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XP stragglers blame hardware costs, new features

Even though Windows 7 includes XP Mode, XP users may postpone upgrades due to hardware costs and many unfamiliar features.

IT administrators running Windows XP operating system had plenty of reasons not to upgrade to Vista and many of those reasons hold true with Windows 7 -- but not all.

Part of the reason enterprises intend to drive XP into the ground before upgrading is that it requires new hardware. Like Vista before it, Windows 7 needs a clean install on a system with more CPU power, memory and disk space. "The driver to stay on XP is the economy -- people don't have the staff to perform the upgrade and can't afford the hardware to run a new OS," said Scott Steussi, a systems engineer and consultant with Warwick, RI-based Atrion Networking Corp.

Microsoft Corp. recommends a system with 300 megahertz or higher processor speed, 128 MB of RAM or more, and 1.5 gigabytes of hard disk space to run Windows XP Professional. Windows Vista (Business/Ultimate) is much more resource intensive; Microsoft recommends 1 GHz processor, 1GB of system memory and at least 15 GB of available disk space, while Windows 7 needs about the same or fewer resources.

For large enterprises, an upgrade from XP to Windows 7 will mean millions of dollars. One IT director at a New Brunswick, Canada-based hospital who wished to remain anonymous said his organization will spend around $1.3 million to upgrade about 1,800 desktops from Windows XP to Windows 7. This includes hardware, Office 2010, many Client Access Licenses and Software Assurance. Since their hardware was due for a refresh, the Windows 7 upgrade made sense.

And David O'Berry, an IT director with the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole & Pardon Services, said he plans to move end users from the 64-bit version of XP to Windows 7 after the first service pack comes out.

He refreshed PCs during the organization's normal hardware lifecycle in May with about 770 work station class HP notebooks with 4GB of RAM. "These notebooks are good enough to run Vista, that hog of an operating system, so I suspect they will be able to run Windows 7 just fine," O'Berry said.

The Windows 7 learning curve

Another deterrent for XP users is that Windows 7 is a significant change for both IT administrators and end users, said Carsten Due, an engineer with the Germantown, MD-based Microsoft integration and consulting firm Planet Technologies, Inc.

"When you look at changes in the OS from one generation to another, this change is greater than when the IT world transitioned from Windows 3.x to Windows 95, but not quite as great as the change from DOS to Windows," Due said. "The intermediate changes we have had since Windows 95 with ME, CE, 2000 and XP have all been minor, and the adaptation also minor. Sure, we had to deal with drivers and hardware issues, but this time the end users are put to test and we are going to see challenges there."

More on XP migrations:
Your questions answered; the Windows 7 upgrade quandary

When to move off XP, onto Windows 7

Vista shops eye quick path to Windows 7, XP shops resist

Due said IT administrators will only be able to take full advantage of the new features in Windows 7 if they study them -- and they should start now.

"Security and management knowledge is very important -- administrators with lesser knowledge will turn off every feature that they don't understand or that bothers them," Due said. "This can potentially impact the enterprise in new and unknown ways, yet to be experienced."

Application support and compatibility were reasons many enterprises refused Vista, but Microsoft snuffed those reasons out by launching the XP mode Release Candidate on August 4. XP Mode in Windows 7 requires an additional 1 GB of RAM, an additional 15 GB of available hard disk space, according to Microsoft's system requirements.

"A lot of applications that ran on XP didn't run on Vista, so Microsoft gave us XP Mode in Windows 7," Stuessi said. "They want people to know their internally developed applications and anything else that runs on XP will run seamlessly on client desktops with Windows 7."

Though XP Mode removes some objections, IT managers will need to see how the new features in Windows 7 impact their bottom line before upgrading, said Tony Iams, an analyst with Ideas International, Inc.

"The question is, what are the new features that will justify the significant cost of upgrading and all the uncertainties that go along with that," Iams said. "There needs to be features that boost productivity and performance…Microsoft has to show that you get an adequate return."

Atrion's Stuessi said the beta version of Windows 7 appears stable, with good security and management features that will benefit IT administrators and end users. He recommends it to his clients, but, he said, "trying to pry XP out of these guys hands will be quite an undertaking until they see the features for themselves."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer

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