Windows 7 will be Microsoft's most significant operating system launch since Windows 95. Due to ship on 22 October 2009, the next version of Windows will be crucial to Microsoft's future product plans such as its Azure cloud computing strategy and Office 2010.
Microsoft lost credibility in the enterprise with Windows Vista when users found a large proportion of business applications could not run on Vista. Microsoft has tackled the compatibility problem with a free extension to Windows 7 called XP Mode, which allows users to run Windows XP applications on Windows 7.
"XP Mode opens up the possibility for those people who found that one in five of their XP applications wouldn't run on Vista to use Windows 7," says Clive Longbottom, service director at analyst Quocirca.
Another advantage for enterprise users is that Windows 7 will run with less memory and processing power than Vista. This means that businesses will not need to upgrade desktop hardware to run the new operating system. Since Microsoft has designed Windows 7 to run on low-powered NetBooks, it should run on machines with less that 1Gbytes of memory.
Windows XP migration
Al Gillen, program vice president for system software at IDC, predicts that Windows 7 will experience more take-up from businesses than Windows Vista, mainly because Windows XP is getting old.
Windows XP is in the extended phase of its support lifecycle, which means Microsoft will continue to patch security issues, but will not improve the operating system.
"The fact that Windows XP is out of mainstream support is not the thing that will drive customers off XP. It is more about supporting new hardware devices," he says.
Microsoft will offer extended support for XP until 2015, but hardware manufacturers will probably start winding down their support from 2012. Gillen argues that users of XP may find it hard to find device drive software for new hardware.
Given that the recession is not going away any time soon, Roy Illsey, senior research analyst at Butler Group, predicts that IT directors and CIOs will only upgrade to Windows 7 if it helps them cut costs. Microsoft will need to show IT chiefs that IT departments can be run more efficiently and at lower cost, if the business rolls out Windows 7.
Illsey has been looking at desktop virtualisation, which promises to simplify the management of desktop PCs, by running desktop applications and storing user data within the data centre.
Businesses considering desktop virtualisation may well upgrade their PCs to Windows 7, which is better suited to virtualisation than Windows XP or Vista, he says.
"Microsoft is also offering easier management between Windows 7 desktops and Windows Server, which means less people are needed to manage the desktop."
IT directors will need to justify a Windows 7 upgrade to the business given the poor economic outlook. There do appear to be business benefits. It may well be worth getting a team together to evaluate the Windows 7 RC1 code and build a business case.