Windows 7 beta hits; customers, VARs weigh migration

Windows 7 beta will be widely available Friday, VARs and their business customers can start contemplating migrations. Or not.

Now that the Windows 7 beta is about to be widely available, VARs and their customers can start contemplating migration plans. Or not.

For many, the advent of Windows 7 means that the upgrade path will be from Windows XP to Windows 7, bypassing Windows Vista altogether. For the record, that is not Microsoft's grand plan. The company recommends that all customers plan adoption of Windows Vista, "taking advantage of increased security, higher productivity, cost savings and improved efficiency," as a Microsoft spokeswoman put it.

Not likely, say many VARs.

Larger businesses, many of which still run Windows XP, are not likely to move to Vista and then to Windows 7, which is based on the Vista kernel, given what could be a short time frame. On Wednesday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced the availability of the Windows 7 beta to TechNet, MSDN and other subscribers. Everyone else will be able to download the beta from Microsoft on Friday.

No schedule for broad availability was provided, although many observers say the company wants Windows 7 out by the end of 2009. Given that system builders can bundle Windows XP with their boxes up through June, the timing is hinky for Microsoft. The vendor has only said that Windows 7 should debut within three years of Vista launch which was in November, 2005 or February, 2006, depending on which launch event is counted. Bill Veghte, a senior Microsoft executive, this week told Dow Jones that Windows 7 could beat the three-year deadline if the beta goes well.

Microsoft migrations caught in a time squeeze

Common sense dictates that very few businesses now on XP will move to Vista in the next year if Windows 7 is expected in late 2009 or early the following year. And Vista remains plagued by early bad reviews.

"A lot of people selling into businesses have been telling people to avoid Vista," said Todd Swank, vice president of marketing for Nor-Tech, a Burnsville, Minn.-based system builder. "Almost everyone who's buying hardware is doing downgrades [to XP]. Microsoft really does want people to go to Vista then to Windows 7, but what else would they say?"

Steve Moss, chief operating officer for NSPI, a Roswell, Ga.-based solution provider, agreed. He cited the faltering economy as one reason customers will try to put off and consolidate upgrades.

"A lot of PC-refresh projects that should be underway or done keep getting pushed back," he said.

Some customers with new PCs may use Vista, but in NSPI's market -- companies with 200 to 1,000 PCs -- Moss hasn't seen a lot of Vista.

"The driver is whether their application stack is failing on the hardware," he said. "The good news is, we expect to see a different world in eight, nine,10 months."

Moss, like Swank, said Service Pack 1 addressed most of the big concerns about Vista. And he uses Vista himself. But the fact is, for most business users, "it's really hard to justify any operating system change now," he said.

Opinions on Vista still mixed

Others in the channel say they have actively recommended Vista for some time. Convergent Computing of Oakland, Calif. is one. Although it is a services-based partner that does not resell software at all, it is often solicited for advice.

"We do get asked [about operating system upgrades], and we tell customers to indeed migrate from XP to Vista as their 2009 desktop/laptop strategy," Convergent founder Rand Morimoto said via email. "Any of the complaints or issues about compatibility are issues of the past, and the clients where we're implementing Vista are seeing huge benefits in their ability to more easily administer systems, as well as better performance."

Related Windows resources
Microsoft loosens Windows XP conditions for system builders 

Compatibility problems still hamper Vista adoption 

Windows Server 2008 won't spur Vista migrations

Microsoft partners say Bloated, business-reject  Vista will surpass XP, but not any time soon.

Morimoto estimated that customers that move from Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 or 2008 to Vista and Windows 2008 see communications improve drastically, citing a 20 to 30 times speed improvement.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ron Herardian, founder and managing partner of Global Systems Services Corp., who thinks Vista is a waste of time and money.

"Windows Vista was stillborn," he said in an email. "It's an unstable, practically unusable Frankenstein OS full of useless bells and whistles. The market is anticipating Windows 7, which is basically Vista with a Windows XP user interface. The next logical steps after Windows XP are either Windows 7, Macintosh OS, or Linux. Microsoft has to know that. Even Microsoft cannot stuff Windows Vista down the throats of business customers. They won't even deploy it if it's free."

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