by Dana Wollman on December 4, 2009
To ask if your small business should upgrade to Windows 7 is a trick question, mostly because you don’t have a choice. Since Microsoft’s support for XP is nearing its end, the real question isn’t if your small business will migrate to Win 7, but when.
And how. Even if you’re sold on the benefits of the new OS, the thought of pouring money and time into upgrading each and every one of your business’s computers can lead to a headache, particularly since there’s no easy upgrade path from XP to Windows 7. We found out what Microsoft and notebook manufacturers are doing to make that transition as painless and affordable as possible.
According to a recent Forrester study, 86 percent of businesses that use Windows are running XP. That’s right: more than four out of five of you are still hobbling along on a capable, but aging platform (the OS celebrated its eighth birthday earlier this year). Microsoft certainly wants to put the OS out to pasture; although it won’t cut off extended support for XP until April 2014, vendors will lose the right to sell XP downgrades in about a year and a half (18 months from Windows 7’s October 2009 release).
For that reason alone, both analysts and notebook vendors say, those businesses that took a pass on Vista are more likely to embrace Windows 7. “I liken it to a car,” said Jay McBain, Lenovo’s director of small and medium business. “Too many of us are looking at redeploying a car that’s nine or ten years old and planning to keep it for three more years. We’re getting toward an aging asset base.”
Many businesses seem to have accepted that XP is finally nearing its demise. According to a survey by ScriptLogic, 40 percent of IT managers have plans to deploy Windows 7, a number Nick Cavalancia, ScriptLogic’s vice president of Windows management, says dwarfs the number of managers who were ready to adopt XP at launch (12 to 14 percent).
Cavalancia believes this number would have been even higher if not for the recession, and that XP’s aging status isn’t the only reason so many IT mangers have already jumped on board. “You’ve got needs that aren’t met with XP they want to meet with Windows 7: security, functionality, and speed,” he said. “This time, Microsoft has taken the hesitation in migrating to Vista and made significant improvements [so] that it’s the right feature set.”
While our review of Windows 7 focused largely on enhanced usability and user interface eye candy, IT managers are more likely to question the ease with which they can manage the OS. Although the much-reviled Vista was technically more secure than XP (thanks to the addition of User Account Control), whatever security benefits it provided were overshadowed by those annoying pop-ups. Because Windows 7 limits these notifications to critical situations, the security is easier to appreciate this time around. ScriptLogic’s Cavalancia says it’s important for IT managers to have something that is secure while balancing the user experience.
Other safety measures include the ability to back up data to a network and Domain Join, which makes it easier for telecommuters to connect to a company’s domain. Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate versions include not just BitLocker—an encryption tool offered in Vista—but BitLocker to Go, which can lock down USB drives as well. An added feature, available only to enterprises, lets IT managers restrict usage to certain applications as well.
Then there’s the fear of starting with too blank a slate. According to Cavalancia, 40 percent of survey respondents said that they consider software compatibility to be the biggest barrier in adopting Windows 7. Lenovo’s McBain agreed making the leap from XP to Vista scared off many of his company’s SMB customers. “On the previous roll-out, simple things like printers didn’t work,” he said. “You’ve invested in your printer, your network, and perhaps some proprietary applications you’ve built in-house, and you run your business off these, so it’s not an option to not be able to run them.” In case programs aren’t compatible, Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate boast XP compatibility mode, whose minute settings can simulate XP with various service packs installed.
McBain also believes that Microsoft has been more aggressive about working with software developers and accessory makers. Since Windows 7 is built on the same architecture as Vista, we’re particularly inclined to believe compatibility will be strong; third-party vendors can use the same drivers they’ve been using for almost three years now. Our own review also suggests strong compatibility for both existing software and peripherals.