Justifying Windows 7

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Making the case of a wholesale upgrade of an operating system is never easy in the best of times, never mind the worst of times. Despite all the promises that Windows 7 can run on existing systems, the fact of the matter is that the better part of valor is to make sure Windows 7 is running on a new system that has enough memory and storage space to optimize the experience. Anything short of that is going to be more support trouble than it's worth.

That begs the question, assuming you're committed to Windows in the first place, of when to upgrade to Windows 7. New systems have never been less expensive in terms of the comparable performance they deliver. But more than a few IT organizations think the prudent course is to wait for at least one service pack upgrade, while also making sure that existing systems have depreciated enough in value to warrant an upgrade. That logic would seem to indicate that the arrival of the first service pack might coincide with a timeframe in 2010 when it should be more apparent that the economy is recovering.

But assuming that Microsoft is not going to experience the same level of application compatibility and driver issues with Windows 7 that we saw with Windows Vista, there are several additional compelling arguments to be made for upgrading to Windows 7 sooner rather than later based on new features included in the operating system.

The first is a feature called Direct Access that allows a Windows 7 client to securely access a 64-bit implementation of Windows Server 2008. This feature essentially eliminates the need to buy and manage virtual private network (VPN) software.The second feature worthy of some note in Windows 7 is Branch Cache, which in many remote offices can eliminate the headaches of having to deploy and manage a remote server. This new addition to Windows 7 basically puts enough local cache in place to eliminate the need in some instances for application acceleration appliances. Windows 7 also includes improved support for terminal services, which Microsoft now calls Remote Desktop Services, and virtual desktop infrastructure. Both approaches serve to lower the total cost of managing desktops.

Finally, there's also the tighter integration of BitLocker encryption software and AppLocker, a tool that is much less intrusive in terms of figuring out which applications have permission to run on your systems and which ones don't. In terms of preventing security headaches, the value of these technologies is hard to exactly quantify even if their benefits are obvious.

Unlike Vista, Microsoft seems to have taken a fair amount of care in terms of making sure there are enough cost and labor-saving benefits to the IT department to make them back Windows 7. There's also a fail-safe Windows XP mode just in case there is an actual application compatibility problem. None of this has been lost on some early Windows 7 adopters such as BMW.

Of course, none of this makes Windows 7 a slam dunk in terms of driving an across-the-board upgrade. After all, capital budgets are still extremely tight. But there's probably enough there to make Windows 7 worth more in the long term than the potential trouble it might cause in the short term. And for many IT organizations struggling with supporting Windows XP applications that as time goes by run increasingly slower on aging PC hardware, Windows 7 starts to look pretty good, so the time to experiment with the free version is probably now. For a complete list of what's in Windows 7, you can also check out this guide.