No one ever got fired for not buying Windows Vista.
Let's face it: CIOs didn't have to make that tough a call on the last big PC operating system upgrade. With three-fourths of companies skipping Vista and sticking with XP, according to our latest research, it became clear soon after the Vista launch that the safe bet was for companies to avoid the OS, with its application compatibility problems and heavyweight hardware requirements, and wait for the next version.
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Now it's decision time.
Windows 7 is here for businesses (the consumer release is scheduled for Oct. 22) and holds tantalizing improvements in terms of security, employee productivity, and bandwidth management. Think about it. Are you really playing it "safe" to stick with stable and trusted friend XP again, despite the fact that it was first released eight years ago? Consider that this safe haven is an operating system from another era, particularly in terms of security, and is losing Microsoft support. Still, just 16% of companies plan to implement Windows 7 within a year, our InformationWeek Analytics survey of 1,414 business technology pros finds, while just over a third have no plans.
The good news is that Windows 7 is looking like a solid operating system--nine of 10 companies that have tested it rate it as at least satisfactory, and more than a third consider it excellent. Vista, in comparison, even today gets a poor rating from 43% of survey respondents. "The pervasive view out there is that 7 is probably better than Vista, and I'm buying it," says Jim Green, CIO of Los Angeles County Public Health, which has about 5,000 PCs. "We're not applying the old, standard 'wait till SP1' approach. The strategy is to begin upgrading as soon as we can."
Green's in the middle of a PC refresh now and has been moving new PCs to Vista, but his employees have the most up-to-date technology at home and want it at work, he says. He sees significant usability improvements in Windows 7, to which he'll upgrade many of the agency's PCs.
At ETS-Lindgren, which makes energy measurement and management products, the reasoning is concrete cost savings. Global IT architect Jeff Border says 70% of the company's 600 existing PCs can run Windows 7 without the major hardware upgrades Vista requires. So he expects he can slow new PC purchases while still upgrading older machines to Windows 7. Plus, he cut licensing costs by negotiating to become an early adopter.
For food giant Del Monte, the overall picture of an operating system that's easier to use is the productivity payoff, even if it can't pin that down to a hard ROI. "If you have a computer that you're using 40 hours a week, and you're traveling with it, and it's easy to use, easy to start up and shut down, easy to find things, and you don't have to become your own little IT people to diagnose your own problems, that's an increase in productivity," says Jonathan Wynn, Del Monte's manager of advanced technology and collaborative services.
Wynn also believes that giving employees the latest Microsoft software helps employee retention. Yet compatibility problems scared Del Monte away from Vista, and its 2,900 PCs almost all run Windows XP SP3. Now the company hopes to start migrating to Win 7 within a month.
While Win 7 tempts, there's no great dissatisfaction driving people off Windows XP, which runs on about eight of every 10 business PCs. Taken together--positive reviews of Windows 7, XP's ongoing popularity, and Vista's ongoing flop--just about half of all companies have firm plans for a Windows 7 deployment, ranging from the next six months to more than two years.