XP, Vista, Win 7,which one to choose ?

Whenever Microsoft present a new version of Windows, there’s always some period of uncertainty when users face the choice of moving to the current release or waiting for the new product. This year, however, that transition period is especially uneasy.

Windows 7 is — by all accounts (except from the Microsoft honchos) — due out later this year and is looking faster, smaller and more stable than any Windows release out there. Windows Vista is here, but not a user favorite (to put it mildly). And eight-year-old Windows XP is still the dominant version of Windows out there.

So what’s a Windows user to do? Follow Microsoft’s corporate guidance and upgrade to Vista now in preparation for 7? Hang on a bit longer with XP? Try mixing and matching the three in your IT shop?

Microsoft’s Windows brass have been reticent to provide a detailed answer to the question “What should my desktop strategy be?” But Mike Fiorina, a Microsoft account tech specialist based in New England, grabbed the Windows-upgrade-confusion bull by the horns in a blog post this past weekend.

Fiorina explained that a perfect storm is brewing: XP SP2 mainstream support is set to end in July, 2010. XP SP3 mainstream support isn’t retiring until mid-2014, which, Fiorina said, “gives XP environments some breathing room, but not necessarily as much as you might think.”

Even though Vista SP1 has been out for a year (and Vista SP2 is expected some time in the next few months), Vista still is suffering from both real and imagined limitations, Fiorina admitted. From his January 30 post:

“The one recurring theme in discussions with corporate customers is that (Vista) application compatibility is a problem. Applications may not run in Vista, or maybe they can, but it’s not supported by the vendor. Remediation will be costly and time consuming. We get it. Many of the acquisitions and investments we’ve made in the past few years are targeting that problem specifically (Application Virtualization – SoftGrid, Enterprise Desktop Virtualization – Kidaro, etc.)”

Fiorina noted that the generally positive beta reviews of Windows 7 has meant “we’re hearing from a lot of folks ‘Why should I upgrade to Vista when Windows 7 is right around the corner?’” His answer:

“If we look at it from the perspective of an enterprise with fairly unaggressive adoption cycles, then you’ll see that you may be putting yourself in an untenable situation a few years down the road.”

Untenable? Fiorina continued his line of reasoning with the caveat, “for the sake of argument, make these assumptions”:
“Company A doesn’t deploy new operating systems or major applications until Service Pack 1 (or a similar bug-fix milestone) has been provided by the vendor
Company A probably won’t even begin testing their application footprint against the new OS until said SP1 is available
Windows 7 ships in the fourth quarter of 2009
Service Pack 1 for Windows 7 would likely not be final until the first half of 2011, if not later (going by our historical timelines for SP1 releases)
So, Company A would begin testing migration from Windows XP to Windows 7 SP1 in 2011 sometime. How long would it take to perform adequate testing of your application suite to certify\remediate it for Windows 7? For most, this is at least a 6 to 12 month process…so, now we’re in mid-2012. At that point, you’re ready to start building an image (hopefully using the MDT to make your lives easier). Maybe the image is ready to go in early 2013. Then you have a little over a year to get it out company-wide until Windows XP hits end-of-life. Is that enough time? Perhaps…but is it worth backing yourself into a corner?”

Sure, you could argue that Fiorina is a sales guy and is looking for any way possible to chalk up a few more Vista sales while Windows 7 is gaining steam. But, to me, his post highlights what’s likely to be one of the biggest IT questions in 2009: On which version of Windows should I standardize as my corporate desktop?

Corporate users: What’s your thinking here? Has your first taste of Windows 7 led you to change your deployment plans?

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