Enterprises will snub Microsoft's faster release tempo by sticking with Windows 7

Ballmer doesn't get it, says Gartner analyst: Businesses don't want to deal with annual Windows updates

By , Computerworld |  Windows, Microsoft, Windows 7

Enterprises will standardize on Windows 7 and Office 2010 and will ignore Microsoft's newer operating system and suite for years, research firm Gartner predicted.

"There's a good chance that enterprises will stay on Windows 7 as long as possible," said Gartner analyst Michael Silver in an interview last week after hosting an hourlong presentation at the firm's annual IT conference in Orlando, Fla.

Silver based his forecast on the tactics he saw available to enterprises as they try to adapt to Microsoft's double-whammy of quickening the pace of Windows releases and shifting to a new user interface (UI), dubbed "Modern" or "Metro," that eschews legacy applications for touch-based, mobile-like "apps."

"In a year or two, there will be another release of Windows 8, [and] that will have another release of IE on it. Meanwhile, the Windows desktop is not changing much ... it's essentially on life support," Silver reasoned.

In a slide shown to the audience during Silver's time on stage, Gartner suggested that one way to deal with the faster release cadence and the emphasis on Metro was to simply "hold up" by staying on the proven Windows 7. "Use the 10-year lifecycle of Windows 7/Office 2010 to standardize," the slide read.

Microsoft has pledged to support Windows 7 for the standard decade. It will patch vulnerabilities and non-security bugs until Jan. 13, 2015, in what the Redmond, Wash., developer calls "mainstream support." After that, it will provide security updates only through Jan. 14, 2020 during the "extended support" phase.

Companies can use that promise to stick with Windows 7 -- and Office 2010, which will be supported through Oct. 13, 2020 -- for the next six years. But because such a strategy would require companies to duplicate the frantic ditching of the aged Windows XP before it rolls into retirement next April, Gartner recommended businesses begin migrating off Windows 7 at the end of 2017 and start dumping Office 2010 at the end of 2018.

The alternative to standardizing on Windows 7, said Silver, was to keep up with Microsoft's quickened release tempo. That would demand a much faster deployment pace, where companies would conduct testing and application remediation in 12 months, then deploy the current OS in the following 12 months. And repeat the process ad infinitum.

Because of the constant churn, businesses would be forced to do both -- test and remediate the newest OS and deploy its predecessor -- in the same 12-month span. When Microsoft launches Windows 8.1 this week, the test/remediate clock will begin ticking. But most analysts, including Gartner, expect Microsoft to debut Windows 8.2 a year from now.

One way to deal with Microsoft's accelerated release pace for Windows is to standardize on Windows 7 and Office 2010. (Image: Gartner.)

The 24-month window for deploying Windows 8.1 stems from Microsoft's decision to mimic the support policy it's long had in place for operating system "service packs," collections of patches and fixes it has used in the past to refresh an OS.

"Windows 8 customers will have two years to move to Windows 8.1 after the General Availability of the Windows 8.1 update to continue to remain supported under Windows 8 lifecycle," a Microsoft marketing manager confirmed in late July.

That kind of cadence would overwhelm most businesses, Silver said.

"The faster pace is absolutely the biggest pain point," said Silver of enterprises' issues with the Microsoft change. "The problem with faster release cycles is that [enterprises] don't know if their apps will work with each new version of Windows and IE."

On average, corporations have one app for every 10 to 20 users, said Silver, citing Gartner data. In cases of large enterprises, the tally of in-house, line-of-business (LOB) apps runs into the hundreds. Ensuring that those apps work with each new release of Windows, and more importantly, with the new Internet Explorer browser Microsoft packages with each update, will be costly and time-consuming, making that 24-month cycle all but impossible to handle.

Microsoft doesn't see it that way.

In an interview at the Gartner conference, outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer dismissed most of the concerns over the faster pace. When Gartner analyst David Cearley noted, "Enterprises are concerned about that accelerated delivery cycle," Ballmer shook his head.

"Let me push back," said Ballmer, "and say, 'Not really.' If our customers have to take DVDs from us, install them, and do customer-premise software, you're saying to us 'Don't upgrade that software very often ... two to three years is perfect.

"But if we deliver something to you that's a service, as we do with Office 365, our customers are telling us, 'We want to be up to date at all times,'" Ballmer claimed.

Silver scoffed at Ballmer's description, and his dismissal of enterprise issues with Windows' upbeat tempo. "He's saying as long as we put all the bits [online], it's not the problem that people have," said Silver. "For the most part, he said, 'We don't see this as a problem.' "

That ignores the real world, Silver countered, where Windows is not a service along the lines of Office 365 even though it's no longer delivered on DVDs. "Organizations need to be afraid of what's to come," Silver said. "If [companies] get on this release train, Microsoft will take them where [Microsoft] wants to go, or [Microsoft] will run them over."

This article, Enterprises will snub Microsoft's faster release tempo by sticking with Windows 7, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Read more about windows in Computerworld's Windows Topic Center.

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