Windows

What Windows 7 means to IT consultants

Although Windows 7 presents new challenges for IT consultants, it will also generate new service requests and spawn additional work.

 

While Windows 7 boasts important refinements, including better memory usage, full 64-bit support, simplified wireless networking, touch-screen support, and Windows XP Mode for application compatibility, the release complicates IT consulting efforts. This is good and bad.

It's good because the new release (and the countless and inevitable issues that arise with a new OS) will result in new service calls and new clients. It's bad because already harried IT consultants will bear the challenge of making Windows 7 live up to Microsoft's marketing hype and productivity promises.

My consultancy has been testing Windows 7 for months. We've installed the OS on numerous workstations and even pushed it into our production environment. Our experiences have been good, but no OS is perfect, and we've noticed some issues that will affect consultants. Here's why Windows 7 will mean more work for you.

Application incompatibilities

Many organizations are dependent upon legacy or proprietary applications, and a number of these critical programs will be incompatible with Windows 7. Microsoft's answer is Windows XP Mode, which isn't necessarily an elegant fix. While virtual machines (VMs) are a clever approach to solving the need for multiple OS environments, VMs typically place considerable demand upon workstations. To run Windows XP Mode, organizations must possess systems equipped with Intel Virtualization Technology- or AMD-V-enabled CPUs. With VMs, CPU cycles and memory are at a premium, so organizations' unending penchant to purchase low-cost systems with bare essential hardware capabilities doesn't match well with Microsoft's Windows 7 solution for supporting legacy applications. As a result, consultants will be tasked to upgrade or replace many workstations that are incapable of efficiently powering Windows XP Mode.

Printer and other hardware incompatibilities

While Windows 7 seems to improve driver compatibility, trouble will still arise. For instance, just last week, my consultancy deployed a popular all-in-one printer (previously purchased by the client without our input) produced by a manufacturer that still proved incompatible with Windows Vista.

You should be prepared to research workarounds when drive incompatibilities arise. In many cases, clients may find deploying Windows 7 results in the need to replace otherwise capable components (including possibly bar code scanners and other POS equipment, printers, biometric security devices, and other hardware) that prove incompatible.

System requirements remain high

Windows XP possesses the most market share, which means the lion's share of deployed systems possess hardware matched to that OS. Windows XP only required a 233 MHz or faster CPU, 64 MB of RAM, and 1.5 GB of free disk space. Windows 7 ups the ante exponentially to a 1 GHz CPU, 1 GB RAM, and 16 GB of available disk space. Consultants should plan on upgrading and replacing countless Windows XP systems because millions of Windows XP machines exist in the real world that fail to meet these specifications.

Edition confusion

While some IT professionals debate whether multiple Windows OS editions are confusing to the marketplace, consultants know the truth from real-world experience: Business owners and staff are bewildered by the different versions. I've lost track of the number of times my consultancy's been approached by a new client, and we've had to upgrade Windows XP Home systems to Windows XP Professional in order to meet business objectives. The new release's plethora of versions -- users can choose from Starter, Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise versions -- will further complicate complex licensing, upgrade, and platform compatibility issues. (Download TechRepublic's Windows Professional Feature Comparison Chart.)

Training requirements

Consultancies must get their engineers and support technicians up to speed on all the best practices, new features, and workarounds necessary to deploy, administer, and maintain Windows 7; this means training classes, instructional materials, and certification courses. Such training requires investment, including cash for courses and books/CDs. Even worse, it requires that staff dedicate time to non-billable tasks.

Backoffice tool incompatibilities

Most consultancies maintain a library of specialized troubleshooting applications and hardware. My IT shop regularly deploys hard disk adapters, motherboard diagnostic cards, and numerous preboot environment CDs and other utilities. We use these hardware and software components to troubleshoot and repair failed systems and servers. With Windows 7, we'll inevitably find that we'll need to obtain new versions that prove compatible with the new OS. This means consultants will face new expenses as a result of the need for new Windows 7-compatible backoffice tools and utilities.

Lucky 7

Some consultancies may find Windows 7 is equivalent to Lucky 7. The new OS is sure to get business owners thinking about their computer systems and infrastructure. As businesses awake from the 2008-2009 economic collapse and recession and begin moving to replace outdated equipment or begin new projects, Windows 7 comes at a good time. Although Windows 7 presents new challenges for IT consultants, it is also sure to generate new service requests and spawn additional work.

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About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

22 comments
klashbrook
klashbrook

I don't believe Microsoft's "answer" to application incompatibilities is the virtual-machine Windows XP mode as you claim. That is just one of several options. And would rarely be the first choice or consultant's recommendation to solve application incompatibility issues. The far easier choice is to use the Program Compatibility Assistant and potentially change the older application's execution settings to run correctly in native Windows 7. This works very well, without requiring the extra hardware or training required for users to run the virtual machine Windows XP Mode. Windows XP Mode is going to be used primarily by power-users and IT Professionals with higher technical skills. which is one of the reasons it is a separate download, and not included in the core image of Windows7.

brokenspokes
brokenspokes

Implementing XP Mode as a virtual machine seems like a clumsy way to go about this whole thing--or is it a cop out? Why didn't Microsoft just do a translation layer for legacy programs? Apple was able to get out of the dark ages with Rosetta, and the Linux crowd is doing a lot with Wine. It's funny, my boss asked a good question when I told him there will be a virtual machine for XP programs in Windows 7: "What's the point of upgrading?" There are many points but none of them really go anywhere with the bean counters. Our IT budget has been ballooning for years and a couple of major overhyped projects that didn't live up to the hype has a bunch of people worried that we'll be attracting too much attention. It'll probably be 2012 before we attempt the switch to Windows 7.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

The windows XP updates are going to be needed for the duration of the Windows 7 life!

reisen55
reisen55

IF our clients can afford anything these days, which is highly questionable, Windows 7 can be a project base for IT consultants but only at risk, considerable risk if their primary business applications are faulty in the new environment. Then the IT consultant will say that Windows 7 has an XP Compatibility mode. Great Answer. So, why upgrade? The client will ask. ............ long silence ............ sound of crickets. In the end, no opportunity for money.

la
la

Win 7 better be a major step up from what Vista is or corporate users will never move to it. They'll adopt some sort of thin client / cloud solution Google will probably have sometime in the near future.

dave
dave

Have any of you tried connecting Win7, 32 or 64bit, RTM, not beta or RC, to a SBS2008? You would have though that MS could have got this right! Now we are going to have bosses turning up with their brand new Vaio Z31 (about $3,000+)and not being able to get it connected to their servers. This is a genuine example, I am going to have to face it in about two hours.

slatimer76
slatimer76

This post is very exciting for me, as i am trying to start a Consulting Business. I was not realizing the possibilities with a new OS coming out in regards to Consulting, but seeing how it can bring about new services that are needed, it can be a very exciting for a new company that is focused on Windows 7. Keeping all the other factors in mind...upgrades, legacy software, legacy hardware...this sounds like a fine time for Consultants and new business.

Gmuscle
Gmuscle

I have to agree, I am Sr. Consultant for Government and Commercial clients. None will be moving to Windows7 any time soon. Anyone that chooses to do this should perform through testing all applications and install methods.

cmtbobaz
cmtbobaz

Yes we have and I haven't had any issues. What problem have you experienced?

carlsf
carlsf

As you rightly point out the cost to move to WIN7 may be more than some busineses and large organsations can afford $$$. We have tested (WIN7) with most of our users (115), over the last 2 months, and the reception has NOT been good. Most have asked and requested the "CLASSIC" UI, START, which MS has decided to remove (BAD Move). We have done cost projections over the existing systems (PC and Notebook) using a mix of XP and Vista both 32 and 64bit, and the following is a average over all the 115 systems. THIS is using Full product (we will not use upgrades)and done in small groups. Cost of WIN7 + Cost of hardware upgrades + Installation costs + Training of users + Cost of downtime/NON productive time = Our businesss world be OUT of business. The decision has been made after a meeting (management and workers) we will NOT be moving to WIN7, we will keep our existing O/s's and Office 2003 (2007 has the hated ribbon interface.

CraneWest
CraneWest

What problems are you experiencing exactly?

CraneWest
CraneWest

Ubuntu. A futile manuever. Picard would never have approved.

CraneWest
CraneWest

What do you believe Microsoft should have done to help people/businesses to continue using older/outdated/out of warranty software and hardware? What will you do when Microsoft discontinues critical updates for WinXP? What are your users saying about the ribbon UI? Is Linux an alternative you've considered?

dave
dave

Until the release of the SBS2008 patches, the very night before Win 7 was launched, running //connect would fail, leading to an irrelevant page concerning SBS2003. It now works fine, but my previous postings asking for a fix on Technet were censured by the moderators who obviously did not want to publicly admit to such an obvious blunder.

CG IT
CG IT

Depends on the company and the applications they use. There are some companies that still use DOS. An example Taco Bell. Many of their POS systems use an application that runs on DOS. Most franchises don't spend the money unless they absolutely positively have to and even then some will do without a register than spending the money to fix it. One other reason is the lack of replacement hardware. Some no tall Taco Bell cash registers use 10 MB hard drives and they aren't easy to come by. They also use socket 7 motherboards and 500 Mhz socket 7 processors. Not only that but some still use 10Base2 networking. Only those companies that fall into the latest and greatest craze[usually large businesses or those wannabe]actually follow the 3 year upgrade plan [and that ends up being leasing terms rather than buy terms].

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

That won't be an option forever. I still see a lot of Windows XP and even 2000 being used in businesses with a specific vertical app running on lots of workstations. It's just too expensive for them to upgrade until they have to. But eventually they have to.

carlsf
carlsf

Microsift to downgrade them to XP. Or so I have been told by MS (NZ) So again becomes a non issue, except MS will NO longer be giving support.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

You're right -- there has to be a business case that's more substantial than "Microsoft isn't supporting it any more". If it works, they don't care. What will eventually move these people off XP is when they have to buy new computers and they can no longer buy them with XP installed.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

Most of the companies we support are refusing to upgrade off XP. Their users very much dislike the ribbon, too. Most companies just want to stabilize on a platform and don't see the need to upgrade or update software (OS or applications) every couple years. Instead, they're focused on running their own business, whether it's a retail store, doctor's office, etc.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

The windows XP updates are going to be needed for the duration of the Windows 7 life!

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