Upgrading to Windows 7 in the Enterprise

Wayne Rash

Microsoft's much anticipated launch of Windows 7 has finally happened. You know that, of course. But mostly what you've heard is that Windows 7 is easier to use, more efficient, and less annoying than Vista. What you haven't heard is how it will fit into your enterprise.

The first thing you should know is that upgrading to Windows 7 may or may not be feasible in your enterprise, at least for existing client machines. The second thing you should know is that if you can start moving to Windows 7, you probably should, because your life will be somewhat easier. But there are a lot of caveats.

First, if your enterprise is currently running computers with Windows XP, it's likely not worth the trouble to upgrade. First, Windows 7 does not support a direct upgrade from XP. Second, Windows 7 has approximately the same hardware requirements as Vista, so if you couldn't run Vista, you're out of luck.

If you have XP client machines that are capable of running Vista, you have two options. The first is to back up each machine, install Vista, then, once you're certain it's running properly, do a second upgrade with Windows 7. The other requires that you back up your machine, do a clean install of Windows 7, restore your data, and re-install your applications. Both of these choices are labor-intensive to the point that it's questionable that it's worth the cost. You're probably better off moving to Windows 7 when you replace the XP machines.

If you already have machines with Vista, then moving to Windows 7 is fairly easy, but it's still time-consuming. For each machine you'll spend about a half a workday running the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor to find out which applications and drivers will need to be upgraded, performing the actual install, and then running Windows Update and a variety of specialized updates to get everything working. But since most of the upgrade process is spent waiting while your machine works on the install, you can have your IT staff do several client machines at once.

If your Vista machines are fairly new, or you have new machines that you bought with XP, it's probably worth the upgrade if you can calculate the costs as they apply to your organization. It's likely your support costs will drop, your computers will be faster and more secure, and the OS will be significantly more stable. In addition, Windows 7 has moved away from the overt flashiness of Vista to an interface that looks more businesslike, and a lot of purely consumer features that burdened Vista have now been relegated to the home versions of Windows 7.

While the specifics of the cost equations will depend on your company's unique needs, it's likely to be worth upgrading newer Vista machines, and it's certainly worth having Windows 7 on new machines when you buy them. The practice of buying machines downgraded to XP no longer makes sense. The improvements in security, operations, management and administration, as well as greatly simplified network administration for Windows 7 machines, will save your staff time and money.

But forget about upgrading most of your XP machines. Just budget what you would have spent on performing the upgrade into the price of a new machine with Windows 7 already installed. It'll be a lot cheaper in the long run.

Full Disclosure: My company, Wayne Rash & Associates, has done some subcontracting work for contractors to Microsoft. However Windows 7 was never one of the products for which services were provided.

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