Jan 27, 2010

JigsawWaiting for Windows 7 SP1 before updating? Why? It’s ready to go today.

Historically, adopting the first version of any major Microsoft software release has been, well, a mistake. Sometimes, as with Windows NT, it took several iterations — until NT4 SP3 — before the operating system really worked well. And, with the far more recent Windows Vista fiasco in mind, no one could blame you for not aggressively looking into shifting your business desktops from Windows XP to Windows 7. But, more than six months after Windows 7 was released to manufacturing, it’s become clear that there’s no reason to wait for SP1 before moving up to Windows 7.

I’ve had little love for Windows over the years. But this time, while I can still give you chapter and verse on why a Linux desktop is worth considering, I have to say that I’m impressed by Windows 7. More to the point, after over a year of working with Windows 7 from late beta until now, I’ve found it more than stable enough to consider as a Windows XP replacement today.

People’s usual reasons for holding off on an upgrade until SP1 is fear that an early Windows version will break underneath them. That’s not the case here.

I have been beating the heck out of Windows 7 on a variety of systems and to coin a phrase, “It just works.” Along the way I have also run on the OS mainstream business software such as Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, QuickBooks, and dozens of other programs, and I’ve yet to find a need for Windows 7′s built-in XP virtualization. At the same time, I’ve also found that most everyday business peripherals such as printers, scanners, and the like also have no trouble with Windows 7.

This isn’t to say that you should just run out buy a few thousand Windows 7 licenses and start your conversion process tomorrow. That would be the height of folly. What I am saying is that you don’t need to wait until SP1 appears before starting a migration.

So why should you make the move? For me, the real corporate IT win isn’t in Windows 7 by itself. If you were to ask me to name one compelling reason to move from Windows XP SP3 to Windows 7, I couldn’t give you one.

But if you put Windows 7 together with Windows Server 2008 R2, then I think you get something that is well worth an enterprise’s time and money. Primarily, what I like is their combination of high-end networking services.

I’m not talking about cute — but not game-changing — services such as location-aware printing that makes sure your laptop users always and automatically use the right printer no matter where they are. No, it’s features such as BranchCache; DirectAccess; Secure Remote Connect; URL-based Quality of Service; and improved IPv6 support.

The net effect of all these services is to greatly improve your network’s overall performance. BranchCache makes it much easier for your branch offices to stay in sync with the central office’s servers. DirectAccess, Secure Remote Connect and IPv6 team up in a variety of ways to maximize the utility of your Internet connection, and URL-based Quality of Service helps make sure that your important network traffic gets the priority it deserves without requiring constant network administration tuning.

These advances may not mean much for a small company, but when you’re looking at hundreds to hundreds of thousands of PCs, all those network speed boosts add up to a considerable savings both for network management and overall worker performance.

Still, you should also keep in mind that, like it or lump it, you’re probably going to need to buy new computers when you move from Windows XP to Windows 7. While it’s relatively easy to upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7, it’s far more difficult to move from Windows XP to Windows 7. That said, your Windows XP systems aren’t getting any younger and their maintenance costs will only get higher.

It’s also a sad, but true, fact that some high-end equipment isn’t supported by Windows 7 or by its vendors. For example, Intel’s 82801ER SATA RAID disk controller, which was used in high-end Xeon workstations, doesn’t work well with Windows 7.

So, if you do elect to move to Windows 7 sooner rather than later, you should be certain to do your due diligence with both software and hardware. This means more than just checking Microsoft’s Windows Compatibility Center. You need to do hands-on testing. I strongly suspect that, in the end, when it comes to hardware you’ll find it cheaper to buy new computers than it will be to retrofit your older XP systems with Windows 7.

In my experience, it’s often easier and less expensive to swap out machines than it is to upgrade them no matter what the operating system. With PCs at near historic lows in terms of price for CPU power, RAM, and disk space, now may actually be a good time to move to Windows 7.

Yes, I know, I know. Budgets are tight all over. On the other hand, since Windows 7 is proving to be remarkably stable and work-ready already why not upgrade now and reap the benefits from Windows 7′s more advanced networking features today? After all, sooner or later, probably sooner, you’re going to need to update your desktop operating systems. Better to upgrade now than before broken systems force your hands into an ad hoc migration situation.

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