Posey's Tips & Tricks

Migration Headache: Windows 7 or Windows 8?

The right answer may not be right for every enterprise.

Now that the extended support period for Windows XP is over, many organizations are considering whether they want to move to Windows 7, Windows 8 or simply remain on Windows XP indefinitely. As always, there are a number of considerations to take into account when deciding on a new operating system. As such, I wanted to give you some things to think about if you are trying to decide whether to migrate to Windows 7 or to Windows 8.

Windows 7 and 8 each have their advantages and disadvantages. Windows 7 is a tried and true operating system. It has been around long enough that it has been proven to be stable and reliable. Furthermore, the Windows 7 interface isn't all that different from the Windows XP interface, so your users shouldn't have too much trouble adjusting to the transition.

Warranted or not, Windows 8 has a reputation for being one of the worst desktop operating systems that Microsoft has ever created. Even so, the vast majority of the criticism surrounding Windows 8 is directly related to the user interface. The core operating system is actually very similar to Windows 7. Furthermore, I have never personally run into any Windows 8 stability problems.

From a stability and reliability standpoint, I think that Windows 7 and Windows 8 are both solid choices. However, it is also important to consider each operating system's feature set.

One of the big selling points for Windows 7 was that some editions support the use of Windows XP mode. For those who may not be familiar with Windows XP mode, it is an optional download that allows Windows XP to run inside of a virtual machine on Windows 7 desktops. The really cool part about Windows XP mode is that applications that are running on top of Windows XP are exposed through the Windows 7 interface. As such, the end users are unlikely to have to switch back and forth between operating systems.

Microsoft originally introduced for Windows XP mode as a way of enticing customers to move from Windows XP to Windows 7. It is worth noting, however, that Windows XP mode is no longer officially supported. Microsoft discontinued support for windows XP mode at the same time that they discontinued support for windows XP in general.

Windows 8 does not offer Windows XP mode, but some Windows 8 editions do include Hyper-V, which makes it possible to run Windows XP (or other operating systems) within a virtual machine. Windows 8 also introduced a number of new security features such as Secure Boot, Early Launch Anti-Malware (ELAM), and a browser independent Smart Screen filter. Although the claim is up for debate, Aryeh Goretsky of ESET was quoted as saying, "After reviewing the layers of technologies used by Microsoft to protect Windows 8, it is our opinion that it is the most secure version of Microsoft Windows to date".

Another issue to consider with regard to choosing between Windows 7 and Windows 8 is long-term support. Microsoft maintains a schedule for when it will stop selling and stop supporting various operating systems. Microsoft has already discontinued retail sales of Windows 7 Professional. The last date that Windows 7 Professional was officially sold through retail channels was Oct. 31, 2013. Mainstream support for Windows 7 is scheduled to end on Jan. 13, 2015. Extended support will be available through Jan. 14, 2020.

If you are concerned about supportability, then it may not make sense to invest in Windows 7 since mainstream support ends in less than a year. In contrast, mainstream support for Windows 8 is scheduled to expire on Jan.  9, 2018 with extended support being available through Jan. 10, 2023.

Of course the question still remains of whether it is better to invest in Windows 7 or Windows 8. Obviously, you have to choose the operating system that is going to best fit the needs of your business. In situations in which either operating system will work however, I would recommend going with Windows 8. Yes, Windows 8 has a steeper learning curve than Windows 7, but it will be supported for longer than Windows 7 will be and it includes a number of security features that do not exist in Windows 7.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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