upgrade,” which means that it agreed to lease new equipment, have it show up preinstalled with a custom Windows image, and do the same thing every three years. While this approach makes for a great financial argument, the weeks during the actual “bulldoze” can be hectic.
If you’re not in that kind of situation -- and most of us aren’t -- then you’re looking at what's probably the most compelling reason to not upgrade: the deployment.
Microsoft has produced a dizzying array of fairly sophisticated deployment tools, labeling them with monikers like WDS, MDT, WSIM, WAIK, USMT, ACT and MAP -- enough acronyms to keep the entire IT staff in alphabet soup for weeks.
Put simply, deploying Windows 7 requires a lot of infrastructure, education and know-how that many companies don’t have. Although most of these technologies were introduced with Windows Vista, few organizations actually moved to Vista, and as result, many of them don’t have modern deployment mechanisms.
The situation isn’t going to improve for Windows 8 or whatever the next operating system version will be called. The current crop of technologies is what Microsoft is building on, so organizations have to figure them out.
What you need to do now
It’s time to either get some employees up to speed on deployment technologies, or you should plan to hire consultants to manage your Windows 7 deployment.
Don’t assume that the smart guy on your IT team can teach himself these technologies. He’ll likely make a lot of rookie mistakes that will cost you. Formal training is crucial in this situation. Most major IT training franchisees can offer at least the Microsoft official curriculum on the topic, although you may find better training in independently developed workshops at major IT conferences.
Whatever you do, don’t use Windows XP-era deployment techniques or install Windows 7 manually -- two common mistakes made by early Win7 adopters. You’ll get far better long-term support with Windows if you bite the bullet and accept Microsoft’s deployment methodologies and technologies now.
What about virtual desktop infrastructure?
We’re skeptical fans of virtual desktop infrastructures (VDI), but the state of the art for VDI isn’t to the point where you can ditch all -- or even a large portion -- of your laptops and desktops. You’re still going to be deploying Windows 7 to physical hardware, and it’s likely you’ll be deploying Windows 8 and 9 that way, too. While VDI will continue to expand on the number of use cases it works for, client hardware isn’t going the way of the dodo anytime soon. (This is just another reason to start wrapping your head around Microsoft’s deployment technologies sooner rather than later.)
You know you’re going to do it, so do it right
The move to Windows 7 is a foregone conclusion for all but the most recalcitrant companies. Operating your business on 8-year-old operating system software? Please. Companies are, however, focusing a bit too much on concerns like software compatibility (remember: Windows XP Mode), manageability and other issues.
All these problems are solvable, and in most cases, they have already been solved. Do your due diligence, but understand that the real Windows 7 challenge is in the deployment. Start preparing, and consider seeking specialized training on just the deployment methodology. A few days could save you weeks of mistakes.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Don Jones and Greg Shields are Principal Technologists at IT consulting and education firm Concentrated Technology. Contact them through the company Web site, ConcentratedTech.com.
This was first published in January 2011