Deja vu all over again: Windows 7 will be the new XP

Even as enterprises try to get rid of their last Windows XP machines, Gartner analysts are urging them to start planning for the end of Windows 7.


Even as enterprises try to purge their last Windows XP machines, Gartner analysts today urged organizations to start planning for the end of Windows 7.

"Now I need to worry about the next version?" Michael Silver of Gartner rhetorically asked today. In fact, yes. "Objects in the future are closer than they appear," he quipped.

Microsoft has pledged to support Windows 7 until Jan. 14, 2020, or five years and five months from today. The company's "Mainstream" support -- the front end of a 10-year stretch -- ends Jan. 13, 2015, but the firm will continue to provide security patches for the popular OS for another five years after that in its "Extended" support phase.

With more than five years left on the support clock -- and with many enterprises having just wrapped up their migration to Windows 7 -- why start planning now?

"While this feels like it's a long way off, organizations must start planning now so they can prevent a recurrence of what happened with Windows XP," said Silver and Gartner colleague Stephen Kleynhans, the two analysts who authored a recent report for the firm tagged "Plan Now to Avoid Windows XP Deja Vu With Windows 7."

In fact, said Silver, the time between the likely launch of Windows 8's follow-up -- at the moment called "Threshold" by many, including Silver -- and the end of Windows 7's support is approximately the same as the timespan between Windows 7's debut and XP's retirement: About four-and-a-half years.

And everyone knows how that turned out.

Not well: According to Gartner's surveys, nearly 25% of the PCs in organizations -- private enterprises, government agencies and the like -- were still running XP in April when Microsoft pulled the patch plug. That same 25% was cited by Web metrics vendor Net Applications as the percentage of the world's personal computers running XP last month.

Having a plan, Silver stressed, could help organizations avoid a repeat of XP's expensive end-of-support scramble. And time is ticking.

"Microsoft will soon start talking about Threshold, at least they need to start talking about it soon if they plan on shipping it next year," said Silver in an interview. "They need to give customers an idea of what the road map is going to be."

And when Microsoft starts talking, organizations should start listening, if only to try to figure out whether there's enough difference between Threshold and the Windows 8 flop to commit to the former. If Threshold is simply a warmed-over Windows 8, then enterprises must know that, too -- and as soon as possible, so that they can postpone migration plans entirely and hope that whatever comes after Threshold is palatable.

Organizations will have about the same amount of time to purge Windows 7 as they had to rid themselves of Windows XP, Gartner says: about four-and-a-half years. That means enterprises should start planning now for Windows 7's end of support. (Image: Gartner Research.)

Gartner expects that Threshold -- possibly called "Windows 9" in the end, although there are arguments against using another numeral -- will launch in the second quarter of 2015. Some pundits, including long-time Microsoft watchers like ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, have pegged the spring of next year, effectively the same timetable. Foley has also said that Microsoft will publicly preview Threshold this fall.

But why plan at all? Why not just do what Microsoft would love for customers to do, move now to Windows 8? "I don't see Windows 8 turning around or organizations grabbing Windows 8," Silver answered.

While that take wasn't unexpected -- industry analysts have been saying that since before Windows 8's debut -- Gartner was blunt. "Organizations have been hesitant to deploy Windows 8 on non-touch devices because of concerns surrounding the new user experience" and "don't upgrade existing Windows 7 PCs to Windows 8 without a business case," the report stated.

Microsoft itself has signaled it's accepted Windows 8's fate, and has moved on: Not only has it begun to downplay Windows 8 in its corporate messaging, it plans no new major updates, but will instead deliver new features in monthly small packets, a process that started Tuesday.

But although Silver said Windows 8 was effectively off the table, he and Kleynhans still included the reputation-challenged OS in the options they laid out.

Companies can deploy Windows 8 on new PCs as they arrive, the two said, to phase out Windows 7 over time; or enterprises can deploy Windows 8 across the board to scrub out its 2009 predecessor. The first, they said, "may make sense for many organizations," but the second they dismissed. "We see little value in doing this," they wrote in their report.

The third road in their trio was the one they bet most companies will take: Skip Windows 8, and plan to deploy what they called "Windows v.Future," which might be Windows 9, or perhaps the iteration after that.

Silver called it Option 2B. "That will be the one a lot of folks choose," said Silver.