The big 27,000: Win7 ensnares Centrelink

As Microsoft launches Windows 7 in Australia, major federal welfare agency Centrelink is planning to migrate tothe new operating system by mid next year. Will other companies follow its example, or will Microsoft see the same lack of interest for Windows 7 as it did for Vista?

As Microsoft launches Windows 7 in Australia, major federal welfare agency Centrelink has revealed plans to adopt the brand new operating system as its internal standard by the middle of 2010, in one of the world's biggest roll-outs known so far. But will other companies follow its example, or will Microsoft see the same lack of interest for Windows 7 as it did for Vista?

(Screenshot by Renai Lemay/ZDNet.com.au)

Centrelink has said previously that it was testing the operating system and that it showed a "significant improvement over [the] performance and quality of Vista". It intended to move to the new operating system in the long term. Those plans have been put on fast forward, as the agency has now confirmed plans to move to Windows 7 for its over 27,000 desktops in the near future.

"Centrelink will migrate to Windows 7 as the standard for desktops throughout its network by around mid-2010," the agency told ZDNet.com.au this week.

Centrelink isn't the only organisation to decide to move to Windows 7. Microsoft has also secured the NSW Department of Education's agreement to roll out Windows 7 for its staff, and also onto the student laptops provided by the Digital Education Revolution. Queensland's student laptops will also be moving onto the product.

Those two roll-outs alone will mean the sale of hundreds of thousands of operating system licences. Microsoft must be counting its lucky stars, especially after the performance of Vista, which was widely shunned by the corporate environment. "Vista was an abysmal failure in the enterprise space," Intelligent Business Research Services advisor Joseph Sweeney says. Only 15 per cent of enterprises at the most deployed Vista, he says, the federal Customs and Border Protection service and iiNet being examples.

Organisations had clung to XP despite its getting long in the tooth, forcing Microsoft to lengthen the amount of time it supported the popular operating system and to allow customers to downgrade their Vista licences to XP.

But XP is now almost 10 years old and the strain is beginning to show, especially around issues of desktop management, which Sweeney says is much better handled by Windows 7. "Windows 7 has come in at a time when there's been a lot of demand for change," he says.

Indeed, according to a survey of 192 Australian CIOs or IT managers carried out by Microsoft partner Data#3, 67 per cent of enterprise customers (1000 seats or more) and 87 per cent of mid market customers (100 to 1000 seats) said they would consider moving to Windows 7 in the next 12 months. Data#3 takes this to mean that the old habit of waiting for Service Pack One before deploying an operating system is a thing of the past.

Despite these figures, Sweeney doesn't believe there will be a rush to Windows 7. His belief is backed up by the responses of many companies to ZDNet.com.au queries.

National Australia Bank, despite testing 40 of its applications against Windows 7 and praising the operating system, hasn't jumped to plan a migration.

"From the testing and work that has been implemented to date, the bank is confident that Windows 7 would be capable of providing the operating platform for the next generation corporate desktop. However, an upgrade of this scale would take substantial time and effort and decisions on this would have to be aligned with other business priorities and initiatives," a spokesperson for the bank said.

The Australian Taxation Office has also decided to bide its time. "We want to understand the experience in the industry before we go to Windows 7," a spokesperson for the office said. "We are planning to migrate at some state to a new operating system, but no decision has been made yet."

The Department of Defence is just watching and waiting at this point. "Defence has not undertaken any evaluation of the Windows 7 product. Defence will be watching with interest on the uptake of this product to inform future decisions," a spokesperson for the department said.

Telstra said earlier this year that it intended on moving to the new operating system. Yet the telco's CIO John McInerney says the move won't be speedy. "It's definitely part of our roadmap," he said. "We have done a lot of testing and there's more testing to be done. Obviously it's an important change and therefore we will not be rushing it."

Jetstar CIO Stephen Tame, despite confessing that he likes the operating system which has "all the promised good stuff with Vista without the lead weights", says the airline won't be making the move now: "The real business value of migrating the Jetstar business off XP to Windows 7 is not there yet."

Even those on Vista can't be guaranteed to be the front runners a second time. Customs has reiterated its comments from earlier this year that it's sticking with Vista for the time being. "It is meeting our business requirements," Customs CIO Joe Attanasio tells ZDNet.com.au. "Consideration will be given to alternatives to Vista when there is a business need."

These organisations may be prudent as it is Sweeney's advice that enterprises move slowly. There are a lot of technologies for the desktop that weren't around when companies decided to move to XP. He says companies need to spend some time really looking into these before making a decision.

Application streaming, hardware virtualisation and centralised virtualisation are all things which have the possibility to make a large difference to an organisation's desktop experience, he says. On top of those, the more traditional desktop virtualisation options also need to be put onto the table.

Longhaus research director Sam Higgins says he has received a lot of queries around desktop virtualisation. Around 20 per cent of companies he speaks to are looking into alternatives to Windows and this doesn't mean Linux or Apple, he says, despite the wishes of those communities, but rather products such as Microsoft's Virtual PC and VMware.

Longhaus also did a poll on Windows 7 adoption in its CIO Confidence Poll for the fourth quarter of 2009 among 47 CEOs, CFOs and CIOs from medium and large Australian enterprises. In the next 12 months 34 per cent intended to upgrade from XP to Windows 7 while 28 per cent would stay where they were. Interestingly, 19 per cent said they would upgrade to Windows Vista while 15 per cent would upgrade from Vista to Windows 7.

Of course in some cases, choosing the operating system might not be up to the CIO any more. Higgins mentions the trend that consumers want to decide for themselves what kind of systems they run.

Jetstar's Tame has said in the past that the airline was considering a bring your own computer policy. Employees would then have a Jetstar Virtual Machine as the standard operating environment running on top of whichever operating system they had chosen. In this case, the choice whether to move to Windows 7 moves to the consumer, making it an issue of brand traction for Microsoft.

Most companies haven't introduced such policies, however. This means the ball is still in the court of the CIOs who will likely start a series of small pilots over the next few months. The question is, will Windows 7 offer the benefits necessary to carry out an expensive implementation in the tail end of a financial crisis, where many companies are saying that if it ain't broke there ain't no money to fix it.

Research by Gartner says that Windows 7 is "not skippable", especially for organisations that skipped Windows Vista. It says that although Microsoft isn't ending support for XP until April 2014, problems with new independent software vendor applications will be "common" by 2012.

Aside from the problems Gartner believes will occur for organisations that opt to do nothing, IBRS's Sweeney believes that if implemented right, in conjunction with the rest of the Microsoft stack, $100,000 in annual savings could be made for 12,000 desktops.

Only the CIOs will be able to decide if they think that's enough.

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