One of the downsides to the Vista upgrade that I mentioned awhile back was that certain programs (like QuickBooks) would have to be upgraded to work with the new OS, thus increasing the cost.  However, one of the new features planned for Windows 7 is an “XP Mode” (XPM), currently in beta testing, which allows XP-specific applications to run inside the Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise versions.  Interesting move by Microsoft to entice businesses to upgrade, but will it fulfill its promises?  Should an upgrade decision be based on that?  I don’t think so.

An April 26, 2009 post on the PC World blog warns that XPM could be more trouble than it is worth.   It quotes Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner Inc., as saying that there are two downsides.

“You’ll have to support two versions of Windows.  Each needs to be secured, antivirus-ed [sic], firewalled and patched. Businesses don’t want to support two instances of Windows on each machine. If a company has 10,000 PCs, that’s 20,000 instances of Windows.”

The other downside, he says, is that XPM could be used as a crutch that would lead companies not to be sure that their applications are Windows 7 compatible.  Eventually, the upgrades need to be made, as Microsoft is phasing out support for XP.  In addition, XPM would continue to bog down Windows OSs by making them still run on “legacy code,” which has been a problem for the OS for over a decade.  Finally, XPM does not run on all hardware, so you would have to be very careful about what machines you buy.

My advice?  Bite the bullet now and upgrade your software with the move to Windows 7.  You will be surer of hardware and software support, and will leave behind performance and stability problems created by running legacy code on the latest OS.  It is an investment that will pay off.

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.

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I have been reading a lot about netbooks in the blogosphere recently both in terms of the “next big thing” in hardware and whether Windows 7 will cure Microsoft’s woes in the market.   For those of you yet unfamiliar with the term, a “netbook” is a laptop that is typically about 3-lb in weight, with a 9-inch screen, wireless Internet connectivity, an Intel chip, running either Linux or Windows XP, and at a cost of less than $400.   A netbook, unlike a notebook, is more suited for accessing web-based applications and cloud computing, rather than running complex or resource intensive applications directly from the netbook itself.  As a portable device, it is basically a smartphone on steroids.

This type of device can be very useful for the road warrior attorney who mainly needs to check e-mail, surf the web, access web-based applications like Google Docs, and the like.  It sure beats lugging a larger, heavier laptop through an airport!  The price is also so low that it makes sense to have one as an extra machine just for travel.  This is what makes it the “next big thing,” and certainly worth looking into if you travel quite a bit.

As for  Windows 7, netbooks present a bit of a quandary for Microsoft.  As mentioned above, these machines usually run either Linux (many manufacturers are using the Ubuntu distribution) or Windows XP.  This is because of the scaled down CPU (most use the Intel Atom chip), smaller RAM allocations (many have 512Mb to 1Gb), and smaller screens.   This is because these specs do not present enough resources for Vista, and even early beta testing on Windows 7 is showing it would not be a practical option as well.  This is one reason why Microsoft is continuing to license XP on lower end machines like netbooks.  Unfortunately, Microsoft can’t extend its support for XP indefinitely; it has to come out with a newer OS that will run on this hardware.

Redmond is apparently trying to find some middle ground on this through a proposed version of Windows 7 for netbooks, Windows 7 Starter edition.  The problem with this version is that it can only run up to 3 apps simultaneously!  At least one tech blog has claimed this to be a “fatal flaw” in the OS for netbooks, and uses it as another reason why Linux may well come out on top on these devices, since it is an OS that runs much leaner and meaner than Windows.

On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal has reported that Microsoft will offer an upgrade to the Starter version that will not have this restriction, although no price has been set yet.  Even if the full version of Windows 7 would run effectively on a netbook, the upgrade cost would take away somewhat the inexpensive nature of the netbook option.  Linux proponents argue that this makes their OS a much more logical candidate for this hardware.  It is free (thus not impacting the overall cost of the machine and, if anything, lowering it) and is far more feature-rich than a stripped down version of Windows.

My overall recommendation is that if you are thinking about a netbook as an additional PC for travel, you should seriously consider one that runs Linux rather than Windows.   Since netbooks focus on web-centric app solutions that run within browsers, software compatibility is not an issue.  At worst you would have to learn your way around an open source browser like Firefox or e-mail client like Thunderbird.  Google apps would run just as well.  You would also get a more secure, stable OS.  Having been a user of Windows for close to 20 years, I found that using Linux was not all that difficult in a GUI environment.  You can always judge for yourself by getting a LiveCD (a self-contained version of Ubuntu Linux that runs from the CD when you boot the machine from it) and giving it a test drive.   I think you will find that Linux makes more sense for these devices.