Upgrading your clients to XP depends on timing

While Windows XP's new features may impress individual users, they probably don't justify an immediate upgrade for corporations. Three technologists suggest when it's appropriate for consultants to encourage their clients to upgrade to the new OS.

Microsoft's release train keeps chugging along as consultants try to keep their customers up to date. Microsoft is scheduled to launch its latest operating system, Windows XP, on Oct. 25 with a celebration in New York City's Times Square theater district.

The company’s press materials boast that the new OS will allow its business users to "work smarter and faster, employing productivity and connectivity features ranging from remote access to multilingual communication to meet the demands of any size company." The release comes as many large corporations are just beginning to upgrade or migrate to Windows 2000.

Consultants who are currently implementing migrations must help their clients decide whether to proceed with upgrades to previous versions—primarily Windows 2000—or go for the newest version to avoid being "leapfrogged" by technology. Three technology experts agree that it's an issue of timing.

XP is "Windows 2000 plus"
In a recent audio briefing, META Group analyst Steve Kleynhans said that corporations should stay the course and upgrade to Windows 2000 and move to XP on their timetable, not Microsoft's.

"We're probably looking at the beginning of 2002 before corporations should look seriously at rolling XP in en masse within the company,” he said. “Before that, it would be limited to pilots."

Technologist and author Jerry Honeycutt, who has been teaching a Windows and Office deployment seminar for the last year and a half, described Windows XP as "Windows 2000 plus." While its new user interface is going to be great for end users, he didn’t think that any of XP's new features were compelling enough to warrant an enterprise upgrade.

"There are lots of great little features that end users are going to appreciate," said Honeycutt, a featured columnist for Microsoft's Windows XP Expert Zone, as well as CNET Enterprise. "I don’t really believe that the usability is that much better in Windows XP than it was in Windows 2000. It’s a bit friendlier, it’s prettier to look at, certainly, but I don’t think users are struggling with Windows 2000."

Giga Information Group analyst Rob Enderle said that if the client is currently using Windows 2000, it is unlikely that there would be much justification to upgrade to Windows XP, especially if the client has relatively new hardware. However, if the client is using Windows 95 or old hardware, they will face problems as Microsoft phases out that platform.

"In that particular case, the customer should probably update both the hardware and the software, moving to Windows XP sharply over the next few months,” he said. “The farther back they are in technology, the more likely a candidate they would be for Windows XP and a hardware refresh because that would provide them with the same kind of length in service going forward that they had in Windows 95 going back."

Reasons to choose XP
Honeycutt said there were a couple of scenarios in which he would advise a client to upgrade to XP. For example, if a client was already planning an upgrade or migration to Windows and hadn't reached the testing stage, Honeycutt recommends going with XP over Windows 2000.

"But, on the other hand, if you’re very late in the process and you truly are committed and you’re already in a project pilot and you’ve already customized Windows 2000, then I don’t see any features in Windows XP that are worth changing your plans for,” he said.

Honeycutt suggested that two new features of Windows XP might benefit a client who had a lot of roaming or mobile users:
  • XP's Remote Desktop gives users remote control of their desktop computers from any other computer on the network. "This is a good answer to folks who scoff at roaming user profiles," Honeycutt said.
  • XP's Help and Support Center makes the OS easier to support and end users more self-sufficient. "This [feature] includes remote assistance and is compelling anywhere that help desk costs are escalating or users have a bad perception of the help desk," Honeycutt said.

META's Kleynhans said that another improvement to XP was the integrated network stack for handling 802.11 wireless networking.

In Windows 2000, administrators had to use external applications to manage profiles. XP, on the other hand, has an imbedded set of applications for managing those profiles, which makes dealing with wireless networking "just a little bit easier," he said. "It is a bit of a benefit for IT administrators who have to deal with setting systems up to deal with multiple wireless networks."

Honeycutt said he would most recommend changing a 2000 upgrade to XP midstream for "branch offices, small businesses, and home offices, where the time, effort, and costs for deployment are minimal."

“Networking in Windows XP is a no-brainer,” he said. “Windows XP focuses on the scenarios that are common in these types of environments."

Corporate culture issues
Microsoft 2000 and XP coexist better than any preceding generation of Microsoft products, Enderle said. For that reason, companies may want to begin upgrading to XP instead of 2000.

"The platforms that you accept with Windows XP will have a longer time in service than the ones that you're completing with Windows 2000," Enderle said. "I think I would argue that from a technical standpoint, it is probably never too late to make that switchover to XP if you're midcourse."

However, companies often want to maintain consistent desktops for their employees to ensure that every department and/or employee is treated equally. As IT personnel begin buying computers with Windows XP preloaded, Kleynhans said that the system's OS could be set to look and act just like Windows 2000 to prevent any jealousy between XP and 2000 users.

"You don't have to use the new interface," he said. " If you don't want your people to have video editing software or Internet connection software, you can turn those off. In that sense, you can treat Windows XP as the next service pack for Windows 2000."

Potential problems
Because it's based on Windows 2000 code and has been through an extensive beta test, Windows XP isn't expected to have a lot of problems, Kleynhans said.

But Kleynhans did suggest that some features could pose security risks. XP's Remote Desktop feature, for example, allows administrators and help desk personnel to literally take over a user's machine.

There are also some utilities—such as firewall software and VPNs and other types of security applications—that would be used in a corporate environment but might not have been tested thoroughly in Microsoft's beta period.

"It would probably be wise for corporations to hold off a little bit and allow the vendors of those pieces of software to ensure that they've got updates specific for Windows XP," Kleynhans said.

Are you recommending XP to any of your clients?
Can you think of a specific scenario in which you would recommend that a client upgrade or migrate to Windows XP? Share your thoughts with us or post your comments below.


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