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Windows 7 migration: First thoughts

OK, there’s no getting around it. This year is going to be the Year of Reading Endless Speculation and Lightly Informed Commentary About Windows 7. Feature Bingo, Shipping Date Roulette – you’re undoubtedly familiar with the pattern and patter around Microsoft OS releases. I confess, I felt professionally obliged to fire the beta up, and in my next post I’ll give you a quick review – hopefully saving you or your staff from wasting hours of time with a Windows 7 migration. But for now, let’s talk about the big question: Which version of Windows — XP, Vista or Windows 7 — are you going to standardize on when? How many migrations do you want to make in the next year?

IT shops have been much more resistant to upgrading from XP than any other version of Windows I can recall. Vista just didn’t excite many people, and relatively few shops planned mass migrations. Count me among those who think Vista was largely Microsoft’s fear and paranoia response to the then-yet-unreleased but highly rumored Mac OS X and its accompanying update of the modern GUI. Aero, transparent windows, etc. – it was all about the consumer glitz factor. Microsoft was clearly worried that Joe Cool would tell his friends, “Windows is so 20th century. I’m going Mac.” As for businesses migrating to Vista, Microsoft seemed to take that for granted.

In interviews I participated in with head Windows dude Jim Allchin and other responsible parties in Redmond prior to the release, the mantra about why IT shops would love Vista was always “Security.” Namely, User Account Control and Network Access Protection (NAP). The first would protect against malicious code and the second against malicious people. The first was a nonstarter with end users and the second had to await Windows Server 2008. For all its potential to improve security, how many of you are willing to delegate your shrinking staffs to implement NAP? I’d be interested to hear from you on that.

So, in short, from most corporate perspectives, nothing much in Vista worth migrating for. Even for those who tend to upgrade when told to, a lot of old hardware wouldn’t work with Vista. And “upgrading” from XP was problematic, not only because of the hardware compatibility issue, but also because of Windows’ inability to nondestructively resize boot drives when necessary for upgrades, forcing complete re-installs. Not to mention some people found it noticeably slower.

So what’s Windows 7’s compelling new feature? Gee, there’s a new “Connect to a network projector” feature, but I’m just not that moved by it. I’m still looking – have you found any? On, Christina Torode reports that there are some nice-to-have Windows 7 features for business around security and networking, but I don’t know if I’d call them compelling.

As far as compulsion goes, Christina notes that many people are assuming they can run XP for years, but you may run into trouble with ISVs, or for that matter, peripheral vendors who won’t bother to write old drivers or driver install routines. The hardware incompatibility issue with Vista shouldn’t be as serious with Windows 7, since by the time it ships you probably will mostly have Win7-ready inventory. With some of the freak-out factors gone, it’ll just be mostly another migration.

It’s all so wearying somehow, this hype cycle of nonimproving improvements.

So what would be compelling? How about:

  1. Can we get a bare-metal hypervisor for the desktop? There’s been a lot of buzz about “native VHD support” but not much detail. I’ll be trying to figure out how close that comes to allowing you to create and distribute installs and upgrades as simple VHD files, which would be a killer differentiator. However, I suspect VMware or Citrix or somebody will actually beat them to it and go all the way to bare metal with their solution.

  2. Now that you have Windows Live SkySpaces, why don’t you figure out a way IT shops can rent space real cheap (or free with certain licenses) for end users to at least automatically back up their My Documents folders up there? Ninety-nine percent of IT shops do nothing about end-user backup, and really, how many end users save only important documents to the network? And so far, you can neither target Windows Live from the minimal backup app in Windows or copy more than a file at a time (you can’t copy an entire folder). Hey, Steve B. and the other paranoids up in Redmond, don’t you think that would help you in your self-proclaimed war with Google? I think at least it would help your corporate customers.

  3. Instead of adding new mini-games to each version, can you recognize that more and more office workers have to work in sound and video? Yes, copy Apple and give them some reasonable basic sound and video editor program. And that would also appeal to consumers, who still seem to be whom you worry about most.

  4. Lastly, can you finally put some of that 90% unused CPU capacity to work checking and healing the system? This has been on my list since 1995. What few efforts Microsoft has made in this arena seem pretty tokenistic to me.

OK, that’s my wish list. How about you? What would make you feel proud to recommend upgrading and ask for the budget for it? And absent that, how are you thinking about playing this? If upgraded to Vista, will you skip Win7? If you didn’t, how are you going to proceed going forward?

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