February 2011 IT Business Consulting Newsletter

Is Windows 7 ready for YOUR Business?!?

By Tom K

Is your business ready for Windows 7? Or more importantly, is Windows 7 ready for YOUR Business?!?

After the Vista debacle, concern is appropriate... Since many of my clients and associates have been expressing concern over Windows 7, I'm bumping February's scheduled topic to discuss this timely issue.

So this month's article discusses some of our experiences with Windows 7 in VRM environments, the Windows 7 options as they may apply to Your Business, and your available options should you wish to maintain an XP environment.

General Experiences with Windows 7

So far we are finding Windows 7 to be pretty stable. It is quite different from what you’ve been used to with XP. Most of the tools you might be used to are still there, they’re just not where you’re used to seeing them, and they are often not easy to find. The default security settings are somewhat overbearing, so we see a lot of users just turning them off.

While Windows 7 has a lot of the feel of Vista, it appears to be not nearly as much a resource hog. I’ve seen it running comfortably with 1 GB of RAM, but would suggest 2 GB – 4 GB, as RAM is quite inexpensive.

Drivers are generally available, although we have had occasional issues acquiring a few specific Windows 7 drivers. See the section below on 64 Bit vs 32 Bit for additional driver issues.

Windows 7 Service Pack 1 has just become available, so this Operating System (OS) now officially complies with our “Don’t migrate until the first service pack ships” recommendation. The Svc Pk is so new, however, I’d give it a month or so before installing just in case MS needs to adjust it (not unusual).

Pick the Right Flavor of Windows 7

Like all Windows Operating Systems, Windows 7 comes in multiple flavors, primarily Home, Pro, and Ultimate. Relative list pricing is around $130, $200, and $220.

For business purposes, you should consider only Pro and Ultimate. We recommend Pro, as the few added features included in Ultimate will rarely be utilized in the typical VRM environment.

The definitive features differentiating Pro from Home are:

1. Pro is designed to integrate into a corporate Domain environment, while Home is not. If you have a corporate Domain, Pro is easily connected to the Domain. Additionally, Pro has tools built in that assist in managing the PC in a Domain environment.

2. Pro includes XP Mode, which is a utility that allows the PC to run a virtual PC in XP mode. Essentially, XP mode allows the user to run legacy applications in a “virtual XP PC” within Windows 7 to provide backwards application compatibility.

We don’t really recommend using XP Mode unless it is absolutely necessary. Effectively, it is running a PC inside a PC, using twice the resources to perform a single task. We suggest running applications that will run natively in the Windows 7 environment. Most properly designed applications will run natively in both XP and Win 7 environments.

64 Bit vs 32 Bit

Windows 7 can be installed as a 64 Bit OS or as a 32 Bit OS. If your computer has a 64 Bit CPU (Central Processor), you can install Windows 7 as either (64 or 32). If you have an older computer with a 32 Bit CPU, you can only install the 32 Bit Windows 7.

The main functional difference is that a 32 Bit OS can only utilize 4 GB of RAM. A 64 Bit OS (loaded on a 64 Bit PC) can utilize much more RAM, mostly limited by the design of the computer.

Assuming more RAM is always good, you’d think installing 64 Bit Windows 7 is a no-brainer... Not so!

While 64 Bit Win 7 can utilize more than 4 GB of RAM, we rarely see instances where the typical VRM PC benefits from more than 4 GB of RAM. The PC would need to be running several large programs concurrently, or a few huge programs like intensive graphic manipulation or CAD design applications, to benefit from the increased RAM.

The down side of 64 Bit Win 7 is it requires special 64 Bit drivers to interact with other devices, and it is not as compatible with legacy applications as is the 32 Bit Win 7. We believe the compatibility issues far out-weigh the rarely realized benefit of being able to utilize the additional RAM and, therefore, recommend using the 32 Bit Windows 7. In short, less headaches!

Note that changing from one to the other (32 Bit to 64 Bit, or 64 Bit to 32 Bit) requires a complete re-install of the OS and all drivers.

Print Servers Require Print Drivers for All Bit Types Used

If you have a Domain environment and use Print Servers (highly recommended), the print server needs to have printer drivers installed for each Bit Type that is in use on your network.

In the “old” days, we’d have a 32 Bit server (Server 2003) print serving to 32 Bit XP PCs, so we’d only need one printer driver (32 Bit) for each printer model used.

Now, if we have a blend of 32 Bit and 64 Bit servers, as well as 32 and 64 Bit PCs, the print server needs multiple printer drivers for each printer type. So, if you do add 64 Bit Win 7 PCs to your environment, you may need to add 64 Bit printer drivers (one for each printer model) to your print servers.

Some printer manufacturers have developed Universal Print Drivers which work for multiple printers in their product lines, which can simplify things a bit. But, you will still need to install separate 32 Bit and 64 Bit Universal drivers.

The User Learning Curve

As mentioned earlier, there is a learning curve associated with moving a user from XP to Win 7. The change is similar to what we saw when users started moving from Office 2003 to Office 2007. All the old stuff was still there but not where it used to be, so you had to find it. Then there is new functionality that has to be found and learned. As always, Google is a great resource!

We’ve found that a nice means to facilitate a relatively smooth transition from XP to Win 7 is to get one new Win 7 PC and give it to your most computer literate employee who performs tasks similar to most of your staff. Let her bang on Win 7 for a while so you have at least one “in-house expert” before you bring in multiple Win 7 PCs. This will also allow you to find most of the Win 7 “gotcha’s” while they are only impacting one PC/user, and since that user is computer savvy, she can better communicate any issues she experiences so they can be more readily resolved.

Not Ready for Windows 7 ???

If you need to purchase new PCs, but are not comfortable with moving to Windows 7, your choices are limited. It has become very difficult to find new PCs with XP pre-loaded. Your option, then, is to buy a new PC with Win 7 pre-installed, purchase a copy of XP Pro ($120 via Internet), and install it on the PC. You can either scrub the PC of Win 7 prior to installing XP, or install XP in dual-boot mode. I’d opt for a clean install. Note that in either case, you’ll need to install all the XP drivers (network, sound, video, etc) from the PC manufacturer.

Frankly, it’s a lot of trouble!

My recommendation to my clients has been to bite the bullet and start a slow, smooth migration to Win 7. As the platform is rather stable, Microsoft is giving little leeway. And... XP is slated for “end of life” in 2014.

As always, if you have any questions or comments concerning this article, I’d be happy to discuss them with you at your convenience. Feel free to contact me at TomK@TomKConsulting.com, or via my cell 443.310.5110.

Next month I’ll get back to the promised discussion of Group Policy. (See "Use Group Policy to Centrally Tune YOUR Business Computing Environment"). This is an awesome systems management tool that absolutely shines in a Windows Active Directory environment (your typical Windows network). Group Policy is a tool that globally controls processes and functionality on all your servers and PCs. Priceless!