With Windows XP now off mainstream support, the issue has resurfaced for many IT teams across the world. Which OS do they start planning a migration to? For all the anti-Vista rhetoric thrown around the internet one would assume that Windows 7 is going to be the no-brainer of an answer to that question.
Unfortunately, that really isn't how the game is played when you’re looking at a migration for a medium-sized business, even less so once you get to large or enterprise sized companies. Contrary to popular myths, Vista and Windows 7 are really the same OS. They have the same problems and same concerns on the table when dealing with an enterprise wide deployment.
For both Windows 7 and Vista, the majority of issues surface with regards to backwards compatibility.
16-bit is dead now. XP was the last stand for many a 16-bit application, but with Vista and now Windows 7, it’s not coming back. It's time to accept this reality and begin the painful process of removing the last of the 16-bit holdouts from corporate IT environments. I know it’s a real pain but if you do it now it’s just one less headache during the migration.
In-house applications, love them or hate them, are going to be the largest source of headaches standing between IT and a smooth switch. Many of these applications are unfortunately classified as "business critical applications" with many people unable to work without them. The largest problem with these applications is not so much that they don't comply with some security standard or utilize old procedural calls that don't exist on the new systems, but rather than the original developers and designers of said application have long since left the company and moved on to greener pastures. This makes updating these applications difficult at best and impossible at worst. Replacement is sometimes the only way around this, but replacing a custom piece of software costs money, and generally lots of it. For those that were around from the 95/98 to 2000/XP migration or the earlier 3.11 to 95/98 migration you know just how problematic it is.
64-bit or 32-bit? It’s a dilemma within a dilemma for many, and an annoyance for some. With Vendors shipping systems easily capable of 4GB or higher memory capacities 32-bit operating systems are hitting a wall. For your average corporate user with a dozen apps, countless services, scanners, and background tasks running 2GB or even 3GB is starting to feel a bit tired. With 64-bit we could issue systems with 4, 6, or even 8GB to users depending on their needs with little additional cost given the price of memory and the widespread system board support for capacities up to 8GB. At the same time 64-bit potentially makes our already difficult software compatibility problem that much worse.
Granted with the help of WOW64, most 32-bit apps will still function under 64-bit Windows, we come to a dead stop for drivers. One driver in particular I'm sure many in IT will be familiar with is the VPN Client driver that installs with their choice of VPN Client. Cisco, Nortel, or others may or may not have support for 64-bit making it a potential deal breaker when attempting a 64-bit migration.
End user training is a touchy subject, and one that tends to be overblown during migrations. Any change is disruptive, any change causes end users to adapt and learn once again, but it’s not really any different than changing a software version or bringing a new product into the environment. With the age of Vista and its proliferation in home user systems, the switch will likely not be such a big deal. For Windows 7 it’s still not released, and proliferation for end users is essentially zero at this point.
Regardless of the pros and cons, IT teams have to make a decision sooner or later. With the deadline for many being the magical 2014 when Windows XP goes off life support. By that time Windows 7 should be well entrenched and the next version of Windows should be in the pipeline for deployment sometime in the 2014-2015 timeframe. Given the timing this makes Windows 7 the obvious choice for last minute hold outs. However chose seeking to get a jump may go with Windows Vista while Windows 7 awaits its first Service Pack.