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Report Urges Orgs To Plan Now for Migrations off Windows 7

Should IT pros be making plans now for moving off Windows 7? The answer is, "Yes," according to Gartner Inc.

Planning to migrate from Windows 7 may be an unwelcome message right now for many organizations. They may have newly migrated from Windows XP, or may still be struggling with getting all of their machines off that 12-year-old operating system, which fell out of extended support back in April. But Gartner is proposing that plans to move off Windows 7 need to be considered today, even though Windows 7 exits extended support in Jan. 2020. Its case is laid out in a recently published report, "Plan Now to Avoid Windows XP Deja Vu With Windows 7."

Microsoft's current flagship client OS is Windows 8.1, which is capable of running Windows 7 apps (Win32 apps) on the Desktop side of the OS. The next Windows under development, called "Threshold" by Microsoft (or "Windows 9" by unofficial sources), is vaguely described by Microsoft as bringing back a Start Menu and allowing Windows Store Apps ("Metro") to run on the Desktop side of the OS. Threshold is rumored to appear in the spring of 2015, but Microsoft hasn't said anything official about its arrival schedule.

Such vagueness means that planning for Windows 8/8.1 may be the main consideration for organizations. However, they still face coming to grips with some app compatibility issues when moving from Windows 7, the research and consulting firm contends.

App Compatibility Problems
Ensuring application compatibility when moving to Windows 8/8.1 will be a problem both technically and in terms of regulatory compliance. It's a regulatory compliance issue for organizations that must meet government stipulations about independent software vendor (ISV) support for an app. Such apps may be critical to an organization.  

"Some industries, e.g. pharmaceuticals, must comply with FDA regulations, which require them to 'validate' significant new hardware/software scenarios," explained Michael A. Silver, research vice president for endpoint computing at Gartner, and coauthor of the report, in an e-mail. "Validation adds months to preparation for a new OS deployment. So whether the application 'seems to run fine' on a new OS is often a small part of what organizations worry about."

Silver also noted that Microsoft recently revised the product support lifecycle for Internet Explorer on supported Windows releases. That change in policy will accelerate the upgrade pressures for organizations using Microsoft's older browser versions.

"And now Microsoft has announced that Windows 7 will only be supported with IE 11 as of January 2016, meaning that IE 8, 9, and 10 will all lose support at that time," Silver said. "This presents more support and compliance issues."

Gartner's report particularly calls out Internet Explorer as one of the top application compatibility problems that IT pros will have to face in migrating to Windows 8/8.1.

Enterprise Mode
Microsoft does have a remediation solution of sorts for organizations running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. This new solution, called "Enterprise Mode for IE 11" (EMIE), provides a means for organizations to run applications based on the older Internet Explorer 8 browser technology. The IE 11 browser emulates IE 8 technologies via Enterprise Mode. IE 8 was the most recent browser version that was supported on Windows XP, so many organizations may still have Web-based applications that depend on continuing to use IE 8 technologies.

EMIE apparently isn't perfect, though. It may have "bugs" and it can be "broken," Microsoft admitted, in a recent blog post. And Silver said that organizations haven't come around to embracing it.

"Orgs are not sold on EMIE yet, and it does not solve the compliance, support and validation issues discussed above," Silver explained. "Microsoft should not have included Windows 7 in the new policy. It's going to be a huge problem for customers."

Threshold and Other Ideas
Windows Threshold is another consideration for organizations planning Windows 7 migrations, but the details are at the speculation level at this point. However, it's thought that the Threshold release might address some issues associated with Windows 8. For instance, Windows 8's touch-based and mobile-like user interface early on was considered to be a bit jarring for traditional Windows desktop users in organizations.

Silver expressed optimism that the Threshold release would address such perceived problems in Windows 8.

"Threshold will likely be to Windows 8 what Windows 7 was to Windows Vista -- they [Microsoft] will have had three years to address the problems and will more likely than not get it right," Silver said. "However, we will certainly continue to reevaluate Threshold as concrete details emerge. The likelihood of Windows 8's problems in the market being resolved before [the release of] Threshold are nil, so there are few scenarios where we would become more positive about Windows 8."

On a practical note, Gartner's report offers three approaches for organization using Windows 7 but considering moving to Windows 8/8.1. One approach is to put Windows 8 on new machines as those machines get replaced. A second approach would be to skip Windows 8 altogether and hold out for Windows Threshold or a subsequent release (Gartner thinks most organization will try to do this). The third idea is a whole-scale replacement of Windows 7 with Windows 8 machines, but Gartner doesn't see a compelling business case for that approach.

About the Author

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

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