Analysis: decision time for desktops

By Graeme Burton
20 Jun 2012 View Comments
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When Windows 95 was launched in 1995, it was a global event. People queued up at all hours outside PC World to be among the first to “experience” the new operating system. Mick Jagger sang “Start Me Up” in the television adverts and seven million copies were sold in the first five weeks.

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For organisations, the huge improvements in networking, usability and manageability compared to Windows 3.1 made the decision to migrate relatively straightforward – aside from the big bill for new PCs that chief financial officers were requested to cover.

When that operating system was replaced with Windows 98, just three years later, the global response was markedly more muted. And by the time Windows Millennium Edition emerged in 2000, the crowds had melted away. Most organisations, meanwhile, waited for Windows XP to emerge a year later – which many are still using today, eschewing its successor Windows Vista, which launched (late) in November 2006.

But with support for Windows XP being discontinued in April 2014, many organisations are already facing a tough and potentially costly decision: which version of Windows should they upgrade to? In making this choice many factors need to be considered. How might their corporate desktop computing environment change, and what else should they consider in the process to truly ensure that their organisations are fit to face the challenges of the next 10 years?

IT departments must also answer a number of other questions relevant to the desktop. How far should they go in supporting collaboration, mobile computing and, especially, “bring your own device” (BYOD)? And what will be the most productive environment for staff – especially young university and school leavers used to texting, Facebook and downloading music online?

And all this has to be considered against the backdrop of fiercely tight IT budgets and acute economic uncertainty.

One thing remains the same since 1995, though. Regardless of how good the alternatives might be, for most organisations the only realistic choice remains Microsoft.

Ubuntu Linux, for example, has the benefit of removing licensing headaches and costs from corporate IT, and offers a stable and reasonably familiar-looking environment. But for many organisations, the user learning curve would simply be too steep and most are locked into the wider Microsoft environment for their applications too.

Apple, meanwhile, has cooled on the corporate desktop as its consumer business has taken off. A move to Apple would, in any case, also require the rollout of new and expensive proprietary hardware that would simply be prohibitive for most organisations in any economic environment, let alone the current one.

Besides, however good the MacOS user-interface, it would still present a steep learning curve for many less IT-savvy staff.

The safe choice, therefore, is to opt for the relative familiarity of Windows 7. For organisations already running Windows Vista the upgrade to Windows 7 will be quite straightforward, said Doug Elsley, desktop virtualisation specialist at Microsoft.

“Traditionally, in a Windows XP build or anything earlier, the hardware, the operating system and the applications were all stuck together. If I replaced my machine I would have to think about every single one of those layers before I replaced it. So, where do I store my user data? How do I get my applications back? And, will they work with the new operating system?”

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