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Windows XP users weigh dwindling support vs. Windows 7 migration

Support for Windows XP won't last forever, but some are willing to deal with the risks of not moving to a new OS for another five years.

Some companies are opting to stick with Windows XP as long as possible, potentially even skipping a Windows 7 migration, despite the potential downsides of decreasing XP support from Microsoft and business application vendors.

It doesn't faze Windows XP users that mainstream or free support such as patches and bug fixes ends on April 14, and support for security-related fixes will stop coming from Microsoft in April 2014.

Vista's features failed to impress them, and some believe that by the time support officially ends for XP in 2014, something newer and better will be available to replace Windows 7, which is currently in beta. Microsoft has said the public release will be out by the end of 2009.

"I'm going to stretch the life of XP until someone makes me move," said Kendyl Peebles, IT director at Clancy & Theys Construction Co. in Raleigh, N.C. "Support for XP really doesn't end for another five years or so, and by then I'm sure Windows 7 won't be the latest and greatest."

The company did look at Windows Vista but found that many of its applications, particularly applications related to its construction practice, were not compatible with Vista. (Windows 7 uses the same kernel as Vista, however, so users eventually will have to work through this issue.)

Windows XP users also need to keep in mind that other software companies will most likely stop supporting their applications on XP before Microsoft ends its support for the OS, said Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. "When people see a support stop date of 2014, they have a false sense of security that it's OK to stay with XP, but hardware and software vendors will stop supporting it long before then," he said.

That means CIOs need to sync up their applications and infrastructure managers and establish how long that support will continue, to plan out their eventual upgrade strategy.

Others are waiting to move to Windows 7 simply because migrating to a new OS is painful -- particularly at a time when profit-boosting projects take precedence in a down economy.

"There is no such thing as an easy migration, whether it is from XP to Vista or XP to Windows 7," said Christopher Steffen, principal technical architect at Kroll Factual Data, a Loveland, Colo.-based subsidiary of risk consultancy Kroll Inc. "It's pretty much the same brain damage, and in the case of Vista we just don't see anything that makes us say 'Hey, we gotta have that.'"

Besides, he said, his company's IT team members have XP down pat and he believes they will be able to resolve any XP-related problems until they decide to migrate to Windows 7.

Steffen said one area he's eager to learn more about is Microsoft's virtualization plans for Windows 7. Kroll's application developers are using Windows Server 2008 as their client OS so they can use different operating system versions on their desktop. "It would be nice to see a hypervisor for the client and not just the server. That would resolve application incompatibility issues for our developers," he said.

Microsoft is mum on any new virtualization technology it may be developing for Windows 7 and is also choosing not to comment on its plans to develop a hypervisor for end-user devices.

Windows 7 features for enterprises

There are a few features expected in Windows 7 that were designed with business vs. consumer use in mind.

Support for XP really doesn't end for another five years or so, and by then I'm sure Windows 7 won't be the latest and greatest.

Kendyl Peebles, IT director, Clancy Theys Construction Co.

Branch cache, for example, stores on a local server information that users request. A WAN connection is established only when new information is requested by another user at the branch office.

"This will help business use fewer resources and get better performance for the branch because a workstation can act as a peer to distribute information," Silver said. The user interface is also more intuitive in Windows 7 than in Vista in that it arranges Windows in applications in a way that makes it easier for users to find what they are looking for, he said.

When news began to surface about Windows 7 this past October, Gartner released a study advising businesses not to skip Windows Vista. The research also found that most companies will not be ready for a Windows 7 migration until mid-2011, since organizations typically wait 18 months after a new OS ships before they deploy it. Windows 7 is not due out until mid-to late 2009.

Additional security features in Windows 7

Other Windows 7 features include:

  • AppLocker, which lets the IT team choose which applications can be used by which users and on what machines.
  • BitLocker, which lets administrators encrypt and set policies for removable drives like USBs.
  • Direct Access, which gives Windows 7 clients access to corporate networks without a virtual private network connection.

For those opting to move first to Vista and then Windows 7, Microsoft has said the Vista kernel will remain the same for Windows 7. As a result, organizations will have to deal with fewer hardware and software incompatibilities when they move from Vista to Windows 7 than they did moving from XP to Vista.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Christina Torode, Senior News Writer.

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