Windows 7 finally makes the big time

Windows 7 finally makes the big time

Summary: Although the double whammy of a bad economy and an underwhelming Vista put Microsoft on the back foot, Windows 7 has proved itself ready to support the next wave of corporate IT upgrades


This time last year, the key word about corporate adoption of Windows 7 was 'whether'. Now, it's 'when'.

This isn't due to the might of Microsoft's marketing machine finally breaking down resistance, but the far saner business of IT managers adopting a wait-and-see policy. The experience of Vista reinforced the old rule of 'never buy the first version of anything'. While the actual first version of Windows just saw its 25th anniversary, Vista was different enough to XP to qualify as a brand-new product — and not one with enough advantages to outweigh its downsides.

Vista's corporate penetration peaked at around seven percent, according to a Forrester survey. Anyone who knows one of those installations — or worse luck, works with one — knows that this is a welcome sign that the majority of companies are still capable of making good IT decisions.

A year after its launch, Windows 7 still carries the unofficial slogan 'Vista done right'. That might not be the message that Microsoft wanted it to carry, but it's effective. That same Forrester survey says that fully 30 percent of new company PCs come with the new operating system, with the number predicted to rise to 83 percent next year. Our own ZDNet UK survey results weren't quite as forthright — with 36 percent of respondents saying they're still considering switching to Linux and 25 percent prepared to think about OS X — but this is driven more by consideration of costs than any technical or practical reservations. In our poll, 33 percent said that software pricing is the major delaying factor in adoption, while 27 percent cited hardware upgrade costs.

On the upside, one-third of respondents said that Windows 7's technical improvements were the major factor driving migration, and 29 percent quoted its increased manageability. Nearly one-quarter cited the upcoming casting adrift of XP by Microsoft support. With the final deadline for that withdrawal still three years away, it'll be interesting to see how that attitude changes in 2011.

What many have found is that while Windows 7's compatibility with older applications isn't perfect, it's good enough to justify the pain of supporting a piecemeal upgrade, with new PCs running the new OS alongside legacy computers still on XP. That wasn't true for Vista.

To some extent, this reflects the fact that IT support within corporates is now extremely competent and experienced with XP; there are plenty of senior staff now with nearly a decade under their belt of keeping that operating system on the road, and it is no longer the burden it was. Plus, once the various teething issues are sorted out, Windows 7 is proving reliable and largely painless — a perception helped by the general move away from desktop apps to corporate services accessed through the browser.

With Windows 7 comes freedom from Internet Explorer 6: it's an enforced freedom, to be sure, but a modern browser moves most of the support focus away from the desktop and onto the backend application servers. That has its own challenges, but moves IT departments away from the burden of having a variety of problems spread across hundreds or thousands of seats. Logistics, rather than basic technology, continues to be one of the defining aspects of IT support.

It helps a lot that Windows 7 is much better suited to...

Topics: Windows, Operating Systems

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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  • For us the expensive Vista SP called "Windows7" offers no advantages over WinXP. We'll start adopting Windows7 when the levy we pay to MS when buying new hardware provides Windows7.
  • Well, apart from he extra performance, increased reliability, better security, better interface, virtualised XP Mode and other new features, plus lower cost of ownership, what have the Romans ever done for us...
    Jack Schofield
  • The search function in Win 7 is very effective, however I still feel that XP was significantly more stable. Plus, 7 is a resource hog (RAM, anyone?). Let us not speak of Vista - I spent two months with it on my laptop and the memories still plague me. 7 does feel more secure though, and the aero functions are quite nice from a UI perspective.
    Jack Clark
  • @Jack Clark
    > I still feel that XP was significantly more stable
    > Plus, 7 is a resource hog (RAM, anyone?).

    Has your account been hacked?
    Jack Schofield
  • @JackSchofield. No. I may have been lucky. I have a reasonably old (5 yrs or so) Toshiba laptop running Win XP that has never given me any trouble and with periodic de-dusting is still usable. I have a modern laptop running Win 7 and my family run Win 7 / Vista (and am periodically called up for support) and there have been more problems and crashes than on my XP laptop. All subjective experience.
    Jack Clark
  • At Jack Clark. You really can't compare the Aero interface on Vista, and Vista7 with the 3D effects on Linux. And Linux requires much less RAM, and makes Aero look like doodling.
  • @anonymuos "Windows 7 is just like Vista."
    When Vista came out I got myself a respectably spec'd Toshiba Laptop running it (despite my misgivings) because
    a) Nobody knew how long it would be before the next and hopefully better Windows would come out
    b) As IT manager I needed a heads up on all the calls we might get because of Vista's problems if our company had to migrate on mass.

    I am now running Dell Vostro with W7 64bit and am loving it.
    My old Toshiba which ran like a pig with Vista is running like a dream with Ubuntu 10.10

    Better than XP - not sure - but if W7 hadn't been a significant improvement on Vista I was considering weathering the training and initial staff confusion by migrating to some flavour of Linux Desktop!
  • Jack Shofield

    WinXP has been almost 100% reliable.

    Improved performance? Only if you buy new hardware.
    Improved security? By MS standards maybe. Not by anyone elses. Can you run it without AV?
    Better interface? Personally I find it awful, non-intuative, hard to figure out how to do anything.
    Lower cost of ownership? We'd have to buy 200 new machines & dump 200 perfectly good ones!
  • @Jack Clark
    Well, I'm using a 5 year old desktop running XP and have only just replaced an older X31, so I know it's possible to run XP with close to 100% reliability. However, this doesn't mean I think this is typical, or that most people can do it.

    As for RAM, in real life, there's very little difference between XP SP3 and Windows 7. In fact, Windows 7 often performs better in the same RAM if you include multimedia. Even when it doesn't, the differences are marginal (you can measure them, but most users would never notice them).

    Are you a spambot or do you keep reposting the same stupid message manually? And do you get paid for it?
    Jack Schofield
  • @AndyPagin

    > WinXP has been almost 100% reliable.

    So it should be, but not all IT people are that good at their jobs ;-)

    > Improved performance? Only if you buy new hardware.

    Provably not true. However, I take it most of your PCs are more than three years old, have too little RAM to run XP SP3 properly and/or don't have usable GPUs...

    > Improved security? By MS standards maybe. Not by anyone elses. Can you run it without AV?

    Improved security over XP which, in this case, is the only point at issue. (Let's not quibble about the security performance of Adobe or Apple on Windows, though Microsoft writes more secure code than them.) Good luck when you stop getting security updates for XP....

    > Better interface? Personally I find it awful, non-intuative, hard to figure out how to do anything.

    Personally I find both Linux and Mac OS X awful, non-intuative (sic), hard to figure out how to do anything. I don't have those problems with Windows 7 because I've been using Windows for so long. Guess what: so have 95% of us.

    > Lower cost of ownership? We'd have to buy 200 new machines & dump 200 perfectly good ones!

    Yes, it's a beautiful day. I expect you're planning to retire before the ordure impacts any rapidly-rotating air-movind devices.... ;-)
    Jack Schofield
  • @Andy - we run Windows 7 on a Pentium 3 PC that's built into an LCD screen. It came with XP and we had to max out the RAM to make Media Center run, and it always ran sluggishly. We didn't dare put Vista on it, but we've been running Win 7 on it since beta and it's faster and far more reliable; I was ready to throw the machine away and build something from scratch and now I think this PC will last another few years without any need to upgrade it. Windows 7 even had drivers for the TV card that hadn't worked in two years... Obviously performance varies, but I've seen more than one system perform better with 7 than XP.
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe