The summer of 2014 will see the end of support for Windows XP, and that reality is beginning to hit home for many CIOs. They will have to plan and implement lengthy migration projects for Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 7.
The issues surrounding this challenge were the focus of Computing’s IT Leaders Forum last week.
“Support runs out in three years’ time. This timescale is about strategic decisions, and CIOs need to think about where they want to be and where technology will be in 2014,” said Chris Puttick, consultant CIO for Oxford Archaeology, who was one of the members of the panel at the event.
His 400-strong workforce use XP and are yet to take the plunge with Windows 7.
“The lack of viable alternatives for CIOs is playing a major part in upgrading decisions,” said Alan Bawden, operations and IT director for specialist recruitment company JM Group.
“If you asked me to roll out an operating system today, it would be Windows 7. Personally, I do not see any competitors,” said Bawden. “A lot of the organisations we supply have strict compliance procedures around ensuring the data we hold is secure, and Windows technology is more secure than other desktop competitors.”
Paul Feldman (pictured above, centre), IS director for Cancer Research UK, handled a complete infrastructure upgrade as a result of consolidating seven offices into one. He is in the process of migrating 3,500 users to Windows 7 from XP as part of the upgrade.
“Why did we choose Windows 7 over everything else? Frankly, because I can’t see any other commercially viable decision,” said Feldman. “We weren’t going to stick on XP, and I wasn’t going to have Macs due to the sheer scale of hardware. Windows 7 was a commercial decision.”
This was not the general consensus, however, as Puttick argued that there is plenty of competition on the market, and the lack of adoption is simply due to insufficient user understanding.
“There are plenty of alternatives out there, and I don’t find that productivity is inherently higher in one operating system. It’s more about the applications,” said Puttick. “I think you could implement a product like Linux – all the tools exist to manage and secure it. There are alternatives, but it is about the skill set. If you are an organisation with a certain set of skills, then your decision is made for you.”
Feldman and Bawden both agreed with this point, but they also insisted that it makes the competition irrelevant.
“If I went for something Linux-based, the ability to find the skills to support that technology is limited. It just makes sense to use Windows,” said Bawden.
“It is not my job to play around with a bunch of leading-edge technologies and try to figure out how to make them work. Our job is to take proven technologies and implement them,” agreed Feldman. “Going for the industry standard, whether it’s for skills or for cost, is the right thing to do”.
Nina Sundberg, director of Windows client business for Microsoft UK, provided attendees to the event with some information about what can be expected from Microsoft’s next OS upgrade, Windows 8.
“We can probably expect Windows 8 in about 18 months. This puts us straight up against the end of support for XP,” said Sundberg. “I don’t know what is in Windows 8, but my gut says the core innovations are going to be around touch and the enablement of cloud computing.”
But what does this mean for CIOs who are thinking about migrating to Windows 7? Does it have enough shelf life to warrant what can be an 18-month project? The response from the forum was mixed.
“Will I go for Windows 8? Probably not. Windows 9? Far more likely,” said Feldman. “It depends on the change and benefit of those platforms. I expect to be on this Windows 7 platform for quite some time.”
On the other hand, Bawden has yet to make the decision to migrate to Windows 7 and is playing a waiting game. His company might be with XP for the long haul.
“I suspect we will have some viable alternatives to Windows 7 three years down the line,” he said. “Am I going to say Windows 7 makes sense for the next six years? No. It depends on when you make the decision, and we haven’t made it yet. It is quite possible we could wait until the bitter end and see what else is out there.”