Windows 7 - Microsoft minus the martyrdom
The Vista mob abates
Such has been Microsoft's focus on consumers when launching and advertising Windows 7, you'd be forgiven for thinking business users didn't even exist.
Yet, in early 2010, the wave of Windows 7 rollout will begin inside Microsoft-centric IT shops.
A study of 184 customers considered mid- and large-sized customers by desktop management specialist Kace Networks found that 30 per cent have secured funding for rollouts of Microsoft's newest operating system in 2010.
Not bad when you consider that Kace found 44 per cent had no IT projects budgeted for 2010 whatsoever - and that Windows 7 was only released just over one month ago. The survey ran between October 26 and November 4.
A group of four customers - all Windows shops - speaking to The Reg at Kace's recent conference in San Francisco, California said they planned to start rollouts from March onwards. El Reg spoke to MSD Capital's Jason Palatty, workstation administrator Christopher Blake, and IT technician Dale Tuttle for architectural engineering firms Benchmark Group and EYP, and the director of network operations for non-profit IT services specialist Techsoup Global Timothy Suttle.
Surely, you'd expect Microsoft shops to jump on the new stuff from their preferred tech supplier. But apparently, no. Even though they run Microsoft for servers, databases, web site, collaboration and Office suites, Windows 7 will be their first big move to a brand new client operating since Window XP - released eight years back.
That's right. They skipped Vista.
Why? While plenty of people - Microsoft especially - have been praising Windows 7's improved stability and performance, there's one thing IT departments feel they can avoid and that they would have incurred had they rolled out Windows Vista: a roasting from angry users.
"Windows Vista was not a bad platform. It had some bugs sure, but they did redesign the mother ship from the ground up so that was excusable," Blake confessed.
"It would have worked quite well in our enterprise apart from a few glitches, but the overwhelming hatred from users who hadn't used it wasn't something I wasn't willing to contend with."
Suttle agreed: "Performance issues would have prevented us moving forward. We'd have been martyrs. The user base probably would have revolted if we'd trued to move into Windows Vista because of performance issues."
Palatty said the issue was psychological for his users, who include tech-savvy hedge fund managers who like to pick up the technologies of companies they investing in. Palatty said he had liked Windows Vista for Bitlocker, which would protect very important trading and investment information on the hard drives of steal-able laptops, but Windows Vista's negative publicity and different interface compared to Windows XP were counter productive.
"Users had to adapt and learn a new operating system. Out of the box, Microsoft likes to throw out all these new features and a lot of the time people didn't care about that," Palatty said. According to Tuttle: "If somebody never used Vista they hated it, even if you told them why they'd like it."
All in the head
The issue was indeed psychological for IT: It was more hard work than it was worth to push a technology on a group of people who's decided they'd hated it. Blake, at least, likes to make users like and want the technology and to become familiar with it - not force it on them.
But things are quite different on Windows 7. According to Suttle: "We are already getting requests, people are excited about Windows 7 and are looking to move."
Why the shift? According to the group, Windows Vista's bad word of mouth was a major hurdle. This time, though, Microsoft prepared the ground ahead of the Windows 7 launch and planted the seeds of positive messaging to give the client a good rep out of the gate.
The Windows 7 beta program encompassed a broad number of users beyond the usual clique of tech testers. Also, it released Windows 7 ahead of the initially talked about 2010 deadline, creating the impression Microsoft's released something quickly and ahead of schedule instead of the standard late - something that's added to curiosity and good will among potential new users.
Windows 7 - aka the latest Vista service pack</h3
"Windows 7 is a service pack or a fix for Windows Vista," Blake said. "But they branded it as a new product because if they said SP 3 - even if it has every single fix - it would still have the mental attachment to that old operating system. By releasing it, that's given every enterprise the opportunity in the world to adopt some technologies they really wanted to."
Also, all that hitting of the consumer base is important: The recent history of technology adoption in the enterprise - email, IM, and mobile phones such as the iPhone has been of consumers bringing these systems into the business and expecting IT to support them. Overtime, they've become integral to the fabric of doing business. The mental perception from the messaging around Windows 7, Blake said, is it's something users can trust, which will go a long way to towards adoption and getting Windows7 in to the enterprise.
And that's important, because Windows 7 has some features this group wanted. Notably, performance and stability and native 64-bit out of the box, especially at Benchmark and EYP whose users thrash CAD.
In the background, though, was the growing sensation that a change was inevitable and that hanging on to Windows XP was becoming increasingly untenable. Windows 7 offers a bridge into future support and development from Microsoft at a time when Microsoft is throttling sales and choking off support for Windows XP. All support for Windows XP is due to end in 2014.
Blake said: "Do we want tot stick with the old dog that works or do we want to go with something we're pretty sure works and get the support."
Windows 7 also coincided with what sounds like a long-overdue hardware refresh: Organizations on Windows XP are running old machines that need replacing. The arrival of Windows 7 gives them the opportunity to replace aging PCs with machines boasting faster processors, larger memory, and hard drives. Throw in desktop virtualization with VMware View from VMware, XenDesktop from Citrix, and Kontainers from Kace plus the fact newer PCs should see the hardware support needed by Windows 7's XP Mode then organizations buying a fresh round of PCs should be betting against the need to refresh either their PCs or client operating systems for sometime into the future by packing more onto their new desktops.
The fact Microsoft just got Windows 7 "right" on stability and performance is more important than the fact Microsoft's introduced new features such as Windows XP Mode.
Blake reckoned Windows XP Mode's between two to three years away in terms of enterprise use because the chips in most PCs issued by businesses right now don't provide the hardware support it needs. These PCs need to be cycled out and replaced. "Microsoft has done a nice job. Windows XP Mode is ready for the enterprise, but the enterprise it's not ready for it," Blake said.
Apart form that, things are good for Microsoft, right? With Windows 7, the company's back on track in terms of delivering client operating systems people - at the very least - won't hate IT for rolling out and will accept and be wiling to use? Not exactly, and Microsoft needs to be careful with when it comes to Windows 8.
Indifference hits home
The thing that sums up the situation, that encapsulates the whole ephemeral nature of how ordinary people really feel about PC operating systems and how Microsoft blew it on Windows Vista, is the fact most people don't just don't really care about operating systems. The problem for Windows Vista was it suddenly became visible, and people hated what they saw - or heard.
The overwhelming majority of users don't care what the operating system looks like, as long as it works. "Make it secure, make it sturdy for the enterprise, make it shiny for the home, and you got another winner product," Blake said of the follow on to Windows 7.
Also, Microsoft needs to keep pace with the hardware - not, as it used to, build software and expect the PC, chip, and memory manufactures would bail it out as their technologies became faster or cheaper. That's especially important as netbooks become more popular. According to Suttle, Windows 7 addressed performance on netbooks, but Microsoft can't afford to forget the lessons of the recent past when it comes to Windows 8.
"They need to continue in that vein, because now you got dual-boot netbooks with Android, is Windows 7 going to perform satisfactorily on a notebook? That's something Microsoft needs too keep an eye on, because people want netbooks," he said.
And we all know how, the technology that people - especially consumers - adopt can become important to the IT shops supporting businesses. ®