Windows 7 Enterprise Deployments: Glass Half Full or Glass Half Empty?

With Microsoft set to announce Windows 8 RTM any moment now -- it will absolutely happen this week -- the tech world’s attention is of course turned toward Redmond in eager anticipation. One of the many questions that surrounds Windows 8 (and yes, it's troubling how many questions we still have about this epic change to Microsoft’s core product line) concerns business adoption. This is a topic we’ve discussed several times here in UPDATE, and it’s something we’ll return to again. But this week, I’d like to focus, if briefly, on something we’ve all considered fait accompli: the fact that Windows 7 has been hugely successful with businesses.

Microsoft’s Tami Reller announced at the software giant’s annual Worldwide Partner Conference earlier this month that Windows 7 had crossed an important milestone recently. “Today, as we sit here, more than 50 percent of enterprise desktops are running Windows 7,” she announced to the WPC crowd on July 9 to applause. “50 percent. Thank you.”

She also claimed that the rate of Windows 7 adoption was accelerating. “More than half a million desktops per day move to Windows 7 and many of them, as you all know, are moving from XP to Windows 7,” she added. “And as [Microsoft CEO] Steve [Ballmer] just noted a few minutes ago, you've sold more than 630 million Windows 7 licenses to date. Thank you for that as well.”

This sounds like good news, and is almost certainly good news. But as the Browsium blog notes in a post titled "Windows 7: Are We Half Way There Yet?," there are of course different ways of looking at this data.

“That [50 percent] stat presents the ultimate ‘glass half full’ or ‘glass half empty’ moment,” the post reads. “Is the IT world doing well because half of business PCs are running Windows 7? Or is the IT world in deep trouble because only half of business PCs are still running Windows XP with only 20 months left until end of support?”

I enjoy the “glass half full/half empty” bit because it reminds me of one of my better off-the-cuff comments, made years ago to my wife in response to her wryly noting that I was “a glass half empty kind of person.” “Glass half empty?” I asked. “The glass is empty. And I see a chip in the bottom of the glass, so now I’m waiting for the internal bleeding to start. I’m way worse than glass half empty.”

Ignoring the perilous psychological implications of this response for moment -- OK, I’ll simply argue that those who expect the worse are rarely disappointed -- it’s fair to say that I often do view things through this lens of positive and negative reaction. And honestly, the Browsium statement is a fair one. If Windows 7 is so successful, if Microsoft has sold so many licenses of this OS after almost three years, how is it possible that fully half of all enterprise desktops are still running Windows XP? You realize this OS is fully a decade old now, right?

If you’ve been reading UPDATE for a while now, you’ve heard of Browsium. I most recently wrote about their amazing web compatibility solution, Browsium Ion, in January in "IE 6 and the Dark Side of Success." Browsium helps Microsoft business customers overcome Windows 7’s biggest deployment blockers, so they know what they’re talking about. This new blog post on the company’s site is triggering my glass half empty nerve nicely. And this news should be troubling to anyone who’s been putting off a migration away from XP for whatever reason.

“The Windows 7 migrations that have been done to date have been the easy ones, primarily in small/medium business and education,” the post explains. “When you look at very large enterprise -- banks, healthcare and insurance companies, government organizations, where Browsium does the majority of our business, the picture is not so rosy. These enterprises are struggling to migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7 . . . and to eradicate IE6 and IE7 in the process.”

Not that you needed the reminder, but folks, it’s 2012.

Browsium estimates that only 20 percent of enterprises have actually migrated to Windows 7, with 80 percent still running Windows XP. That’s a far cry from the 50 percent figure that Microsoft is touting, and it answers a nagging doubt I’ve had in the pit of my own stomach, based on conversations I’ve had with the same types of folks the Browsium post mentions: CIOs, system integrators, and others in the trenches actually doing this work.

Browsium, of course, has a product to sell, and although I’m not here to help in that endeavor, I do suspect there’s a pretty healthy business out there for them. No, I’m more concerned that as we slide into the active lifecycle of Windows 8 that businesses will simply continue migrating to Windows 7 on whatever slow boat schedule they’re currently on. (Remember, XP has about 20 months left on its technological version of life support.) And that at the conclusion of another three years, they’ll have completed that migration . . . to an OS that will be, by then, about 6 years old and about two product versions behind current. And they will have no desire to go through that again anytime soon.

In other words, the dark side of Windows 7’s success is that it, like XP before it, could very well end up being on the market for several long years to come. And in a future UPDATE column, I’ll be extolling the virtues of Windows 10 and wondering aloud why the entire business space simply stopped upgrading after Windows 7.

Surely I’m not the only one expecting this.
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