Enterprises planning a Windows OS migration are at a bit of a crossroads. There's a lot to consider.
First, there is increasing pressure to get all workers running Windows 7 as support for Windows XP winds down. At the same time, the demand from workers to use Windows 8 on tablets will only ramp up in anticipation of its release a year from now.
Hypothetically, the corporate landscape in a year and half will consist of Windows XP and Windows 7 running on PCs, and newly available tablets running Windows 8 competing with iPads and Android-based tablets.
"From an IT perspective, users will start clamoring for Windows 8 tablets because they are cooler than the stock corporate Lenovo Thinkpad laptops," says Aaron Suzuki, CEO of Prowess, an IT consulting and managed services company that provides enterprises with OS deployment and virtualization technologies. "But that's just more devices for IT to manage and migrate to and there will be application compatibility problems."
Windows 7 has been available since October 2009, but it is only recently seeing real enterprise adoption. Last week, Web metrics firm Net Applications reported that Windows XP market share fell below 50 percent, to 49.8 percent. Although Windows XP still runs on the majority of Windows machines, it is no longer the majority leader among all operating systems, a title the OS has held for years.
Slideshow: Seven Tools to Ease Your Windows 7 Rollout
Over the past year, Windows XP market share has dropped by 12 percent to 49.8 percent while Windows 7 has increased by 13.4 percent to 27.9 percent.
As for the Windows 8 threat to the enterprise, many industry analysts agree that Windows 8 is a tablet OS designed for consumers and to compete with Apple's iPad. This is a smart and necessary strategy for Microsoft, but is not likely to hurt Microsoft's enterprise business, according to analysts.
"Windows 8 is all about the tablet. I think it is dead on arrival for business customers," said IDC research VP Al Gillen in a recent Computerworld story.
It's likely that enterprises will skip Windows 8 in the same way they skipped Windows Vista (hopefully not for the same reasons), and focus on Windows 7. But many enterprises are having a hard time focusing.
Says Prowess CEO Suzuki: "We're finding one of two things: businesses aren't approaching Windows 7 migration in the most efficient way, or they are postponing it all together because they aren't confident they have the right strategy to get it done."
With that in mind, Prowess offers five strategic tips for staying focused on Windows 7 migrations despite Windows XP and Windows 8 distractions.
Evaluate your upgrade timeline: Realize that every business is different and there is no set timetable for migration. Look at your OS systems and determine if you can and need to upgrade. With Windows XP licenses expiring and Windows 8 just around the corner, do you have the necessary OS resources to support a growing and evolving workforce? If not, it may be time to put a migration plan in place.
Plan: You need to plan ahead at least a month or two, and in larger organizations possibly several months, to get the deployment plan defined, refined, and locked down. You'll need to assess hardware and application compatibility and readiness.
Build a master image: Determine what makes sense for your organization and build a master image. Keep only the necessary information available on the master image, such as the OS and any desired applications.
Use virtual machines as reference computers: Using a virtual machine will reduce costs and save thousands with no physical equipment to buy, store, or track. It also reduces the amount of hardware present in your master image, keeping the image as clean as possible for deployment to diverse hardware.
Deploy: Assuming you have addressed applications and hardware, you still need to consider migration of user data and Windows deployment methodology. There are tools (such as Prowess's SmartDeploy Enterprise software) that incorporate all of these best practices and can perform automated deployments with user data migration.
Shane O'Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Shane at firstname.lastname@example.org