Enterprise Upgrades: Five Reasons to Focus on Windows 7 not Windows 8

Because the radically redesigned Windows 8 will struggle to gain acceptance with consumers and businesses, Windows XP shops should focus on Windows 7 upgrades now, and not wait for Windows 8 to mature, says research firm Gartner.

With its new Start screen made of live tiles and its bold redesign, Windows 8 will have a challenging time getting consumers to embrace such radical change.

But the enterprise will be even worse, according to a new report and webinar from research firm Gartner.

It's not that the new Windows 8 user interface and baked-in touchscreen functionality for tablets is not good and necessary, says Gartner analyst Steve Kleynhans, it's just that enterprises still running Windows XP do not want or need it for the immediate future.

"The issue with most organizations is they are interested in a desktop operating system," says Kleynhans. "They don't want to train users and make radical changes to their environment. Windows 8 is a big step for any user, but it's an even bigger step for a Windows XP user."

In the general Windows cycle, Windows 8 is a victim of the "every second release" syndrome, according to Gartner. Windows 2000, Windows Vista and now Windows 8 have all faced the same conundrum: they are a significant change from the previous version. The code has gone through plumbing changes not just a polish, which affects how drivers are installed and how compatible older applications will be with the new environment. In short, "plumbing" releases are difficult to migrate to, the uptake is slower and they are less successful.

"If you try to go from XP to Windows 8 you will run out of time." Gartner analyst Steve Kleynhans

Windows XP and Windows 7 were what Gartner calls "polish" releases, evolutionary not revolutionary. Application and driver compatibility were smoother and ultimately the two OSes were more successful with high adoption rates.

"Because Windows 8 is a 'plumbing' release, it will not see the acceptance of Windows XP or Windows 7," says Kleynhans.

Nevertheless, enterprises using Windows XP need to do something. They are entering a danger zone as all support for the OS will end in April 2014. Moving to a new OS for a large organization takes up resources, money and time, and according to Gartner, XP users will run out of time if they don't act now.

Should they wait for Windows 8? No, says analyst Kleynhans. Windows 8 itself will take too long to mature once released, probably a year. It will take too much time to test and prepare for Windows 8 and wait for independent software vendors (ISVs) to make their software compatible with Windows 8.

"If you try to go from XP to Windows 8 you will run out of time," says Kleynhans.

The solution is to start upgrading to Windows 7 as soon as possible. If you are thinking of leapfrogging Windows 7 to Windows 8, here are five reasons why that's a bad idea, according to Gartner.

• Support for Windows XP will end (on April 8, 2014) before an organization can fully deploy Windows 8, which will take a year after release on Oct. 26, 2012 to mature and gain market acceptance and full app compatibility. Customers can opt for Microsoft's "XP Custom Support," an extension of support beyond the April 2014 deadline, but that support plan is expensive and that money would be better spent moving to Windows 7, according to Gartner.

• If an organization waits too long to upgrade, new applications and software that become available will not run on Windows XP.

• ISVs took a while to become fully compatible with Windows 7. They will take just as long to do so with Windows 8.

• Windows 8 management and security support demands a different skillset for IT groups and will require some time for them to become proficient.

• The Vista effect. The organizations that migrated to Windows Vista had problems, as a result there weren't many that made the move. Therefore many third-party software vendors have stopped supporting Vista. The same thing could happen to Windows 8.

Shane O'Neill is the Assistant Managing Editor for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Shane at soneill@cio.com

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