A majority of enterprises have migrated to Windows 7 or are planning to do so. But for Windows XP holdouts ready to side-step Windows 7 for the upcoming Windows 8 OS, you are risking a gap in support, stresses research firm Gartner in a new "first take" analysis of Windows 8 migration in the enterprise.
Gartner analysts Michael A. Silver, David W. Cearley and Stephen Kleynhans acknowledge that for organizations running late with Windows 7 it is tempting to forego the OS, but with support for Windows XP ending in April 2014, organizations would be cutting it close.
Microsoft has not announced a general release date for Windows 8, but Gartner believes the company may target back-to-school buyers in 2012 — in which case, the RTM (release to manufacturing) of Windows 8 would likely start around April 2012, a date that would allow general availability by midyear 2012.
"Even if Microsoft meets that very aggressive timeline, independent software vendors and enterprises will likely need nine to 18 months to obtain and test supported applications and plan deployments," the Gartner report states. "That means that most organizations would not be able to start deploying Windows 8 until the end of 2013."
And five or six months after that, Windows XP goes off life support.
At its BUILD developer conference this month, Microsoft unveiled the Developer Preview version of Windows 8, revealing details about the Metro "tile-based" UI, the compatibility with Windows 7 applications, the ease of building Windows 8 apps, and the different devices and form factors that Windows 8 will run on.
Microsoft has focused more on what Windows 8 means for developers and consumers than it has for IT departments. But in an interview, Rich Reynolds, GM for Windows Commercial Marketing, emphasized Windows 8 enterprise security and networking improvements over the well-received Windows 7. And then there is the tablet factor. Windows 8 will run on all the hardware that Windows 7 runs on, plus it will utilize ARM-based chips to run on lower-powered devices like tablet PCs, a market now dominated by the iPad and one that will become more important to enterprises as employees increasingly depend on personal devices for work purposes.
Some examples of new or enhanced enterprise features in Windows 8, according to Microsoft's Reynolds: More efficient use of Direct Access, a networking feature in Windows 7 that lets mobile workers connect to corporate networks without the use of a VPN; BitLocker encryption is streamlined in Windows 8 so that only sectors of the hard drive that contain data will be encrypted and will do the task while you are working; in addition, Windows 8 will introduce a feature called Secure Boot, which prevents malware from booting up before the OS boots up.
"Obviously we're excited about the new features in Windows 8, but our guidance for enterprise customers using Windows XP is to focus on accelerating Windows 7 deployments," says Reynolds. "End of XP extended support is in April 2014, which leaves little time for organizations to move to Windows 8. In fact, in most cases we think it wouldn't even be possible."
To that end, Gartner presents four recommendations for Windows XP enterprise holdouts that are at a crossroads in their deployment strategy.
- Organizations running Windows XP and working on Windows 7 migrations: Continue as planned; do not switch to Windows 8.
- Organizations that find it difficult to do "forklift" upgrades: Consider bringing in Windows 8 through attrition.
- Organizations interested in new devices enabled by Windows 8: Consider Windows 8, even if you intend to skip Windows 8 for traditional PCs.
- Enterprise developers: Become familiar with the Metro style of applications, which will likely be the preferred desktop metaphor in the future as the focus for Windows 8 applications.
Shane O'Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Shane at email@example.com