At the Windows 7 launch in downtown Manhattan, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled the general availability of Windows 7 with his usual enthusiasm, emphasizing ease of use, faster boot up times and the ability to bring together the PC and the television.
Ballmer drum-beating aside, Windows 7 has garnered some of the best reviews of any version of the OS. With user interface and networking features that are both slick and useful, and an army of hardware makers lined up with special deals on everything from netbooks to high-end gaming PCs running Windows 7, the setting seems ripe for consumers to upgrade or buy a new computer.
Enterprises, on the other hand, are a more complicated bunch.
Yet despite the testing, planning and time-consuming complexities of an enterprise OS upgrade, corporate customers at the Windows 7 launch interviewed for this story are hankering to deploy Windows 7 in their environments.
[ For complete coverage on Microsoft’s new Windows 7 operating system — including hands-on reviews, video tutorials and advice on enterprise rollouts — see CIO.com’s Windows 7 Bible. ]
Early adopters from different lines of business and at different stages of migration agree on three points: Windows XP has had its day; Vista was never worth it; and Windows 7 offers businesses too many security, networking and navigation features to ignore.
XP Couldn’t Last Forever
Holland America Line, a Seattle-based cruise ship company with a fleet that travels all over the world, has been aggressively testing Windows 7 as part of a migration from Windows XP for its 3,900 PCs across 14 cruise ships.
Application managers in the company’s IT and finance departments have been testing Windows 7 for application compatibility for about a year. Though only 20 machines run Windows 7 right now, IT manager Phil Norman says that a year from now he plans to have 50 percent of all machines at Holland America Line running Windows 7.
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“We tested Vista with a small group, but there were too many application compatibility issues. The benefit just wasn’t there,” says Norman, adding that Windows 7 is a “much more usable operating system, with better security features.”
Norman gives kudos to Windows XP for being a very stable and easy OS to maintain. “But only to a certain extent,” he says. “More and more we’re relying on third party vendors with XP, and it can’t handle newer drivers.”
Yes, Windows 7 Can Save You Money
Del Monte Foods, a San Francisco-based food production and distribution company that sells canned fruits and vegetables as well as pet foods, is at a similar stage in their Windows 7 deployment as Holland America Line, with 45 out of its 3,000 total business users running Windows 7 on their machines.
The other users run Windows XP. Del Monte plans to have Windows 7 on 1,000 machines within a year. The company skipped Vista because it was “cumbersome, hard to use and had too many compatibility issues,” says David Glenn, Del Monte’s director of enterprise operations.
Even though migrating from XP to Windows 7 is estimated to cost $1,035 to $1,930 per user, according to research firm Gartner, Glenn is confident that Windows 7 will ultimately save money for Del Monte.
“The new Windows 7 hardware coming out is less expensive than hardware in XP’s days,” he says. “Also, Windows 7 is a lot easier to use, so our training and support costs will go down.
Glenn adds that because Microsoft is pushing Windows 7 in the home market, Del Monte will encourage employees to upgrade on their home machines. “There’s a lot of functionality in Windows 7 they can learn at home and bring with them to work. One good example is connecting to a printer is so much easier with Windows 7,” he says.
Virtualize Those Apps
Migrating to Windows 7 has been made smoother for both Holland America Line and Del Monte by using MDOP (Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack), a suite of add-on applications available to members of Microsoft’s Software Assurance program that help manage a network of PCs.
Both companies are using the Application Virtualization feature of MDOP, called App-V, to virtualize applications and make them available to Windows 7 users even if those apps are not compatible with Windows 7.
“It’s a temporary fix while application vendors get compatible and it will help speed up our deployments to Windows 7,” says Glenn.
Windows 7: A Security Savior?
Al Gillen, a VP at research firm IDC, offered a reminder that not all enterprises are so gung ho about Windows 7 adoption. But, he adds, there is a solid case for businesses to move on.
“Mainstream support for XP has ended and that could become a liability for companies,” says Gillen.
Mark McBeth, VP of IT at Starwood Hotels, has security on his mind as well. McBeth is in the process of testing and slowly migrating Starwood’s 160 hotels (including the Sheraton and Westin brands) to Windows 7. With many different employees accessing the same computers at front desks, security poses a big concern.
“Like most companies, we deal with external and internal security policies,” says McBeth. “Any security breach and we are subject to fines, audits and bad PR. So obviously we want more security features in the OS, and Windows 7 provides that.”
Specifically, McBeth highlights the built-in security features of Internet Explorer 8, as well as AppLocker, a Windows 7 feature that protect users from running unauthorized software that could lead to malware infections, and BitLocker to Go, an encryption feature that protects the data on external hard drives and USB thumb drives.
Norman of Holland America echoes the need to have security features baked into the OS.
“In our industry there’s lots of compliance. Our ships are basically floating cities,” he says. “Windows 7 meets security needs better. With XP, we have resorted to using third party security vendors and there have been compatibility problems along the way.”
A New Day for Microsoft
IDC’s Gillen says that every company’s Windows 7 adoption experience will be different. “Like any OS upgrade, there will be early adopters, and there will be late adopters,” he says.
But with positive reviews and a solid launch, Windows 7 could mark a new beginning for Microsoft, Gillen says.
“Microsoft got a lot of criticism over Vista. This is a chance to rewrite the gamebook for both consumers and businesses.”
Shane O’Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.