With Windows 7 slated for release Oct. 22, information technology firms around the Tri-Counties are gearing up for a flurry of new installations and breathing a sigh of relief that they finally have a decent Microsoft operating system to sell.
Whether they have a financial incentive to brag on it or not, all of the IT firms contacted by the Business Times had positive things to say about Windows 7 and expected business clients to eventually adopt it. For its part, Microsoft has a lot riding on Windows 7’s success because the business world basically skipped Vista, the firm’s 2006 operating system that fell prey to initial bad press over poor performance and savvy marketing from competitor Apple Computer.
“Windows 7 is what Microsoft wishes Vista would have been,” said Morgan Peterson, director of IT for Santa Barbara’s CompuVision. “We’re having to talk a lot to our clients about Windows 7 because of the whole Vista thing.”
Jeremy Anticouni, chief technology officer for Santa Barbara’s Make It Work, agreed. “I was concerned about Microsoft after Vista if the next release wasn’t a home run for them,” he said. “They could have been in hot water and become almost irrelevant.”
Businesses are ready for an upgrade. Because Windows has about 88 percent market share, according to data from Net Applications, and businesses didn’t adopt Vista, that leaves the bulk of the world’s computers running on Windows XP — an operating system from 2001, still functional but a dinosaur at 8 years old.
Many IT firms have a financial incentive from Microsoft to help the Redmond, Wash.-based firm sell its products. Vista proved tough for them.
“We have never once recommended to our customers to move to Vista, and we’re a Microsoft partner,” said Eric Egolf, vice president of Santa Barbara’s CIO Solutions. “That’s a tough situation to be in because Microsoft wants us to sell it. But we just didn’t think it was right for our customers.”
Some businesses that did make the switch to Vista went back to XP. They found a clunky interface and an operating system that didn’t work with important software and devices.
“We’ve downgraded people from Vista to XP very frequently because of poor performance, no ease of use and compatibility issues,” said Evan Asher, co-owner of Santa Barbara’s TechEase. “We used Vista for a few weeks at the office and downgraded to XP.”
Microsoft eventually fixed many of Vista’s problems, but not before Apple had battered it in the public mind. Apple had greater marketing savvy than its behemoth competitor, and the Cupertino firm got in early and hammered home a simple message in its hip, 20-something-oriented ads: Vista sucks.
“Apple did a great job of destroying Vista in people’s minds,” said Jim Richardson, professional services manager with Camarillo-based CPI Solutions. “It was really more of a perception than that Vista didn’t work in an enterprise environment.”
Window 7 is a different story. The press has been mostly positive, and IT experts who have been testing it out for several months before its release are impressed.
The operating system puts less strain on a machine’s resources and doesn’t seem to have the compatibility problems with devices or software that Vista did. It even gets good reviews from tech support gurus who aren’t in the business of helping to sell it.
“Quite frankly, Windows 7 has been the best release of Windows I’ve seen in a long time,” said Anticouni of Make It Work, which doesn’t sell software. “Windows 7 has the lowest overhead and is the most stable version of Windows I’ve seen to date. And it’s very compatible.”
One feature businesses might find useful will be called Direct Access, a tool that lets Windows 7 computers dock into Windows 2008 servers from anywhere. That could prove a big relief for anyone who’s gone on a business trip, needed to access the company server from a remote laptop and muttered curses at the letters VPN.
The usual rule of thumb, IT experts say, is that businesses wait until Microsoft releases its first service pack for a new operating system before adopting. A service pack is a bundle of fixes and patches for bugs and security holes. But this time around, businesses might not wait.
“Because the vast majority did not go to Vista, there’s going to be a much bigger demand than normal,” said Chris Chirgwin, chief executive of Santa Barbara-based Lanspeed. “We’re hearing a lot of businesses saying, ‘We’ve been on XP for six or eight years now and we want to upgrade.”
Tech managers are telling businesses to make sure all their software will work with Windows 7 before making the switch, which in most cases will require wiping XP machines completely clean and installing Windows 7 from scratch. If XP still works, tech managers say, there’s no reason to rush. Microsoft won’t quit supporting XP until 2014.
“We aren’t encouraging people to be the first, especially not if they’re in business,” TechEase’s Asher said. “At home, maybe, but not in a business-critical situation.”
One big question is how much longer big operating systems will rule the computer world. More and more software and data is moving to remote servers accessed over the Internet through a Web browser. With faraway computers doing the heavy lifting, new devices such as netbooks and smartphones don’t need as much under the hood or a big operating system to run them. Google, Microsoft’s fiercest foe, has been rattling its saber with an announcement of a beefed-up version of Chrome, its Web browser. The slim software would run an entire computer while relying on remote applications such as Google Docs and Gmail to carry out most day-to-day business tasks.
“This release of Windows is the last or the second-to-last version that we’ll see in that standard, large-operating-system world,” Anticouni said.
Others aren’t so sure the revolution is near — big data snafus continue to grab headlines, as when T-Mobile and partner Danger announced that they lost contact lists for customers whose smartphones stored the information on remote servers.
“With the news from T-Mobile and Danger with their massive data loss, the cloud is an interesting that’s not quite there yet,” said Paul Avolio, president and co-founder of Latitude 34 Technologies in Goleta. “We’ll see Windows 8 and 9 for sure, if not Windows 10.”
After all, notes Russ Levanway, chief executive of San Luis Obispo-based TekTegrity, remote computing has been heralded as the next big thing more than once before.
“Virtual environments and [software as a service] were supposed to take over everything years ago but ended up only being a niche,” Levanway said. “There has been a renewed interest and push owing to more mature technology recently. But it could be another false start.”