Businesses tell Microsoft "We're done with XP"

Businesses take their time with OS upgrades. Now that we've passed the one-year anniversary of Windows 7, the results are in, with multiple studies confirming that enterprise adoption rates are way up, and XP is toast.

Last month, when we passed the one-year anniversary of Windows 7, I noted that Microsoft executives seemed "relaxed and genuinely confident" about consumer adoption rates. Selling 240 million copies in a year will do that for you.

Yesterday, I checked in with a senior Microsoft executive whose job is to closely monitor corporate adoption rates of Windows 7. If I had to choose one word to describe the demeanor of Gavriella Schuster, general manager of Windows Product Management, it would be relieved.

Schuster's counterparts on the consumer side of the Windows team get to watch upgrades play out in real time. Big business, on the other hand, moves far more slowly. As I noted back in April 2009, when Windows 7 was still in the beta phase: "Businesses need a year or so after a new Windows version is released to test their in-house software for compatibility and to plan a thoughtful migration strategy." Now that we're past the 12-month mark, those plans are crystallizing, and Microsoft's execs can finally exhale.

Two new studies suggest that Windows 7 is being adopted at a pace that's downright blazing by corporate standards. My colleague Mary Jo Foley reported the details of a Forrester Research study yesterday: 90 percent of businesses they surveyed expect to migrate to Windows 7, with "46% of firms now reporting that they have already begun or will begin deploying Windows 7 within the next 12 months."

Those results are confirmed by a separate report from Dimensional Research, also released this week. According to that study, commissioned by Dell KACE, "corporate IT has been actively adopting Windows 7 as planned. This survey showed that 38% of participants have implemented a partial roll out of Windows 7 [and] 6% of participants are now fully deployed on Windows 7." Another 30% are still in the test phase of their Windows 7 deployments.

Microsoft's internal data back those numbers up as well. According to Schuster, nearly 90% of companies have already started their formal migrations to Windows 7.

Ironically, one question on that same KACE study triggered a slew of misleading headlines earlier this week. A post from ZDNet UK blogger David Meyer highlighted one result from the survey suggesting that 48% of the IT pros surveyed "intend to carry on using Windows XP even after extended support for the venerable operating system ends in 2014." Not surprisingly, ComputerWorld picked up on the same inflammatory headline.

A closer look at the data paints a very different picture. Yes, roughly half of businesses will continue to run some PCs on XP after its expiration date. Some of those XP instances will be in virtual machines, others will be running specialized software that can't be upgraded and can't easily be abandoned. But the total number of PCs in this group is likely to be very small, akin to the small proportion of Windows 2000 and even Windows 98 machines stubbornly hanging on today.

I asked Schuster whether Microsoft has any internal statistics to measure how many corporate PCs are being bought with Windows 7 licenses and downgraded to XP. "We can't track that," she told me. "All we have is anecdotal evidence. We heard about it when they were downgrading before. We're not hearing that now." In fact, Schuster says, the overwhelming message from CIOs at the recent Gartner CIO Summit was blunt: "We're done with XP."