For all the praise that Windows 7 has received since it’s release, there’s still a great deal of Windows XP out there. You see it on people’s laptops in cafes and on planes, you see it in kiosks, you may have it in your own environment or see it when you visit your customers.

The benefit for partners

One of the big benefits of Windows Intune for the Microsoft partner community is that they can target many of their non-Software Assurance (SA)  customers to the latest version of Windows on the desktop, which otherwise may not have been a regular topic of conversation. For those of you who have been in the IT game for a while, you probably remember that back in the pre-Windows XP days, desktop upgrades, especially for the SMB market, were something that was more regularly done. Not necessarily in the same timeframes as Microsoft’s much more aggressive release cycles back then, but more regularly than today.

Most SMB customers don’t have SA on their desktops, which means retail upgrades are usually the option that needs to be investigated when new versions of Windows are required for upgrade scenarios, but for many of these customers the Enterprise upgrade within the Windows Intune subscription provides a good alternative.

What happened?

Two main things went wrong. Firstly the long delay between the release of Windows XP and the release of Windows Vista. Users got extremely comfortable with the Windows XP interface, and the technical teams that deployed and supported new versions of the OS got extremely adept at using the Windows XP deployment and management tools. Microsoft allowed XP and its ecosystem to become the status quo.

The second piece of the problem was Windows Vista itself. The initial release, along with the drivers that were available at launch time, left a great deal to be desired. Over time though, Windows Vista’s performance did get better, especially in the time leading up to and including the release of the first service pack. Microsoft’s anemic hardware requirements and recommendations also hurt that initial release, and some machines that were shipped as Vista capable were far from it.

By the time these performance issues were addressed, it was too late for Vista to succeed, no matter how Microsoft marketed it. IT departments breathed a sigh of relief as it bought them a few more years of being comfortable with their existing environment, and users were happy as they didn’t have to migrate and learn anything new.

During this time I was working a great deal with Microsoft’s OEM partners on the Vista OPK (the OEM version of the WAIK), and faced similar challenges here too. The resistance to moving across to new tools and deployment methods impacted their production images which they had been perfecting for years. Changes to unattended setup and a different approach to imaging and testing were just some of the issues OEMs had to overcome.

What was the impact?

For those who watched the Vista experience without getting involved, they missed some major updates to the support and deployment tools, so by the time Windows 7 was on their radar, they really had a great deal of learning to do. For those who had deployed or at least tested Vista in a limited scope, the learning curve was smaller.

This again meant that some felt alienated by the changes on the administration and deployment side clung to their XP world, while others rejoiced that they finally could see a valid replacement for the aging OS. The good thing for both groups though was that tools like the MDT and it’s forerunners got easier and more powerful, so the learning curve for new deployments continued to get easier.

Why isn’t everyone on Windows 7 already?

The list here is long and varied depending on who you talk to, but it may be as simple as time and money for some. For others it could be application compatibility issues that they fear. Others just may not care, happy to let their Windows XP environments run themselves into the ground before investigating alternatives.

Obviously you don’t want to have to work with those in the last category, as it means a rushed deployment of a new environment that is going to an absolute headache for all involved. Planning an upgrade, or in this case I prefer to see it was a migration, from XP to Windows 7, takes time and testing if it is to be a smooth process. Software and hardware compatibility testing , user training and more should all be part of the larger test plan.

What’s the solution?

Well, Windows Intune isn’t the answer for everyone looking to get Windows 7 licenses. If someone already has a management solution and anti malware software in place that they are happy with, they should perhaps look at some of Microsoft’s licensing programs to see what best suits their needs.

For those keen on Windows 7 now and needing the additional cloud services that Windows Intune provides, it should definitely be investigated. For those keen on Windows 7 upgrades, but getting distracted by all of the Windows 8 activity, Windows Intune is still a great option because the upgrade to Windows 8 is something that Intune subscribers will be able to take advantage of. Sure, it may not be an automated deployment through the cloud onto their desktop, but not too far into the Windows 8 release cycle I’m pretty sure this is going to be one of the options on offer, just make sure to bring your own Internet connection.