Windows 7 will prove to be a hit and is likely to be the next “Windows XP” in the NT line. There are a number of reasons that this the case. First of all, after the fiasco that was Windows Vista, there has been little negative news regarding its successor, Windows 7. In fact, just about every review has been quite positive regarding Windows 7. This is due in no small part to Microsoft learning to under promise and over deliver. During Vista’s development, the development news was rarely positive; features were constantly removed and the entire development was even scrapped at one point in a sort of “development reset”. This kind of news truly set the stage for a string of disappointments that eventually culminated in a release that disappointed on almost every level. Although many of Vista’s flaws have been addressed, the damage was done. With Windows 7, development simply seemed to improve all the time and has culminated in a release widely considered excellent.

Although there has been significant positive reaction to Windows 7, many people remain disappointed by the fact that Windows 7 is not, in general, a free upgrade. Sure, there are various licensing programs in which organizations participate that bring the upgrade cost down – often to nothing – but for those that simply purchase Windows with each new computer, a mass upgrade of existing machines requires the purchase of new Windows 7 licenses. For many, Windows Vista was an abomination that was unsuitable for general deployment. To them, Windows 7 is nothing more than Windows Vista R2 and is undeserving of a price tag. Microsoft thinks differently about the situation, although the company has reduced the price for Windows 7. That said, Windows 7 is still not a free upgrade.

Now, let’s talk about bugs. There has been conflicting information regarding a flaw in Server Message Block 2.0 (SMB 2.0). The flaw results in the easy remote takedown of any system running Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008. Worse, it’s been discovered that the Windows 7 release candidate is also susceptible to this flaw, which led to fears that every new Windows 7 installation would be at risk for random attack. Rest assured, however, that Microsoft has corrected this critical flaw in both the RTM version of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

As far as application compatibility goes, just about every application that was readied for Windows Vista will run under Windows 7 with no modifications necessary. For those applications that don’t run under either Windows Vista or Windows 7, Windows 7 includes XP Mode, designed to allow Windows 7 flawless backward compatibility for programs that do not support the newer operating systems. XP Mode allows you to run a virtualized application alongside your Windows 7 applications. As you might expect, the use of Windows XP Mode does add to the overall hardware requirements that are needed for Windows 7. First off, any computer on which you intend to use XP Mode must have a processor that includes hardware virtualization capabilities. Microsoft also recommends that the computer have at least 2GB of RAM; personally, I think this would be a bare minimum and 3GB would be a much better minimum.

Speaking of hardware requirements, Windows 7 retains the same minimum hardware requirements as those necessary for Windows Vista – 1GHz processor, 1GB RAM (32-bit) or 2GB RAM (64-bit), 16GB to 20GB disk space and a DVD drive. The fact that Windows 7 performs noticeably better than Windows Vista on the same hardware speaks volumes about the efficiency of the code and the product.

When it comes to deployment, I see Windows 7 becoming the corporate standard on new PC purchases sooner rather than later. Notice that I say “new” PCs. Because of increased hardware requirements, I don’t foresee that many organizations reimaging older PCs to move to Windows 7, although some recently purchased PCs might fit the bill. The reason I don’t see older PCs being included in Windows 7 upgrade plans is simple: If Windows XP Mode is necessary for compatibility, the hardware requirements will be too steep to go back and upgrade older inventory. This will mean that a full migration to Windows 7 will ake some time, but it will happen and the process will start sooner rather than later.

Finally, what are my plans for Windows 7 at Westminster College? We’ve tested our enterprise applications under Vista and everything runs quite well on the 32-bit platform, but not the 64-bit variety. Upcoming releases of these applications are slated to support 64-bit Windows Vista and Windows 7. Once we’re sure that our applications can support the operating system, we begin a plan to move to Windows 7 64-bit during the summer 2010. If testing does not go well, we’ll stick with the 32-bit version of Windows 7. At the same time, if the product is available, we’ll move to Office 2010 since we also plan to move to Exchange 2010 upon its release. We’re currently running a mix of both Office 2003 and Office 2007 and will standardize on Office 2010 for new rollouts, if possible.