CIOs and endpoint computing managers should get ahead of the game and avoid the issues many organisations encountered last time.
The end of Windows 7 support seems far away, but the time between when the next version of Windows (currently codenamed “Windows Threshold”) may ship, and support for Windows 7 will end, is about the same timeframe as from when Windows XP support ended.
Microsoft recently ended support for Windows XP,` and even though the end date was set in 2007 based on a life cycle support policy Microsoft introduced in 2004, many organisations were not able to completely eliminate the OS by the deadline. Nearly a quarter of PCs in organisations were still running Windows XP after support ended, leaving IT to figure out how to secure Windows XP and/or find funding to do so.
The end of support for Windows 7 will be January, 2020, assuming there are no changes to its current support life cycle. While this feels like it's a long way off, organisations must start planning now, so they can prevent a recurrence of what happened with Windows XP.
The good news is that improvements to Windows 8 help enable adoption. Microsoft has moved to a more fluid approach to releasing and updating Windows. In the 18 months since its release, Windows 8 has had two significant updates, and we expect more during the next year.
Organisations that have already deployed some Windows 8 PCs, or that decide that Windows 8.1 Update 1 provides an attractive platform, should not shy away from deploying new devices with the OS. However, we expect that by the time an organisation is ready for a broad rollout, Windows 8.1 Update 2 will have entered the market. Shifting deployment to Update 2 should be relatively straightforward for most organisations, and in that case, Windows 8.1 Update 1 should be seen as a pilot for that ultimate deployment. Some organisations may even try to switch to Windows Threshold for production deployment.
While upgrading Windows is getting easier, some problems will inevitably persist. Organisations where compliance and application validation are required, for example, will likely find that deploying new PCs with Windows 8 and keeping current may be beyond their abilities. Consultation with application software providers is a must to ensure that this new update model (similar to that which occurs on mobile phones and tablets) can be supported.
The biggest problem that organisations have with upgrading to new Windows releases is ensuring application compatibility. The vast majority of Win32 applications that run on Windows 7 will run on future releases, but having applications is only one component of application compatibility. Many organisations, especially those in industries with government oversight or compliance requirements, require applications to be officially supported by the Independent Software Vendor (ISV) and/or go through validation processes to ensure compatibility. Such organisations may find skipping Windows 8 for most devices makes sense.
The biggest compatibility issues in terms of applications not working will continue to be those that require specific releases of Internet Explorer (IE). Microsoft will improve the migration process — it will become easier and more reliable to upgrade PCs in place from an older to a newer version of Windows. However, Windows 8 may be the baseline required for more agile application management and upgrades, and improved processes and tools will not resolve the ISV support problem.
We recommend that organisations select one of the following three options for dealing with their PC OS platforms through the remainder of this decade:
1. Deploy Windows 8 on new PCs as they arrive, thereby phasing Windows 7 out over time as PCs are replaced — this may make sense for many organisations.
2. Skip Windows 8 and plan to deploy a future version of Windows (perhaps Windows Threshold or even a release after that) to replace Windows 7 — we believe most organisations will do this. With this strategy, many will not eliminate Windows 7 before support ends unless they budget extra funding to do so.
3. Deploy Windows 8 on all PCs to eliminate Windows 7 — for most organisations, we see little value in doing this, and do not recommend it without a solid business case.
*The author is a Research Vice-President at Gartner
What's your comment on the issue?