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...