Many companies are looking to Windows 7  as a way to improve productivity and stability. But as with all upgrades, an ounce of prevention (and planning) is worth a pound of cure.
“Windows 7 is ready for organizations. It’s stable and secure,” says Michael Silver, research vice president at Gartner. “The question is: Are the organizations ready for it?”
Some organizations are taking a slow and safe road to upgrading their employees’ systems. For example, orthotics device distributor Allard USA is leapfrogging from XP to Windows 7. The company is upgrading users as their hardware reaches the end of its lifecycle. Allard currently has four Windows 7 users and expects to have all of the company’s 23 employees running the new OS within two years.
Devendra Mehta, IT advisor for Allard, says the main advantages of Windows 7 are improved performance, better integration with Microsoft Office 2007 and new productivity features.
He also finds it easy on new users. Most users become proficient with Windows 7 as quickly as they did with XP, though they often need some help taking advantage of the new features .
“We do have to give them a little handholding after they upgrade. But by and large we haven’t had to offer any formal training,” Mehta says.
At Allen Matkins, the California law firm was far behind on Windows upgrades because many of its employees still used older court systems that run on legacy Windows versions. Windows XP was being used on about 150 notebook computers and Windows 2000 on about 350 desktops.
Accordingly, the law firm wasn’t going to upgrade without careful planning. “We wanted to make sure we got this upgrade right the first time,” says Frank Gillman, the firm’s chief technology officer.
When is your company planning to implement Windows 7, either formally or as a pilot?
49% Not planning to begin implementing Windows 7 formally or as a pilot
18% Six to 12 months
17% Within six months
8% More than 18 months
6% Don’t know
2% 12 to 18 months
SOURCE: CDW Poll of 166 BizTech readers
Gillman and his team created a large chart of all the firm’s required applications and divided them into three categories: apps certified for Windows 7; apps certified for Vista, which they assumed would work on Windows 7; and apps not certified for either, which would have to be tested. Gillman knew that some of the legacy court systems would not work on Windows 7. So he also implemented Microsoft Application Virtualization  (App-V), which let users run applications that require legacy versions of Windows.
Last October, as part of the testing process, the firm installed a prerelease version of Windows 7 on 28 computers: nine with IT department personnel and the rest the power users in the company. Gillman found that 98 percent of the necessary drivers were installed automatically, making this the easiest Windows upgrade he had ever done. All the certified applications, and many noncertified ones, ran perfectly. Legacy applications that didn’t run natively worked well using App-V.
Like many IT professionals, Gillman was initially worried about upgrading. In fact, he didn’t plan to be a Windows 7 pioneer. In March 2009, the firm decided to install Microsoft Office Professional 2007 on all PCs and move all users to Windows XP, an OS that could support the new version of Office, which was one that Gillman trusted.
“We didn’t see Vista as reasonable for us, and we were skeptical about the difference that Windows 7 could make,” Gillman says. But after seeing the new OS in action, he and his team were convinced that the features in Windows 7 could solve many nagging problems they had to endure with the firm’s legacy operating systems. For example, using DirectAccess in Windows 7, users could easily connect remotely to the firm’s corporate resources. Connecting with the older operating systems was so cumbersome that many attorneys ignored it.
For more information on Windows 7, visit BizTech's Windows Resource Center .
Now that the upgrade is complete, Gillman says users are more productive. “Most people treat their desktop as an electronic sock drawer — they throw everything in there and hope to find it when they need it,” Gillman says. Windows 7 has features, such as a new search function, that make it easier to find and navigate around applications and documents.
Gillman also expects to see cost savings as a result of the upgrade. The firm expects to save about $60,000 in licensing fees they used to pay for third-party products whose functions are included in Windows 7.
Harrison Hickman, founding partner at Global Strategy Group, a political consultant, public relations and government affairs company, also was careful with his Windows 7 upgrade.
But because his company doesn’t have any legacy applications, he didn’t need as formal a planning strategy as Allen Matkins.
While Hickman is a longtime Windows booster, he is no Pollyanna, and he is well aware that unexpected problems may arise immediately after an upgrade. As a result, he confined the initial installation to one person. “I was the guinea pig,” he says. Before upgrading, he armed himself with the know-how and technology to downgrade quickly if needed. Fortunately, the upgrade went well.
“With Windows 7, everything seems more solid, and the system integrates better with the browser and other applications,” he says. He is now rolling out Windows 7 to all 60 of his employees as each user’s time permits.
Hickman says the first benefit he noticed with the new system was a performance boost. He adds that many productivity features have made his and his employees’ lives easier. Using the Snipping tool, he can send parts of a web page to clients rather than the whole page.
“Things just happen more quickly,” he points out. He cites the speed at which files move around the network or are sent to the printer. And he says it’s much faster to move between the browser and Microsoft Outlook . “There is no perceivable pause,” he says.