Coping with Windows Diversity

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The State of the Microsoft Desktop

Customers are taking a piecemeal approach to Windows 7 and Office 2010 upgrades.

One of the most attractive things to corporate IT about Windows used to be the homogenous nature of the Microsoft operating system environment. The basic theory was that IT organizations could minimize the number of images to be managed, reducing their systems-management headaches.

But with the arrival of Windows 7, not to mention multiple versions of Windows XP, the homogenous nature of the Windows environment is no more. And given the piecemeal pace of upgrades to Windows 7, it looks as if Windows XP and Windows 7 environments will be running side by side for years.

A new study of 953 IT professionals conducted by Dimensional Research on behalf of Dell KACE, a provider of systems-management appliances, 48 percent plan to continue running Windows XP even after Microsoft discontinues support for it. And when IT organizations do move to Windows 7 and Office 2010, the vast majority don't expect to buy new hardware.

How that strategy holds up, given application performance, remains to be seen. The majority appear to be treating Windows 7 and Office 2010 as separate upgrade issues, given that Windows 7 runs most Windows XP applications, and Office 2010 has a new user interface that requires training for users. Nevertheless, more than half said they would be running Office 2010 sometime between now and the end of next year.

According to Dell KACE President Rob Meinhardt, one of the more surprising aspects of the study is how dependent IT organizations still are on manual migration processes. At a time when IT organizations are short on staff, Meinhardt says there needs to be more emphasis on providing tools to smooth the migration process. If the overall process is smoother, the migration to Windows 7 and Office 2010 will go faster as more users are exposed to the platform and IT organizations discover how much more robust the Windows 7 platform is. As that happens, the complexity of managing heterogeneous Windows environments will be sharply reduced.

The Dell KACE study also finds that while Office still dominates the desktop, open source productivity applications such as OpenOffice and cloud computing services such as Google Docs are making inroads.

All in all, the study highlights that there is still significant amount of work to done on making the move to Windows and managing what essentially will be a heterogeneous Windows environment going forward.