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Gartner: Windows 8 Is No Escape from 'XP Danger Zone'

Organizations just can't skip an upgrade to Windows 7, according to a Gartner Webinar presentation.

That's the bottom-line message from Steve Kleynhans, research vice president at Gartner, who gave a Wednesday talk on "Preparing for the End of Windows XP; Is Windows 8 in Your Future?" And the answer to that latter question is "No," especially for organizations that haven't moved off Windows XP to Windows 7. Windows 8, at best, should be considered to be "a special project" for IT pros to ponder, after moving to Windows 7.

"Get Windows 7 done, and then you can start to experiment and dabble with Windows 8, but don't let Windows 8 derail your Windows 7 upgrade project," Kleynhans urged. A Gartner poll has found that about 60 percent of organizations are "well under way" with their Windows XP to Windows 7 migrations. 

Gartner distinguishes between "plumbing release" and "polishing release" cycles in Microsoft's Windows releases. It's a pattern that the research and consulting firm has noted, starting all of the way back to Windows 95. So, for instance, Windows 2000 was a plumbing release, with lots of changes, while Windows XP was a refinement or polishing release. The polishing releases are more stable and sell better historically. Windows 8 has elements of both types of releases, Kleynhans explained. On the one hand, Windows 8 has good compatibility with Windows 7 apps, while, on the other hand, it has a new user interface optimized for touch. Ultimately, though, Gartner sees Windows 8 as a plumbing release, so it's not bound for enterprise success, according to Gartner.

"We really don't think Windows 8 will get significant traction as a PC OS in a corporate environment," Kleynhans said. He added that among Gartner's clients, the vast majority of users are moving to Windows 7 and planning to skip Windows 8 for PCs

Windows 8 will have new user interface aspects that people need to learn, and so that will tend to hold down initial adoption in corporate environments. But Windows 8's timing, with a product release pending on October 26, may have confused some organizations that they can move from Windows XP to Windows 8. Kleynhans offered a couple of rationales why skipping Windows 7 is a bad idea. First, Windows 8 currently lacks widespread independent software vendor support. He estimated that "it likely will take at least a year for ISVs to put their stamp on Windows 8," which includes developing management tools. Second, the testing demands of moving to a new OS takes lots of time for IT pros to complete, and "support for Windows XP will end before you get Windows 8 up," he noted.

"XP Danger Zone" Approaching
Kleynhans said that organizations that haven't migrated yet to Windows 7 are almost at the "XP danger zone," a period in late 2013 where IT pros won't have enough time to carry out the proper migration steps. The first phase in an OS migration is the preparation and testing phase, which takes about six months to a year for most organizations. The next phase is the actual OS rollout, which can take a year at least, or as long as three or four years in some cases, Kleynhans explained.

The "extended support" lifecycle of Windows XP will be coming to an end on April 8, 2014, which is when Microsoft will no longer issue security updates for the decade-old operating system, leaving systems vulnerable to attack. Organizations can still establish "custom support" contracts with Microsoft if they can't move off the OS by that time. However, Kleynhans discouraged that approach, saying that organizations possibly will pay more going that route than it would cost to move to Windows 7.

Gartner doesn't know what Microsoft will charge for custom support on Windows XP. However, based on past dealings, custom support is likely to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for organizations, Kleynhans said.

On the bright side, Gartner has found that application compatibility in moving from Windows XP to Windows 7 is mostly good for organizations. The research firm found that 75 percent of apps have no problems moving to Windows 7. Of the 25 percent of apps with problems, the majority can be fixed through minor remediations. However, Kleynhans cautioned that, in many cases, apps can be made to work with Windows 7 but the software vendors may not support it, which may be the case when applying a shim. Fixing, repairing and upgrading apps represents the best approach to dealing with application compatibility issues, but it's another factor that can slow down migrations. He said that application upgrades can be more disruptive to organizations than Windows 7 OS migrations.

Using remote desktop services to address application compatibility issues is at best a Band-Aid approach, according to Kleynhans. Organizations can use Windows XP Mode or MED-V, but it brings a lot of complexity. For instance, IT pros might have to manage multiple images per machine.

Organizations need to consider whether to use 32-bit or 64-bit Windows 7. Kleynhans said that the 64-bit version adds minor issues in terms of testing and remediation. In most cases, IT organizations will want to go 64 bit, he explained.

Office 2013 and Office 365
There also was some talk about considerations for moving to "Office 15," which is the code name for Office 2013, Microsoft's next-generation productivity suite, currently at beta release. Kleynhans said that Gartner expects Office 2013 to ship sometime in the first quarter of 2013. The new productivity suite looks very similar to Office 2010, but some of the screen layouts are larger for touch interaction. He said he didn't consider Office 2013 to represent a major UI change, but users will notice the differences compared with Office 2007 and Office 2010.

It will take a while before Office 2013 becomes deployable by organizations, according to Kleynhans. For instance, it will take about a year to get third-party software vendor support for it, so it will be early 2014 before there will be full support for Office 2013.

Extended support for Office 2003 will be coming to an end in 2013. Kleynhans suggested that it probably isn't a good idea to skip multiple releases of Office. If an organization is using Office 2007, it may want to take a look at Office 2013. He explained that there will be more Web and cloud-based aspects to the new Office 2013, as well as enhancements associated with communications and collaboration. Look for a move in 2014 and beyond, he suggested.

Office 365, Microsoft's hosted collection of services, was launched with Office 2010 and is compatible with that productivity suite. Microsoft's cloud based offerings have some cost perks for organizations. IT staff doesn't have to manage the backend and user costs can be reduced if an organization has multiple devices. However, Kleynhans noted that Office 365 subscriptions don't provide perpetual licenses, so if an organization stops paying Microsoft, it has to stop using Office 365 applications.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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