Should Your Firm Embrace Windows 7?
Here are a few issues you should look into before taking that leap.
October 7, 2010
Should you adopt the new Windows 7 operating system from Microsoft for your business or recommend Windows 7 to your clients? What features make this operating system a good choice for your organization? There are many issues to review as you consider taking the leap of faith inherent in major software upgrades. If your business is running effectively on a Windows XP platform, why incur the time and expense required to migrate numerous workstations to a very new system? What new Windows 7 features may justify the investment, and what implementation problems can you anticipate?
Microsoft markets Windows 7 Professional Edition as being targeted to small- and medium-size businesses. However, most of the better business features are not available in Windows 7 Professional and are only included in the Windows 7 Enterprise Edition. For example, the following features are only available in the Enterprise Edition:
Higher Level of Security
The BitLocker and AppLocker features can be important to CPAs serious about security issues concerning their client's information. Microsoft intended all versions of Windows 7 to be more secure than Windows XP, but these two features add a higher level of security to the Enterprise Edition. DirectAccess and BranchCache allow Enterprise Edition users to communicate more effectively between remote users (road warriors) and remote offices. Federated Search and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure enhance the user's ability to work more effectively. You should take into account, however, that most of these features can only be enabled if you also use Windows 2008 Server R2 as a back-end server in your business.
Hardware requirements for Windows 7 differ significantly from Windows XP. In many cases, older computers cannot support the new operating system. At a minimum, Microsoft advises that computers running Windows 7 must support:
The system must also support a DirectX 9 graphics device. Microsoft provides a downloadable Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor to provide guidance on necessary enhancements required to effectively use Windows 7. The upgrade advisor can be downloaded from Microsoft here.
Run this analysis on each workstation that will be required to support the Windows 7 operating system. Compile a cumulative inventory of necessary enhancements to determine the total costs required to support Windows 7. It is important to remember that these hardware requirements represent minimum capabilities and higher processors speed, RAM, etc. will improve the performance of Windows 7.
Licensing and Installments
Licensing requirements for Windows 7 Professional and Enterprise Editions can also be a factor in deciding on migration to Windows 7. There are many considerations in determining which licensing agreement will work best for your organization. Depending on the number of workstations in your organization, you may want to review the volume license options for the Windows 7 edition that you choose. You can review the various license options available for Windows 7 here.
Windows 7 cannot be installed directly from Windows XP, only from Windows Vista. Updates are not available from Windows XP. According to W3Counter as of February 2010, Windows XP still occupied approximately 54 percent of the total market and Vista only 20 percent. Therefore, most users will have to perform a "clean Install." This process involves saving all Windows XP data and writing the Windows 7 operating system as a fresh system. Then, your data is saved back to the new operating system. A clean install is more time consuming and, therefore, costly, to implement in your business depending on the number of workstations that require an XP to Windows 7 operating-system change.
Users who have 64-bit hardware can experience compatibility issues with some older software and older drivers. Many computers purchased in the past two years or three years probably are 64-bit compatible. However, depending on your environment, quite a lot of the supporting software can only work with 32-bit hardware. Before deciding to migrate to Windows 7 and 64-bit hardware, a careful inventory of all software and drivers should be made for all workstations. Microsoft offers a 32-bit/64-bit compatibility utility that will provide guidance with regard to how many software issues might require attention. Since Microsoft will terminate support for XP at some time in the future, and computer hardware is migrating to 64-bit processing, it is logical to assume that you will ultimately be required to purchase Windows 7 and 64-bit hardware. You should also consider the new look for the operating system and the learning curve for your users in getting used to at least the new Windows products and possibly new 64-bit compatible software.
Are You Ready?
The decision to adopt Windows 7 is not a simple one. Windows 7 has already registered a 10-percent market share. This growing acceptance of Windows 7 indicates a clear trend toward putting aside other operating systems and accepting the time and direct costs involved in Windows 7 adoption. Is migration to Windows 7 right for your business now, or should you wait? Consult with your IT advisor and determine the total costs involved in the hardware enhancements, licensing, server upgrades and software compatibility issues versus the beneficial features available in the Windows 7 edition that best suits your needs.
Ron Box, CPA.CITP, CFF, CISSP, is the chief financial officer and chief information officer for Joe Money Machinery, a Birmingham, AL.-based regional heavy construction distributor with operations in Georgia and Florida. Ron also serves as chair for the 2010 AICPA Top Technology Task Force and is a member of the AICPA Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) Credential Committee.