This week, I and my colleagues are at the IT Business Edge Midmarket CIO Summit, where we are focusing on the needs and concerns of CIOs in mid-sized businesses and government organizations. I'm doing the talk on Windows 7 deployment best practices and to prepare for that talk, I've interviewed around 10 companies that have either deployed Windows 7 or are in trials with it. In Don Tennant's CIO panel last night, he asked how their trials were going and the CIOs who responded gave answers that are consistent with what I have found. The trials are going vastly better than expected and a high percentage of CIOs appear to be major fans of the offering. Given that I couldn't find a single CIO that liked Windows Vista, this is certainly a dramatic change.
Let's talk about what is going right and I'll make recommendations at the end.
The Advantage of a Maintenance Release
Windows 7 is a Maintenance Release -- and Maintenance Releases historically -- are more reliable and vastly better liked by IT and users than the initial release of a new product. Windows 98, Windows XP and Windows 7 were all maintenance releases and generally were better received than Windows 95, Windows NT and Windows Vista. Windows 2000 and Windows ME were exceptions. Windows 2000 was a primary release but because of the massive testing for Y2K it actually went in reasonably well, and Windows ME should have been a second Maintenance Release but they made too many changes and didn't do enough testing and it was horrid. As a result, Windows 2000 behaved more like a Maintenance Release and Windows ME a primary, almost a 1.0, release. The first was widely deployed; the second was avoided like the plague.
A Maintenance Release seems to work better because it focuses on tuning and user-interface simplification. The core aspects of the product remain largely unchanged from the prior service patched product. As a result, the Maintenance release is a vastly more mature product out of the gate. Windows 7, based on testing results, is behaving consistently well, like a Maintenance Release should.
The review and deployment sites indicated they were seeing a number of strong benefits with Windows 7 over Windows XP. These benefits include much stronger IT control, which has resulted in better reliability for the product because there are fewer employee-driven problems. IT can better block unapproved activities and IT is better able to remotely correct mistakes that do get through.
CIOs appear to be using Windows 7 to significantly extend their PC use cycles for at least another three years and for up to 10 years total. They are seeing performance improvements and getting good installation results on hardware that is up to seven years old.
Security improvements, particularly for government sites, are one of the big reasons for moving to the product and Bitlocker is being used widely in the trials and deployments to protect company data. In addition, the protections against malware are making it much harder for employees to install it, reducing breakage.
With the reduction or elimination of support for Windows XP, problems with that platform are now increasing and the quality of support for Windows 7 appears higher. This is consistent with Microsoft practice, as it tends to put its best support resources on the new platform and discontinue support for any platform that is two versions back. Sites are reporting almost no driver issues -- they had been experiencing increasing driver problems with new hardware and Windows XP as core vendors stopped doing driver updates for XP some time ago.
One feature of Windows 7 that dovetailed very well with Windows Server 2008 is Branch Cache for companies that were using it successfully to improve remote office performance. Windows Server 2008, in most cases, was either being rolled out before or concurrently with Windows 7 in most of the sites I spoke with.
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