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IT preps for life as Windows 7 mainstream support ends

Should IT pros stay with Windows 7 or leave now that mainstream support ends in January 2015? It might depend on which Windows OS you trust the most.

With Windows 7 mainstream support ending early next year, IT pros are evaluating their next steps for desktops and laptops.

For some IT administrators, the end of official Microsoft support signals the need to start planning for upgraded hardware and software to accommodate a newer operating system. Others have chosen to do nothing because of a lack of budgetary resources, poor planning or a desire not to mess with something that works just fine.

Since Windows 7 is stable and favored among businesses, migrating for any reason -- even the end of mainstream support --might not make sense. IT shops can take advantage of extended Windows 7 mainstream support until it ends on Jan. 14, 2020, or they can upgrade to Windows 8.1 or Windows 9, slated for release next year. It's a decision organizations will need to make depending upon their license agreements and what makes sense for their business.

Windows 7 holds more than 51.2% of the desktop OS market, while Windows 8 and 8.1 have 13.4% of the market, according to the latest figures published in August by NetMarketShare. The unsupported Windows XP still commands 23.9% of the market, while the remaining 11.5% consists of Mac OS X, Linux and others.

There is an upside to sticking with Windows 7, however. There will be no major changes or service packs that could interfere with off-the-shelf software or an ERP system used in the college's back-office infrastructure, said Ric Getter, a programmer/analyst at Portland Community College, in Portland, Ore.

Windows 8.1 or Windows 9?

Others see a migration from Windows 7 as a step forward.

"I will push [businesses] to go to Windows 8.1 Enterprise," said Steve Barnett, CEO and founder of Streamline Networks Inc., an IT consulting company in Los Angeles. Windows 8 was not ready, but with some tweaks, Windows 8.1 can work for business, he said. For instance, the Start Button returned with Windows 8.1, and the updated OS offers more security for businesses than the first version, he said.

IT managers [need] to remember that if they want to be secure, software has an expiration date.
Wes Milleranalyst, Directions on Microsoft

It's hard to encourage a business to migrate to Windows 8.1, especially if it currently runs Windows XP or recently upgraded to Windows 7. "I don't think I'm going to get a lot of bites on it," Barnett said.

Portland Community College's Getter said he would prefer to chart the progress of Windows 9. "As is the case with many other shops, there is a good deal of concern that Windows 8 will be just another Vista," he said, referring to the earlier version of the desktop OS that failed in the marketplace.

Microsoft has sporadically previewed screenshots of Windows 9, which merges the desktop and modern user interface. The company is expected to preview the new OS more fully in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, problems with the faster cadence for updating Windows 8.1 have placed Microsoft in a more precarious position among enterprises, making it harder for IT professionals to even consider migrating off of Windows 7 just because mainstream support will end.

"We've had two update [deliveries], and [Microsoft] had to recall their updates," said Wes Miller, vice president of research at Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash. Microsoft halted a Windows 8.1 update in April as well as in August. Miller said he does not recommend that enterprises deploy Windows 8.1 now.

Whatever version of Windows a business chooses, it's important to remember that software has an expiration date, Miller said. For the sake of keeping data secure, admins must remember they need to keep their systems patched.

"I wouldn't blame a business for rolling out Windows 7, but be aware that Windows 7 is not permanent," he said.

Next Steps

The Windows 8.1 Upgrade Assistant can help with moves from Windows XP

Video face-off: Pros and cons of Windows 7 vs. Windows 8

Post-XPalypse: How to survive a world changed by Windows 8 features

A guide to tools for migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7

Dig Deeper on Microsoft Windows 7 operating system

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Does the end of Windows 7 mainstream support concern you at all?