March 31, 2012, 7:36 AM — When it comes to adopting new operating systems and applications, common practice among system administrators is to delay adoption until the release of the first service pack. Admins found plenty of reasons to put off moving from Windows XP to Windows Vista, and then to Windows 7: The new operating systems demanded more capable hardware, the user interface changes required user training, and there were compatibility issues with legacy hardware and applications.
These days, it's becoming difficult to find device drivers and applications compatible with Windows XP. More importantly, Microsoft has ended mainstream support for Windows XP, and extended support ends in 2014. New PCs come with Windows 7 by default, so admins must support both operating systems anyway. And with Microsoft widely expected to ship Windows 8 in October, can your business afford to be two or three OS generations behind? Unless you intend to set aside the first-service-pack rule, it's time to bite the bullet and move forward.
Server admins are even more conservative. In this case, Windows Server 2008 R2 requires 64-bit hardware, and the interface is just different enough to make them nervous. The latest server applications, however, are compatible only with the newer operating system. Microsoft ended mainstream support for Windows 2003 in 2010, and extended support ends in 2015.
Here are the top six decisions you'll need to make before embarking on a migration:
1. Should you install the 32-bit version or the 64-bit version?
At the desktop level, there are few advantages to installing the 64-bit version of Windows 7. The biggest reason to stick with the 32-bit version is that you might have difficulty finding 64-bit drivers for legacy hardware. And some applications don't function well in a 64-bit environment. Unless you're positive you won't need to support legacy hardware, or if you have specific needs that can be filled only by a 64-bit OS (addressing more than 3GB of RAM, for instance), you should set up most desktops with the 32-bit OS.
There is no 32-bit version of Windows 2008 R2. You can run 32-bit applications, but 32-bit support is not installed by default
2. Can you find compatible device drivers?
As we've already mentioned, you might have difficulty finding Windows 7 drivers for legacy hardware, ranging from old printers and scanners to specialized tools such as point-of-sale devices that rely on legacy serial ports. In fact, any new PCs you acquire probably won't even be outfitted with parallel or serial ports. Make a list of these devices and decide whether you'll replace them or retain some Windows XP computers to continue running them.
3. Which applications will need upgrades?