It will be a message familiar to anyone who's witnessed a new Microsoft operating system launch: the official message from the software giant is that the outgoing operating system is old and slow, and that only with the new operating system – Windows 8 – can you unleash the full power of your (new) PC.
But organisations running Windows XP, however, ought to first upgrade to Windows 7. That is the confused message coming out of Microsoft as it prepares for the launch of Windows 8 this autumn.
So should users who settled with earlier versions of the OS migrate to 7 or 8? It seems even Microsoft is unsure.
The new operating system has already been criticised over major changes to the familiar user interface. Indeed, Windows 8 will offer two different user interfaces: Metro, the touch-screen interface ported from its Windows Phone operating system, and a secondary interface, which is more akin to the traditional desktop, but with a number of key features omitted.
Antoine Leblond, corporate vice president of Windows Web Services, has suggested that organisations ought to upgrade straight to Windows 8. Speaking at TechEd North America, he said: "Windows 8 is first and foremost a better Windows than Windows 7."
Windows 7, he explained, is the last of the Microsoft operating systems designed exclusively around the desktop PC. Windows 8, in contrast, is designed to be compatible with a more mobile, multi-device world.
One of the key devices that Microsoft is keen to push when Windows 8 debuts is the Ultrabook – a laptop-style device with a removable screen that can be used as a tablet computer. Microsoft is hoping that this kind of hybrid device will help it win back the ‘mind share' it has lost in recent years to Apple, which dominates the tablet market.
But when Erwin Visser, senior director of the Windows Commercial Business Group, was questioned later at the same conference, he said that organisations should continue to migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7. "We don't want to discourage their deployments of Windows 7," he said.
One major advantage of Windows 7 over Windows XP for the enterprise is its modularised design, which will make upgrading easier in the future. Windows 8 is similar in its underlying design and can therefore co-exist side-by-side with Windows 7.
Visser also implied that applications designed to run on Windows 7 ought to be compatible with Windows 8. "The investments [customers] are making today on Windows 7 in hardware infrastructure and also in application compatibility will carry forward into Windows 8," he said.
Another key consideration for organisations, though, is the impending cessation of all support for Windows XP in April 2014. For Windows 7, ‘mainstream support' will cease in January 2015, but extended support, which includes regular security patching, will continue until January 2020.
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