Apps can delay Windows 7 migration

Application compatibility issues can be expected to hold back the move to Microsoft's latest operating system, say experts to organizations, while Redmond points to offerings to speed up app testing and deployment of the operating system.

Organizations need to plan for application compatibility issues, which can delay their migration to Windows 7, said industry experts. However, Microsoft said it will be helping its customers to accelerate application testing.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Ronnie Ng, senior manager, systems engineering (pre-sales), at Symantec Singapore, pointed to the Windows 7 Migration Study by Symantec, which found that most companies ran into some type of delay in their migration to the new operating system. Among the 1,360 companies surveyed, 53 percent cited application incompatibility as one of the top issues delaying their move to Windows 7, said Ng.

Charles Smulders, managing vice president of Gartner, concurred in his report, Prepare for Your Windows 7 Migration Crunch, published in June. In it, he said that even "in the best case", most organizations will not be able to complete their application migration and pilot testing of Windows 7 until the fourth quarter of 2010. "Organizations should anticipate that unforeseen application compatibility issues will lead to delays in starting a wider rollout," he added.

In response, Microsoft has said that it is prepared to help firms with migration issues. In an e-mail to ZDNet Asia, Xavier Pereira, senior director of marketing for Microsoft Asia Pacific, said the company's services team is in charge of working with its customers on migrations.

Citing Norm Judah, chief technology officer, Microsoft Services, Pereira said the company has suites that target four areas--desktop planning, desktop application compatibility, desktop image engineering, and desktop deployment--to help firms accelerate application testing and deployment of Windows 7.

According to Pereira, the company is on target to have Windows 7 installed on about 1.5 million PCs in businesses across the Asia-Pacific region in the current fiscal year.

He also pointed out to a recent survey by IDC, which found that 89 percent of enterprises surveyed have "definitive plans" to begin migration to the new OS within a 24-month period.

IT managers attached to Windows XP
A study by Dimensional Research found that about half of IT managers want to continue running Windows XP even when Microsoft ends its support for the operating system in 2014. Senior analyst Diane Hagglund said: "IT [managers] just really, really like the XP operating system...They say it's just that good and don't want to mess with it."

However, she noted that companies are unlikely to run on Windows XP forever. She said that most companies will likely upgrade to Windows 7 in about six months' time after support from Microsoft ends when they realize their systems are vulnerable if not patched.

Gartner's Smulders advised enterprises to move to Windows 7 by 2013 to minimize problems arising from third-party vendors which will likely terminate their support for the older OS much earlier than Microsoft.

IE6, a kink in Windows 7 migration
Compatibility of standalone applications is not the only issue that enterprises will have to deal with. According to a Gartner report titled Solving the IE6 Dilemma for Windows 7, released in end October, one roadblock to the adoption of Windows 7 in enterprise will be compatibility issues with Internet Explorer 6 (IE6).

Gartner vice president and research director Michael Silver noted in a report that many enterprises are still stuck with the "obsolete" IE6 because Microsoft was "very successful" in getting independent software vendors (ISVs) and companies to write applications unique to the browser from 2001 to 2006.

As a result, "many homegrown, browser-based applications and ISV applications fail[ed] to run on IE8 or third-party browsers", he said, adding that Windows 7 cannot natively run browsers that are IE8 and older.

While fixing or replacing IE6-specific applications is the best option, Silver noted that it is also potentially the most difficult. Not only is this time-consuming, it is also not part of the promoted migration plans and tools from Microsoft, he added.

Silver suggested other temporary and potentially less expensive options such as running IE6 from a terminal server or accessing IE6 from hosted virtual desktops.

The research director said that Gartner clients have reported Microsoft commonly advising them to run Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V), which requires licensing Windows Software Assurance and Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) and outfitting each PC with a Windows XP virtual machine, making this a costly option.

Three tips for migrating to Windows 7
Citing recommendations from the Symantec survey, Ng offered three tips for enterprises migrating to Windows 7.

1. Planning
Results of the survey showed that top-tier companies spent an average of 20 IT man hours preparing for the migration, compared with 9 hours by bottom-tier companies. The former were more likely to consider advanced planning.

As a result of the longer planning process, top-tier companies were offline for only a median of 2 hours, in comparison to lower-tier firms which saw 6 hours of offline time.

2. Train users
Companies with more successful migrations had greater emphasis on user training and user satisfaction before the learning phase rather than after.

3. Use proper hardware
More top-tier companies than bottom-tier firms found upgrading hardware "extremely helpful" in the migration to Windows 7. Respondents also recommended hardware requirements that were slightly higher than Microsoft's minimum recommendation. For them, a minimum of a 2 to 2.5GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, 200 to 500GB of hard drive space and a 512 B video card was needed to migrate to the new OS.