The equation corporate IT pros will have to figure out is how long it will take to get all their XP desktops to Windows 7 before XP support runs out or before application vendors quit producing XP versions of upgrades or new software, which some predict could come as early as 2012.
[ Microsoft this month told companies to kill Vista plans if switching to Windows 7 won't delay things too long. | Preparing for Windows 7? Get the overview you need in the Windows 7 PDF Report from InfoWorld's J. Peter Bruzzese. | And download our free Windows performance-monitoring tool. ]
Windows 7 is the shiny new operating system from Microsoft slated to arrive this fall to replace Windows Vista, which after 30 months has failed in the eyes of IT buyers.
Windows 7 offers a host of tantalizing corporate features such as AppLocker, DirectAccess, Branch Cache, and XP Mode, a virtualization technology that should buy time for users who migrate but must hold on to key legacy applications.
Gartner predicts that more than half of the corporate Windows user-base is skipping Vista and aiming at Windows 7. While that means XP users won't have to tangle with Vista in name, it doesn't mean they will avoid the application compatibility issues that gave Vista a black eye right out of the blocks in November 2006. Windows 7 is built on the Vista code base.
"If you are on XP, Windows 7 isn't going to solve a lot of Vista's migration problems," says Brett Waldman, a research analyst for IDC. "Going from Vista to Windows 7 should be a much easier transition than XP to 7."
Users who have deployed Vista have an easier path because Microsoft provides an upgrade option not available to XP users, and because they have already solved their application compatibility issues.
Microsoft says nearly all applications that run on Vista will run on Windows 7 and early testing by users is beginning to validate that claim.
In addition, hardware upgrades made for Vista are relevant for Windows 7 rollouts.
While those rollouts won't be painless for Vista converts, it is those on the XP side who will have to tap into their planning and organizational skills.
The XP equation
The predominant migration questions among those coming off XP are "when" and "how."
"What we are saying is that by the end of 2012 you should be off XP," says Michael Silver, vice president and research director at Gartner. With most large corporations taking 12 to 18 months to test and pilot a new operating system, the migration clock is ticking.
"If I target the end of 2012 to get XP out then you have your migration window," he says. "Organizations really need to be poised to do a lot of migrations on new machines and some existing ones in 2011 and 2012. That will be the mainstream of the migrations."