Windows 7 launches into prime time

More than 8 million beta downloads later, Windows 7 has finally arrived, but is it the next step in the evolution of enterprise computing? We asked Australian CIOs and IT managers for an honest assessment.

Microsoft claims its new operating system has simplified the PC, but the task of planning to replace Windows XP across large and small corporate and government networks across Australia is proving no easy challenge.

Dominic Vu, Manager of Information Management at Queensland's Department of Mines and Energy, is already looking ahead with trepidation to to the day when Microsoft cuts out all support for Windows XP.

Although he believes that date is 18 months away, the task of updating almost 7000 desktops across the state will require careful planning.

The department, formed from the amalgamation of a number of different Queensland government agencies, already has a project underway to plan for the desktop operating system change as well as an overall enterprise architecture consolidation.

"We need to be very careful about this, the migration will involve large costs and disruption," he said.

Brisbane Catholic Education has just completed an upgrade to Vista in its central administrative office, and has Microsoft products at the core of its enterprise systems.

"However Window 7 is of limited interest to us," said Chief Information Officer Warren Armitage.

"It is a moderate improvement on Vista in our experience thus far, but not a compelling upgrade for us. We are far more concerned with Microsoft’s back-of-house solutions in Forefront, Sharepoint, Exchange, SQL Server, Service Centre etc.

"The desktop OS is of only limited interest to us. We also use Apple end-user devices and in my view Microsoft has probably brought itself with Windows 7 up to par with Apple’s Leopard OS."

Armitage is disappointed by the teaks to Internet Explorer within Windows 7.

"For us the browser is a more important platform than the OS, Apple’s Safari, Mozilla’s Firefox and Google’s Chrome are all well ahead of Microsoft in this important aspect.

"As a client we want a fast, stable, secure client OS on top of which we will use browser technology as the critical component. Windows 7 in this sense is competitive but not compelling."

The challenges of planning for a Windows 7 migration are the same whether your network numbers in the tens, hundreds or thousands of PCs.

Gavin Tomlins, Chief Information Officer at the Sundale Garden Village retirement home in the Sunshine Coast town of Nambour, has around 700 users on XP to worry about.

Around 30 staff who work in a mobile capacity are the first candidates for a migration to Windows 7. The new operating system's DirectAccess feature is a big attraction, giving the ability to provide a secure link back to devices on a home network

"The remote connectivity features of Windows 7 are a big improvement over XP," said Tomlins.

However for the large bulk of users, who are working in a Citrix thin client mode on XP, the productivity gains of updating to Windows 7 are not so apparent.

"Windows XP is stable and it works," said Tomlins. "Most of our users are not very technically literate and they use XP at home so I can't see much productivity gain from changing them over.

"When 40% of their work is done in Microsoft Office, I can't see where the gains will come from.

The cost of upgrading to Windows 7 is also not something the Aged Care sector is looking forward to after being hit in the past 12 months with a large increase in software licensing costs.

Microsoft has enforced a move to charge full commercial licensing for aged care institutions that previously were entitled to not-for-profit pricing.

Many regard Windows 7 as Vista "fixed", a Service Pack that the much maligned OS has long been waiting for.

Among that number is Frank McKenna, CEO of Australia's Knowledgeone Corporation, who believes the non acceptance of Vista has caused a worldwide technological backlog.

"Not upgrading to Vista also meant not upgrading a whole host of other software and operating systems and databases and hardware (e.g., taking full advantage of 64 bit processors)," he said.

"Corporates and government simply stayed on old and proven versions of software. Of course the Global Financial Crisis also contributed with intense pressure to reduce IT spending. Vista plus the GFC has resulted in most organizations around the world running on ‘old’ software and most are at least 3 to 5 years behind the normal IT upgrade cycle."

Windows 7 could be the catalyst to get many organisations back on track.

Although it will not be all smooth sailing. Many old applications will not work correctly with Windows 7, and hardware compatibility will still be an issue, although not as bad as with the first Vista release.

Also, there is no upgrade path from XP to Windows 7, it will require a fresh install of OS and applications.