Companies should start planning their upgrade from Windows 7 now - and perhaps also how to give Windows 8 a miss.
It may be six years before Windows 7 support is withdrawn but firms had longer to prepare for the end of XP support and nearly a quarter of PCs in organisations were still running the venerable OS after support ended, said Stephen Kleynhans, research vice president at Gartner.
"The end of support for Windows 7 will be January, 2020, assuming there are no changes to its current support life cycle. While this feels like it's a long way off, organisations must start planning now, so they can prevent a recurrence of what happened with Windows XP," said Kleynhans.
But rather than switching PCs and tablets to Windows 8, Kleyhans said most organisations will likely skip Microsoft's current desktop OS and move straight to its successor, currently codenamed Windows Threshold. The gap between Threshold's estimated shipping date and the end of Windows 7 support is roughly the same as between Windows 7 release and XP's support ending.
Even where firms do choose to deploy to Windows 8, Gartner sees 'little value' in moving all PCs and compatible devices to the latest Microsoft OS and 'do not recommend it without a solid business case'.
Instead Gartner expects, of the firms moving to Windows 8, most will deploy the OS on new PCs and phase out Windows 7 over time.
For those making the switch to Windows 8, Kleynhans predicts the usual software upgrade complications - such as ensuring application compatibility, and recommends consulting with application software providers to ensure support.
However, beyond compatibility issues, which he doesn't expect to be a problem for the majority of software on Windows 7, Kleynhans said many organisations, "especially those in industries with government oversight or compliance requirements, require applications to be officially supported by the independent software vendor (ISV) and/or go through validation processes to ensure compatibility.
"Such organisations may find skipping Windows 8 for most devices makes sense," he said.
Few of TechRepublic's CIO Jury had plans to move to Windows 8 when polled earlier in the year.
Reasons given for steering clear included "the interface being too new to force feed to industry" and a desire to "focus time and resources on other challenges than a Windows upgrade project", together with a willingness to stick with Windows 7 as a "stable platform".
Sales of Windows 8 licences are lagging behind that of 7, with just over 200 million Windows 8 licences sold in about 15 months, compared to 240 million licences in the first year of Windows 7's release.
Microsoft has been tweaking the Windows to address these user complaints. The recent Windows 8.1 Update made the UI simpler to use with a mouse and keyboard, made devices running the OS easier to control using mobile device management and allowed the latest version of Internet Explorer to run web apps and sites designed for earlier versions, as well as providing the option to boot to the desktop rather than the tiled Start screen.
It's not all doom and gloom for Windows 8. J. P. Gownder, Forrester principal analyst said IT pros like the idea of using a tablet on the move and docked with a keyboard and screen - the model that Windows 8 was designed to support.
Windows 8.1 Update, with its mouse- and keyboard-friendly improvements, is well suited for these two-in-one scenarios," he wrote in the report Windows 8.1 Improves its Case for Enterprise Usage.
But while Windows 8 could help workers rely on a single device, Gowner also expects that Windows 7 will "remain the enterprise standard for years to come" and that "Windows 8.1 devices will be situationally deployed".
Gownder identifies multiple reasons for firms skipping Windows 8-powered dockable tablets, such as the Microsoft Surface, such as companies choosing to use smaller, more mobile tablets alongside, rather than instead of, PCs and certain management features enabled by Windows 8.1 only being realised when also running System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager.
By the time broad rollouts of Windows 8.1 start happening in enterprise Kleynhans expects that Windows 8.1 Update 2 will be on the market, which he says will be a likely choice for production deployment for those choosing the OS.
Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.