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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.Get weekly consulting tips in your inbox TechRepublic's IT Consultant newsletter, delivered each Monday, offers tips on how to attract customers, build your business, and increase your technical skills in order to get the job done. Automatically sign up today!
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 of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.