In previous posts I talked about the fact that some businesses may want to wait to upgrade from Windows XP until Windows 7 comes out (which many pundits have predicted will be in the 4th quarter of this year, despite Microsoft saying it will be in early 2010).  In a post on its blog yesterday, PC World quoted Microsoft’s Gavriella Schuster, a senior director of Windows product management, as saying that Windows 7 is no “magic bullet” for businesses.

“Moving from XP to Windows 7 is not a magic bullet . . . You have the same level of application compatibility from XP to Windows Vista or Windows 7.”

This means that many applications, like Quickbooks, will still have to be upgraded with the OS, whether you move to Vista or Windows 7.   Shuster went on to say that customers should examine their application and hardware environments closely to see which would be the best fit for them. “It really depends on the environment.”  Microsoft actually went further than that in advising businesses by launching a “Windows for Your Business Blog” in which Ms. Shuster offers advice to businesses on what upgrade path to choose.   In addition, Al Gillen, an analyst for IDC, was quoted in the PC World post as saying,

“It will essentially be about as painful for customers to move from XP to Vista as it will be to move from XP to Windows 7 . . .  a migration from Vista to Windows 7 will be far easier.”

Certainly firms need to look at their upgrade strategy soon, especially since Microsoft is moving Windows XP out of mainstream support on April 14, relegating it to what they call “extended support.”  What does this mean?  According to PC World, by Microsoft policy, mainstream support delivers free fixes — for security patches and other bug fixes — to everyone. During extended support, all users receive all security updates, but non-security hot fixes are provided only to companies that have signed support contracts with Microsoft.

As would be expected, Microsoft is pushing upgrades as hard as it can.  Steve Ballmer was quoted in a PC World interview as saying that, “enterprises that stick with Windows XP too long risk complaints from impatient users who have been using newer computers running Vista and Windows 7 at home.”    Although Ballmer may be right about this, I do not think that the risk of grumbling employees is going to be high on any law firm’s list of reasons to upgrade their machines.

On the other hand, Microsoft is giving an incentive to leapfrogging firms by offering a discounted license for an XP to Windows 7 upgrade, providing you do a “clean install,” which wipes the hard drive and starts you from scratch.   In my opinion, this isn’t such a bad thing, since this type of upgrade installation usually means fewer hassles.  Data can be backed up on each machine and then restored after the install.  This is even less complicated where a firm’s data mainly resides on a server.  Then it would just be a matter of reinstalling apps on each machine.  Either way, this can be done in a small firm over a weekend to minimize downtime for staff.

So, do you upgrade now or do you wait until Windows 7?   All in all, I think it comes down to the fact that there is no use upgrading twice, and Microsoft seems to be offering a better deal to leapfroggers.  Certainly there could be a 6 to 10 month period of time where your XP machines will be on “extended support,” and thus could fall prey to annoying “non-security bugs.”   I would review Microsoft’s blog on upgrade paths and make the choice that is best for your firm, bearing in mind that the hassle of the double upgrade would have to be outweighted by the benefit of new features in Vista and the potential risk of those pesky “non-security bugs.”  As for me, I am waiting for Windows 7.  I can do everything I need to do using XP and do not expect that to change any time soon.

UPDATE (2-15-09): As mentioned in this post, the XP to Windows 7 upgrade requires a clean install, rather than an “in place” upgrade on existing PC installations.  Is this a major stumbling block?  As I said above, most likely not, if done properly.  PCWorld posted here that a clean install is what is usually don in the enterprise.

“Business IT typically does clean installs on user systems to avoid these issues, Silver notes, so the lack of an in-place upgrade will be a nonissue for most enterprises.  Consumers and small businesses are the ones who tend to prefer the in-place upgrade option.”  (emphasis added)

Small businesses, again, can have their IT consultant do the work over the weekend if it is on existing machines, with a backup and restore of data, and reinstall of applications.  No matter what, doing it this way is worth the effort, as the post states:

“Viruses, registry errors, and other performance-sapping flaws in the user’s Windows environment would be carried over into Windows 7; something that would not happen with a clean install.”

Really, the nature of this upgrade path is a non-issue and really a better way of doing it.  It also does not present a problem if it is done as part of a hardware replacement cycle, where the OS comes pre-installed on the machine anyway.