Survey: Despite Flagging XP Support, Windows 7 Migrations Stay Tepid

A new poll suggests that IT is dragging its feet on Windows 7 migrations.

Unisys Corp., a global provider of IT services and technologies based in Blue Bell, Pa., conducted its poll in March. Half (53 percent) of the poll's 133 respondents indicated that they "haven't started" migrating or are "not migrating" to Windows 7.

Only 25 percent were piloting Windows 7, while an even smaller proportion of respondents (21 percent) had started the move to the operating system.

The migration question has become more acute for organizations since Microsoft's lifecycle support for Windows XP, including the delivery of free security patches, is scheduled to end in April 2014. XP is still the most widely used OS worldwide at 54 percent, with Windows 7 use in second place at 24 percent, according to March data compiled by Net Applications. Another survey by StatCounter bears out these standings.

Further compounding the potential problems for organizations is the fact that independent software venders (ISVs) likely will stop supporting XP by the end of 2013. That is the estimate given by Sam Gross, Unisys' vice president for Global IT Outsourcing Solutions. He added that companies should have their migration plans in place by the end of 2011 to address such issues.

"Our view as a service provider is that corporations are not doing the regular horizon-level planning that they ought to be doing in the desktop area," Gross said in a phone interview. "Their whole end-point strategy is up in the air right now, and I think that's true across the industry. The problem is, Microsoft is going to own the timing and drive the timing. Corporations are going to be looking to Microsoft for extended support at a fee -- anything they can do to drag it on."

Windows 7 sales have shown steady growth since the OS' release, reaching 350 million licenses after 18 months, but consumer purchasing likely has been the driver. The slower uptake on the business side is partly due to the current economic slowdown, but Gross sees lessons from Windows Vista as being a factor. Every Windows upgrade has been a big event for organizations, he said, but Vista seemed to mark a turning point.

"Organizations discovered for the first time during the Vista era that they actually could skip an upgrade," Gross said. "IT said that we have something that's supportable and works, so we'll just sit this one out." In turn, planning and strategy for managing the desktop has lapsed, he contended.

Gross has been a veteran through various Windows OS migrations. The planning is well-understood by IT personnel and support organizations, and it hasn't changed over the years. However, organizations that extended the lifecycle of upgrading their endpoint systems now face "a backlog of refreshes," he explained.

"Those organizations that are looking to do a threaded migration [to Windows 7], meaning threaded into their refresh programs, are fundamentally out of time, and the pressure is going to increase exponentially as ISVs begin to announce the end of support for [the XP] operating systems," Gross said.

Organizations extended the life of the PC refresh cycle beyond the typical two-year cycle, but the application upgrade work remained, especially around Internet Explorer 6 (IE 6), which is tied to XP.

"Today, because the average age of the desktop fleet is so extended, it creates a lot of issues," Gross said. "In addition to that, coming out of the economic downturn, application organizations have been reduced in size and focused primarily on strategic activities. So a lot of 'nice-to-haves' fell off the radar screen, as well as the people to support that. And now all of a sudden there's a bubble of application work that has to be done -- primarily and mostly around IE applications and Web applications running on the Microsoft platform."

Unisys addresses global IT support for companies and also provides support for application modernization issues, Gross explained.

Gross said that desktop virtualization, whether delivered via the server side or the client side, will be a "significant shift" in how IT organizations manage their computing environments. It will make OS migrations less painful in the future. However, he added that companies aren't really sure what to do with virtualization, and that uncertainty has been affecting their migration plans.

"The ROI is beginning to come more in line for both what is needed and what is expected" with desktop virtualization, he added.

Gross sees a lot of benefits in Windows 7 for organizations and suggested that maybe its benefits haven't been well-publicized. He outlined what not to expect in a Wednesday blog post on "Busting Windows 7 Migration Myths."

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Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.