Software // Operating Systems
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6/1/2011
01:55 PM
Art Wittmann
Art Wittmann
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Practical Analysis: The Wintel Cycle Is Broken! Now What?

IT shops no longer see the need to replace PCs and laptops regularly, our data shows. But cashing in won’t be so easy.

From the moment InformationWeek Analytics set out to do a survey on operating system usage, it felt odd. We're in an age dominated by Web apps, so it really shouldn't matter all that much what OS runs on the underlying hardware, right? We did the survey anyway because we wanted to see how IT organizations are dealing with the onslaught of operating systems users are bringing in on their own tablets and smartphones to run next to their company-provided system. We also thought we'd find IT departments struggling to manage lots of disparate systems attempting to access sometimes-sensitive company data.

To a degree we found all that, but the most surprising thing we found was that when it comes to laptops and desktops, you'd think our survey data was from at least a year ago. July will mark the two-year anniversary of Windows 7's release to manufacturing. So what's the market penetration in corporate America now? According to our survey, the median percentage of desktops and laptops running Win 7 is a lowly 15%. Even if you work from the retail launch of Win7, which was in October 2009, you'd still guess that about half of desktops and laptops would have turned over already given the typical three-year replacement cycle. That so many of our 441 survey respondents are hanging on to Windows XP is remarkable, but why are they?

The recession and slow recovery certainly play a role. Many companies either stretched their replacement cycle or suspended it altogether over the past few years. But there's more to it than that, and our survey gives some hints as to what else is happening.

Security and manageability are still the main concerns about any new OS wending its way into the enterprise. So when we asked in our survey about systems and processes in place around device security and management, we weren't surprised to see that PCs are pretty well in hand, with 95% of respondents running antivirus and between 65% and 80% running remote support, patch management, imaging, inventory, and license-tracking software. Not surprisingly, the percentages were far lower for Macs, tablets, and smartphones. At best, just about one-quarter run these management products on their phones. Vendors are just beginning to release enterprise-quality products there, so we expect to see a slow improvement in these numbers.

But more important, we're seeing a focus on managing the new crop of devices while the status quo for laptops and desktops is seen as good enough, particularly in a world of Web apps. XP is well understood, and when it's run on a dual-core system with a few gigabytes of memory (we used to call those supercomputers and squirrel them away at Los Alamos and the NSA), most users' needs are more than adequately met.

For IT shops, breaking the Wintel three-year replacement cycle will be something like the U.S. winning the Cold War against the Soviets: The peace dividend won't last long. The next war for integrating, managing, and protecting users and data on new classes of systems will require different thinking and different tools. The faster IT pros get on board with that notion, the better off they'll be. Look for our OS wars story in a July issue of the magazine.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Analytics, a portfolio of decision-support tools and analyst reports. You can write to him at awittmann@techweb.com.

To find out more about Art Wittmann, please visit his page.

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