Are Windows 7 PCs a dead end for business?

Summary:Ed Bott and Matt Baxter-Reynolds debate where Windows 7 fits into enterprise decisions about this brave new world of Windows 8.

Ed Bott

Ed Bott

Yes

or

No

Matt Baxter-Reynolds

Matt Baxter-Reynolds

Best Argument: Yes

26%
74%

Audience Favored: No (74%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Let’s start the debate by defining our terms

Ed Bott: A "Windows 7 PC" is a desktop or portable PC that was designed specifically for use with Windows 7. That means a hardware generation that was largely defined during the Windows Vista era, from 2006 through 2009. Crucially, those PCs lack support for key features that are essential to a modern device in 2014:

  • UEFI and Secure Boot. If you want to steer clear of rootkits, these are essential.
  • Pervasive encryption. Modern PCs have the built-in capability to do strong encryption.
  • Touch support. Touch is an essential aspect of a modern UI. Someday soon, a device without touch will just seem odd.
  • Great power management. Essential on mobile devices, but also important for keeping costs down in desktop-centric enterprise deployments.

If you’re buying PCs that fulfill those criteria, go ahead and downgrade them to Windows 7 temporarily while you plan your migration to a more modern environment. But if you assume that the OS is the only piece of the puzzle that matters, you’re making a big mistake.

Don’t settle for outdated technology because it’s superficially familiar. That’s a dead end.

Prudent to wait and see

Matt Baxter-Reynolds: For me, this debate is whether to jump to Windows 8 at this point in time or not. Windows 7 is obviously a modern and capable operating system that will run all of the enterprise software that you need to run.

Windows 7 is the staple desktop environment for enterprises. It's been out for years, is well-honed, and well-trusted. Hardly anyone was on, or is still on, Windows Vista. If you're on XP, you have some real problems . Most enterprises are already on Windows 7.

Windows 8 is not well loved. And it's unfair that it's not. Windows 8 is a good operating system. In important ways it builds on Windows 7 and provides solid improvements. Windows 8 just takes some getting used to. But right now, at this moment, Microsoft's whole Windows vision is in a state of flux.

Microsoft -- perhaps the most customer-led and customer-response business in the IT industry -- is listening to customers and changing things in Windows 9 .

For me, it would be prudent to wait and see what that brings before jumping off of (or over) Windows 7.

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Welcome

    Today's debate is aptly on the day that Satya Nadella takes over as Microsoft's third CEO. Everybody ready?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Ready here

    Good luck Matt.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    I'm all set

    And best wishes, Ed. May the best man win.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Why not Windows 7?

    The enterprise takes pride in using technology that's well known and stable. Windows 7 fits that description nicely. What would be the downside in using Windows 7 as the core of your PC refresh?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Windows 7, yes. Windows 7 PCs? No way.

    This debate isn’t about Windows 7. In fact, there’s no debate among enterprise IT pros that Windows 7 is the primary choice for current deployments. We’re talking about buying hardware that prepares you for the future.

    The real issue is whether you ignore the future or prepare for it today. And if you ignore a future that involves Windows 8.x, Windows 9, and so on, you’re setting your organization up for another panic-stricken migration in just a few years. Windows 7 will exit mainstream support next year and transition to extended support.

    Organizations that hang on to old technology for too long are at a distinct disadvantage. Organizations that buy and deploy old technology are just kicking the can down the road.

    And if you truly believe that Windows 8 and beyond are question marks and you don’t see a clear future, then you’re conceding that Windows 7 really is a dead end.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    Windows 7 will look like Windows XP

    Let enough water under the bridge and Windows 7 will look like Windows XP -- a bit creaky, and a bit ancient. The position that you do not want to be in is one where your chosen platform is obsolete. Windows 7 is far from obsolete.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Getting touchy

    Is Windows 7 the dead end or PCs that aren't touch enabled the problem?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Don’t get hung up on touch

    Windows 7 is a perfectly good operating system for the present, but it’s worth noting that it’s now five years old and aging quickly. In computing terms, that’s an eternity. PCs that were designed for Windows 7 are at least one and maybe two generations behind the hardware curve.

    As I noted in my opening remarks, there’s a long list of features that are part of modern PCs. Touch is only one of them, and arguably not the most important.

    Modern PCs use UEFI, which makes them much faster at startup. The widespread availability of TPM chips means Secure Boot is enabled by default, preventing rootkits and other advanced malware variants. On SoC devices, encryption is enabled by default and battery life blows the doors off anything you can get on a PC originally designed for Windows 7.

    Don’t get hung up on touch. Look deeper.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    It's a step

    Much as I believe in "[ the death of the PC ]", the whole *raison d'etre* of the PC in enterprise environments isn't affected by the ascendancy of smartphones and tablets.

    Windows 7 -- together with the old school Windows "legacy" desktop mode -- isn't going anywhere. It's the most used part of Windows 8, and will be the most used part of Windows 9, even looking a decade out form now.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Window 8 weaknesses

    Would there even be this debate if Windows 8 was strong enough to make Windows 7 look inferior?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Of course this debate would exist

    We’re talking about the notoriously risk-averse (and cheapskate) enterprise computing market, which has to be dragged kicking and screaming into new technologies. Windows 8 could have been flawless and it still would have been resisted.

    Windows XP, which has come as close as anything in the modern era to being universally adopted, was unloved and even mocked in its early years. One very large survey in December 2013, more than two years after XP was launched, found that it was only installed on 6.6 percent of business PCs. In 2004, businesses were voluntarily choosing Windows Me over XP . (Seriously.)

    It took four years and two service packs (with significant changes) before businesses were willing to adopt XP in significant numbers.

    In a couple years, after a few more rounds of UI tweaks, businesses will be looking at Windows 8.4 or Windows 9 or whatever it’s called. It has always been thus.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    You mean Windows 7.1

    That's a great point. Windows 7 still looks and operates fantastically well. Windows 8 was really just "Windows v7.1 Legacy Desktop Edition" mashed up with "Metro-style v1.0". There just isn't enough of a pull if you look at the chunk of the OS that's actually used in the enterprise.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Making mobile connections

    How important is an OS that links mobile devices tablets and the desktop to the enterprise in the future?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Look beyond the OS

    We already know that the ability to connect a broad range of devices to enterprise networks is a defining characteristic of modern IT. The real issue is making those connections in a way that enables productivity while still preserving the security of data. Because that, after all, is where you’ll find the value of most modern businesses.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    It's totally irrelevant

    For me, it's totally irrelevant. This might be a debate for another day, but unifying a single codebase across different device classifications that are used in entirely different way by entirely different types of users is pointless.

    Apple's approach of having OS X on one and iOS on another makes much more sense as it allows focused and refined user experience considerations to two different audiences.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    One platform for all

    Do those devices necessarily need one platform such as Windows?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Obviously not

    The iPad has found lots of entry points into enterprise networks and it’s also carved out some very successful niches in small businesses – point-of-sale terminals, kiosk applications, and so on. Mobile phones running Android and iOS are ubiquitous in businesses as well.

    One huge strength of the Windows platform is that it spans the gamut from network servers to handheld client devices, and its connectivity and management options embrace devices that run alternative operating systems. But I would argue that for full-strength business computing, there’s still nothing that can match a Windows PC. The continued dominance of Windows in desktop and portable PCs suggests that the market agrees. And those traditional PCs (often in smaller, lighter, more mobile packages) will continue to sell in large numbers, with IDC projecting sales of 300 million a year through the next five years.

    One platform? No. But you bet against Windows in business at your own peril.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    Apple's approach makes more sense

    See my previous point.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The 10 year plan

    If Windows XP can still be found in corporations---hopefully everyone is off that bandwagon by now---why wouldn't Windows 7 be a fine 10 year plan?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Don't get caught in a squeeze

    If there’s a lesson to be learned from the XP experience, it’s that IT pros should not use “set it and forget it” as their philosophy for client devices.

    The big-bang rollout is a thing of the past. By now, any forward-thinking IT pro should realize that it’s crucial to be prepared to adopt new technologies on an ongoing basis, not get frozen in time. That means incremental purchases of new hardware and rolling deployments of new platforms and apps.

    If you try to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of an aging platform, you end up with big headaches when that platform reaches the end of its lifecycle. I hope every enterprise that is about to hit the XP wall head on realizes that.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    It's too long

    Ten years is too long. It may hurt to hear, but a business that's allowed itself to be dependent on XP up to this point in time has made an error of judgement that should not be repeated if at all possible.

    Sure, jump to Windows 7, but that needs to be a medium term move before going over to Windows 9 in [2015 .

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Businesses: One platform fits all?

    Should enterprises still think about one platform for their PCs or go with a mix like Chrome OS, OS X and Windows?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    There’s no one-size-fits-all answer

    .Every business is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. Having said that, however, it’s also worth noting that for large and medium enterprises, Microsoft has the most mature and most tightly integrated management tools.

    It’s hard to make much of a case for Chrome OS except in organizations that have gone all-in on Google Apps. And there are lots of good reasons why Macs never broke into big business .

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    Windows: the safe bet

    Yes. OS X and Chrome OS are great operating systems but, to steal and amend an expression, no one ever got fired for buying Windows for their desktop OS rollout.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Mobile vs. desktop

    How do mobile devices and apps for business color your thinking on PCs overall?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    You certainly can’t ignore them

    But at the same time I am not aware of any business that has ditched their PCs and allowed their employees to do everything from a mobile device. The point of mobile computing is to extend the reach of the network and make it possible for people to communicate and to be productive in places where a full desktop isn’t practical.

    Mobile devices are essential companions. They are not replacements for full-strength PCs.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    Microsoft's not in the mobile picture

    For me, the leaders in the post-PC space are Apple and Google, and I've yet to see really compelling evidence from Microsoft that post-PC is an area they support. PCs have value in the enterprise in driving commercial efficiency in ways that we understand. If you're looking to innovate on mobile, Microsoft doesn't have a lot to offer.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Virtualiztion and Windows 7

    Does desktop virtualization alter the importance of using Windows 7 PCs at all?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Not really

    Desktop virtualization is a fine solution for lots of environments. Where it’s appropriate, the choice of the client that connects to the virtualized desktop is less important than it might be in a more traditional setting. You can even use thin clients that aren’t PCs in the traditional sense.

    For most businesses, the need for a full-strength desktop will still be there in the long term. And for that they’ll be best served by a modern PC, not one that was designed for a five-year-old operating system.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    I agree

    Not really. All of the vendors in this space will be looking to offer first class support for Windows 7 for at least the next decade.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Give your advice

    If you're a CIO who needs to do a PC refresh what advice would you give her?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Migration isn’t something you do every 10 years

    If you’re not building flexibility into your organization, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re relying on old apps and old hardware that are major barriers to modern computing, you’re setting yourself up for long-term failure.

    The biggest challenge facing IT organizations right now is moving off of Windows XP (and, by extension, getting rid of Windows Server 2003). If a desktop app will run on Windows 8.1, it will run on Windows 7, because functionally those two operating systems are the same. That should be your compatibility target for hardware and software.

    If your compatibility testing is based on Windows 7 PCs, you’re starting out five years behind. Don’t do that.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    Wait for Windows 9

    If you're currently not on Windows 7, jump to that now.

    Matt Baxter-Reynolds

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thanks again

    I'm sure you'll agree that Ed and Matt stuck to their guns and made this a great debate. Look out for the closing arguments on Wednesday and my final verdict on Thursday. We'd all like to hear your opinion so make a comment and vote.

    Posted by Larry Dignan

Closing Statements

Windows 7 PCs are a dead end

Ed Bott

My opponent wants this debate to be a referendum on Windows 8. But the question is whether Windows 7 PCs are a dead end. And the answer to that question is indisputably yes.

Ignore the hate for Metro and you can plainly see that Windows 8 is a superset of Windows 7. Everything that is in Windows 7 is also in Windows 8, but the reverse is decidedly not true.

In particular, when you buy a PC designed for Windows 8, you get two huge security benefits: Secure Boot with UEFI and pervasive encryption on all devices that meet the InstantGo standard, even if they’re running a consumer version of the OS.

Windows 7 is a perfectly good enterprise OS for the present. But when buying new PCs, you need to plan for the future. That’s why Windows 8 PCs, with downgrade rights to Windows 7, are the perfect compromise.

My opponent says “wait for Windows 9.” I say, “Prepare for Windows 9 by making the right hardware choices today.”

Windows 7 is the only safe choice for now

Matt Baxter-Reynolds

I hadn't necessarily argued the point about buying future-proof hardware -- i.e. that could be used to run Windows 8 and its successors. This strikes me as a rather moot point. OEMs are always targeting the future and whatever you buy will almost certainly be a “Windows 8” PC regardless of what gets installed on it. It's hard to buy new hardware without UEFI secure boot. Touch is a different question. It's valuable on laptops, pointless (no pun) on desktops.

For me, the bigger problem is that there is too much flux around the reimagining of Windows. What will Windows 9 look like now that there is a new CEO ? The bold new vision expressed in Windows 8 has landed on enterprises like a dead cat dropped from 10,000 feet. Squelchy, noisy, and ultimately something that has to be cleaned up before proper work can proceed.

There's too much uncertainty around the future execution of Windows for it to be a safe bet for enterprises today. That's not to say Windows doesn't have a future in the enterprise -- it's future is assured. But Windows 7 is the only safe choice for now.

A decisive victory

Larry Dignan

Ed Bott won this debate handily with better answers and a well researched point of view. Ultimately, Ed made the case that Windows 7 PCs aren't a great option for enterprises. Matt Baxter-Reynolds had the crowd on his side, but little else. Ed gets the decisive victory. 

Topics: Great Debate

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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