Windows 7: reasons to migrate?

Many people are still dragging their feet in moving from Windows XP to Windows 7. This includes both companies and home consumers.

Many people are still dragging their feet in moving from Windows XP to Windows 7. This includes both companies and home consumers. Personally, I can see why this is the case, despite Microsoft's exaggerations of how superior Windows 7 is. Here I'm going to focus more on the business side rather than home use.

I've helped deploy Windows 7 already in XP environments. And there are a few first impressions from what I've witnessed so far:

- OS glitches: Problems that we've had in XP for years, are still present in 7. For instance, we had a PC that lost its trust relationship in the Windows 2008 domain. The same old steps fixed it, remove it from the domain, and add it back in. We've sporadically had this happen for years with XP. We've also been experiencing random network related issues like home drives not mapping, and errors in the event log with the PCs not able to contact the domain controller. PCs running XP on the very same hardware are not having the issue. So far, this has not been resolved.

- Hardware requirements: PCs that were deployed with XP typically had 512 MB of RAM up to 2 GB. Installing Windows 7 on the machines with 512 MB simply won't fly. Especially combined with Office 2007 which is also used. Extensive testing in our own lab showed that machines need at least 1 GB of RAM in order to perform relatively well for most users (to run Office, IE, etc.). So, this means that going to Windows 7 would require hardware to be purchased to replace some of the PCs right away. Adding extra RAM is another option, but you also have to consider other bottlenecks with the PC like hard disk speed, etc. which are all a factor in the PC's performance. Sometimes you are better off buying a new PC, rather than slowly putting money into an older one.

- 64-bit and application compatibility: Microsoft is pushing 64-bit, but this has proven to be a pain for certain software/drivers that either has flawed 64-bit support or doesn't support it at all. Even Office 2007 runs in 32-bit mode. What still surprises me is that Windows 7 still doesn't use the PAE Architecture designed by Intel, which lets 32-bit operating systems use more than 4 GB of memory. Linux for example, does support it correctly, which is an advantage by having the best of both worlds (more than 4 GB of memory + 32-bit mode). Luckily, 64-bit is supported on machines that have Pentium 4 or greater processors, but again the hardware needs to be revisited. There have been benchmarks that prove nominal performance advantages of 64-bit, but this may prove to be a difficult choice at the time of going to Windows 7, and probably requires extensive testing which will take time and resources. The same goes for all applications currently used, they may not work and may need Windows XP Mode in Windows 7 in order to run. Again, extensive testing may need to be done.

- User settings/migration: Luckily this isn't much of an issue for larger companies which use PC images and automated installations. A lot of companies deploy a generic image and the users re-customize their old settings again. Since Windows 7 is not a direct upgrade to Windows XP, companies can use the User State Migration Tool to migrate user settings if needed.

- No pricing incentives: Microsoft is making no effort to offer any kind of price breaks to those that use Windows XP today, who want to migrate to Windows 7. Why?

In conclusion, I think a lot of companies are just continuing on with business as usual, waiting to see what Microsoft does with Windows XP. The OS is almost a decade old, so I can understand that the plug needs to be pulled at some point. Any migration (XP to 7, Windows to Linux) needs a lot of work, time, money, and lots and lots of patience. But companies need a list of good reasons to move forward with the migration. And so far, I haven't seen too many good compelling reasons that show this migration should take place anytime soon. Personally I think this presents an opportunity for companies to evaluate all of their options, then pick the one that is most suitable. The list of options should include Windows 7, Linux, and maybe even Mac OS X.

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