Deja vu all over again: Windows 7 will be the new XP

Start planning now for booting Windows 7 out of the enterprise, urge analysts

Even as enterprises try to purge their last Windows XP machines, Gartner analysts today urged organizations to start planning for the end of Windows 7.

"Now I need to worry about the next version?" Michael Silver of Gartner rhetorically asked today. In fact, yes. "Objects in the future are closer than they appear," he quipped.

Microsoft has pledged to support Windows 7 until Jan. 14, 2020, or five years and five months from today. The company's "Mainstream" support -- the front end of a 10-year stretch -- ends Jan. 13, 2015, but the firm will continue to provide security patches for the popular OS for another five years after that in its "Extended" support phase.

With more than five years left on the support clock -- and with many enterprises having just wrapped up their migration to Windows 7 -- why start planning now?

"While this feels like it's a long way off, organizations must start planning now so they can prevent a recurrence of what happened with Windows XP," said Silver and Gartner colleague Stephen Kleynhans, the two analysts who authored a recent report for the firm tagged "Plan Now to Avoid Windows XP Deja Vu With Windows 7."

In fact, said Silver, the time between the likely launch of Windows 8's follow-up -- at the moment called "Threshold" by many, including Silver -- and the end of Windows 7's support is approximately the same as the timespan between Windows 7's debut and XP's retirement: About four-and-a-half years.

And everyone knows how that turned out.

Not well: According to Gartner's surveys, nearly 25% of the PCs in organizations -- private enterprises, government agencies and the like -- were still running XP in April when Microsoft pulled the patch plug. That same 25% was cited by Web metrics vendor Net Applications as the percentage of the world's personal computers running XP last month.

Having a plan, Silver stressed, could help organizations avoid a repeat of XP's expensive end-of-support scramble. And time is ticking.

"Microsoft will soon start talking about Threshold, at least they need to start talking about it soon if they plan on shipping it next year," said Silver in an interview. "They need to give customers an idea of what the road map is going to be."

And when Microsoft starts talking, organizations should start listening, if only to try to figure out whether there's enough difference between Threshold and the Windows 8 flop to commit to the former. If Threshold is simply a warmed-over Windows 8, then enterprises must know that, too -- and as soon as possible, so that they can postpone migration plans entirely and hope that whatever comes after Threshold is palatable.

Organizations will have about the same amount of time to purge Windows 7 as they had to rid themselves of Windows XP, Gartner says: about four-and-a-half years. That means enterprises should start planning now for Windows 7's end of support. (Image: Gartner Research.)

Gartner expects that Threshold -- possibly called "Windows 9" in the end, although there are arguments against using another numeral -- will launch in the second quarter of 2015. Some pundits, including long-time Microsoft watchers like ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, have pegged the spring of next year, effectively the same timetable. Foley has also said that Microsoft will publicly preview Threshold this fall.

But why plan at all? Why not just do what Microsoft would love for customers to do, move now to Windows 8? "I don't see Windows 8 turning around or organizations grabbing Windows 8," Silver answered.

While that take wasn't unexpected -- industry analysts have been saying that since before Windows 8's debut -- Gartner was blunt. "Organizations have been hesitant to deploy Windows 8 on non-touch devices because of concerns surrounding the new user experience" and "don't upgrade existing Windows 7 PCs to Windows 8 without a business case," the report stated.

Microsoft itself has signaled it's accepted Windows 8's fate, and has moved on: Not only has it begun to downplay Windows 8 in its corporate messaging, it plans no new major updates, but will instead deliver new features in monthly small packets, a process that started Tuesday.

But although Silver said Windows 8 was effectively off the table, he and Kleynhans still included the reputation-challenged OS in the options they laid out.

Companies can deploy Windows 8 on new PCs as they arrive, the two said, to phase out Windows 7 over time; or enterprises can deploy Windows 8 across the board to scrub out its 2009 predecessor. The first, they said, "may make sense for many organizations," but the second they dismissed. "We see little value in doing this," they wrote in their report.

The third road in their trio was the one they bet most companies will take: Skip Windows 8, and plan to deploy what they called "Windows v.Future," which might be Windows 9, or perhaps the iteration after that.

Silver called it Option 2B. "That will be the one a lot of folks choose," said Silver.

The problem with that choice, however, is that it will involve additional cost, because the migration won't start until 2018 or 2019, not enough time to ease into Windows v.Future organically as old machines are replaced with new systems. Organizations will have to budget extra funds to plan, coordinate and execute the last-minute migration.

A riff on that, said Gartner, would be to accept that Windows 7 will not be gone by January 2020, and then prepare to pay Microsoft for at least one year of custom support after Windows 7 falls off the public patch list.

Those custom support plans, which provide patches for critical vulnerabilities only to firms that pay for them, had been very expensive, with reports of companies forking over millions for an additional year. But in early April, just days before Windows XP was put to pasture, Microsoft drastically dropped the prices for its Custom Support Agreements, or CSAs, to a maximum of $250,000. There's no guarantee that those prices will remain static, Gartner noted: Microsoft has frequently moved the dollar figures up and down over the years.

The major problem for organizations will remain application compatibility, and as a corollary, regulatory requirements related to the applications.

"Application compatibility and support will continue to be the biggest issue for migrations to new versions of Windows," Gartner said. Some organizations, particularly government agencies and those with compliance requirements -- financial firms, for instance -- can only run applications after the vendor officially supports them on a new version of Windows, or after the applications have been validated for the new OS. That process can take as long as 18 months after Microsoft ships that new edition.

"Even if your applications all work, and a migration is flawless, that doesn't mean that ISVs [independent software vendors] will support it running on, say, Threshold, or provide that support quickly," said Silver. "It doesn't mean that organizations subject to federal regulations are going to be able to validate those applications.

"Microsoft has not grasped that many organizations have a need for longer-term stability," Silver added, referring to the Redmond, Wash. company's faster tempo of OS upgrades. He blamed enterprises' reluctance to adopt Windows 8 partly on that pace; they saw Microsoft ship Windows 8.1 12 months after the original, then require those customers to apply the Windows 8.1 Update 1 less than 10 months later.

Which brought Silver to Microsoft, and what it could to ease enterprise migration pain.

"Microsoft has to come to terms that organizations and consumers are different," said Silver, repeating a call he's made for years that Microsoft has ignored. "In fact, there are at least a couple of different kinds of organizations."

If Microsoft wanted to help out its biggest, most valuable customers -- commercial firms and government agencies -- it would separate Windows into two buckets, one for consumers, the other for everyone else, and apply different release tempos for each. Consumers, as Silver and every other analyst who follows Microsoft has said, benefit from frequent OS updates, a pace Silver has characterized as "like a phone OS."

But large organizations not only do not benefit from the faster cadence, it puts them in a bind.

And there are clues that Microsoft will make it worse for them. "Another reason for Microsoft to do something different is the rumors of free upgrades for Windows," Silver said of the chatter that Threshold will be offered to customers, likely consumers only, free of charge. That's what Apple did last year for all its OS X customers.

"If it makes [Threshold] free, and upgrading as easy as on a phone, Microsoft could reduce the lifecycle for consumers," Silver said. "But it still needs a long-term solution for organizations."

Until Microsoft separates consumer from commercial, the latter will continue to skip one or more iterations of Windows, their only real answer to the high costs and disruption of upgrading.

For Windows 7, that means organizations will go through the same machinations they did with XP. Or maybe even balk at dumping Windows 7 at the same pace as the venerable Windows XP, making things worse.

"[A repeat of Windows XP] is certainly likely to happen," said Silver. "One of the big differences that's been under-considered is that because Vista took five years to come out [after XP], there were eight years between XP and Windows 7. So Windows XP felt pretty old.

"But there will be only six years between Windows 7 and Threshold, so Windows 7 won't feel that old to people," Silver said. In other words, don't be surprised if organizations hold onto Windows 7 with a death grip, even as 2020 approaches.

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

Tags GartnerMicrosoftWindowssoftwareoperating systems

More about CustomGartnerGartner ResearchTopic




IT departments should be doing preliminary testing with 8.1 now. This way you can get a feel for the potential issues. When threshold releases they should be doing the same. The better run IT departments usually try to be prepared for future versions whether it be Windows/ LINUX/ UNIX or whatever OSs they are currently using



Somebody messed up the HTML escape characters and now the title is unreadable.



This is unbelievable! As if the only option organizations have is Microsoft!! This is a great time for companies to get fed up and switch to LINUX, end of story. If there's going to be a user learning curve either way, why not just move into FREE?



If you have employees who take longer than about two days to adjust to the Windows 8.1 interface, then you probably need new employees. Just sayin'

Mike Bradley


The easiest solution is to replace XP machines with Windows 8.1 on an as-needed basis ------ but it would really help enterprises if MSFT would announce the enterprise pricing on upgrading 8.1 to 9 ASAP, and/or moving straight from XP to 9. That would prompt enterprises to move off XP and remove a lot of uncertainty. I doubt that upgrading XP is going to be free, but MSFT has always had enterprise licenses which allow customers to choose which SUPPORTED versions they want to use, e.g., if you really prefer VISTA, same cost as decide. Maybe they already have told enterprises this. Then they can choose whether to go to 7, then to 9 some years later, or just wait for 9. It just seems a lot less expensive to upgrade the hardware as needed, but hardly any enterprises are still running XP unless there's some darn good reason not to upgrade, like the old problem with upgrading old UNIX systems....."it still runs fine, and no one knows how to upgrade it, and we're afraid to try because it might break".....that's the time to look for alternatives like a new POS node or ATM machine, medical/dental node, financial/insurance node, etc......




The article stated why. Third party vertical specific applications. Get the applications vendors to develop on Linux or web and you can have the year of the Linux desktop that we all know you have wet dreams about.

Mike Bradley


P.S. - Whoever figured XP runs on 25% of Windows nodes is messing wit' ya.

Mike Bradley


P.P.S. - Whoever counted the old retired/obsolete nodes in that 25% is really messin' wit' ya.



RAG is great example of the problem....90 % of private companies do not have IT departments, they have the guy or gal who does IT work as a sideline in their "spare" time from other duties. IT departments are overhead and usually does not contribute to the bottom line directly.... i am with the author why can't small and mid sized businesses use their software at least as long as their computer last....



Here's the deal, no one wanted Window's 8 in the form it came. The majority of us like and use Window's 7 on a daily basis and it was foolish of Microsoft to deviate from a UI that people have used for a generation.

I personally won't use 8 because it is ugly and lacks even basic customizations that nearly all versions of windows have. The lack of ability in creating custom tiles and no start button being the two that were deal breakers for me.

Yes, I understand that Microsoft wanted to step back from the advanced graphics eyecandy that they pushed on consumers, and that I lamented as being only half-measures to start with. ICO is horrid and PNG is the standard for everyone except windows.

If I can't get rid of those ugly tiles and replace them with full graphic tiles that mean something to me then 8 will never happen on my machine. Likewise, no start button means no 8 on my machine.

Honestly Microsoft would have to offer something pretty compelling to get me to upgrade at this point from a consumer or business perspective. Even offering me a free new OS will not convince me to upgrade if the UI looks like something from XP...flat and ugly like 8 did.

I think I would not mind the innards of 8 if the UI of 7 were kept or actually expanded.

This is what I would like to see in Win 9:

1. The ability to use multiple size icons on the screen at once and have those icons be in png..aka...32 bit graphics. Animated graphics as icons could serve a purpose as well.

2. Bring back the active desktop and allow me to use a webpage as my desktop, a local webpage. Either bring it back or allow the consumer the choice of activating it and making their own.

3. Include open source encryption capabilities in all versions. As we have seen with the Snowden revelations, there is need for better, more pervasive encryption. Make it something that you DON"T have a back door to give the government as well, something like perfect forward encryption concept.

4. Integrate OneNote into basic windows. Its a great product, but not one that many people will pay for. As a part of Windows, OneNote will make the OS much more useful and serve as the central database for everyone who gets taste of it.

5. Do away with the App store or at least make installing non-store programs as easy as they are in other versions of windows. Honestly this transparent greed move is one from the Apple and Google playbooks and smacks of a censorship that an increasing number of users are seeing as too invasive in their personal computing lives. I for one will not use an OS that decides what I can and cannot install. Not my idea of personal computing.

6. Give up on browsers. IE sucks in every version that has ever been made and is considered the black sheep of the family compared to agile and swift browsers like Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.



For your information Bryan, Bill Gates was unable to use Windows *8! Windows 8 is a piece of crap and even Microsoft is now admitting that!!!



As a semi-techy private user, when MS stops supporting Windows 7 I will buy a ChromeBook.



the date of mainstream support ending for Windows 7 in July 2015 is accurate but I don't understand how that is a 10-year support period.. Win7 was only put into manufacturing 5 years ago and made commercially available only 4 years ago.

Microsoft Support Lifecycle lists Windows 7 support as being from October 2009 until January 2015, or just short of 5 years and 3 months



I have traveled from Pickles & Trout CPM and DOS to Windows 7, clinging to each OS as long as possible, & skipping most Windows upgrades (I hopped from 98 to XP to 7 for example). I had no need to upgrade when employed, except when forced by better peripherals or software which would not run on my current OS, or when machines with my preferred OS became unavailable and a new OS required new peripherals and software (a vicious, costly cycle to be avoided). Plus I had no wish to learn the ins and outs of a new OS every few years. Right now I have 4 XP computers perfectly good for light work, and compatible printers all waiting to find a use, thanks to no security support and so forced obsolescence. XP is perfectly good for non-gamers and for those who don't need specialty functions (except for the growing security issues). So use XP (or the OS du jour) when a number of workstations are used solely offline in a small business or family, and have one shared, non-networked machine for web work.

My OS history illustrates the pattern followed by numerous "consumers" who don't work in large networks, or continually on the web, and the frustrations and costs experienced (and sometimes avoided) by forced upgrades of computers, OS, peripherals and software. What % of "consumers" I represent, I have no idea: I am sure there are a lot of us who feel ill-served by the MS upgrade march (and blunders: releasing Win 8 for consumers who didn't have a touch screen and didn't want one was a biggie - it caused me to buy one of what I thought would be the last Win 7 laptops, which were hard to find at the time (and so, pricey) , just for a future replacement - but because of disgust with Win 8 they are back on the market).

Comments are now closed

Amazon vs. Google vs. Windows Azure: Cloud computing speed showdown