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Gartner: If You're On XP, Get Off Now

By Andy Patrizio

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IT organizations should get hustling on their Windows 7 rollout planning and testing and be off Windows XP by the end of 2012 due to third-party vendors abandoning the creaky old operating system at a rapid rate, according to IT research firm Gartner.

While Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) said it would support Windows XP through 2014, third-party software and hardware vendors are under no such generous support plan and are already dumping XP, which first shipped in 2001, according to Gartner.

"I've spoken to a customer who couldn't get drivers for certain products already," said Steve Kleynhans, research vice president at Gartner. "They had some unique circumstances, but the shift is already starting to happen. We expect by 2012 any new piece of hardware you buy is unlikely to come with a full set of drivers for XP."

Various Gartner polls and surveys showed 80 percent of respondents skipped the much-maligned Windows Vista and will go straight to Windows 7, which shipped in October 2009. Microsoft plans to begin be ta testing its first service pack for Windows 7 this summer, and traditionally, firms have waited for the first service pack before deploying a new Microsoft operating system.

But Kleynhans said don't wait for that, either.

"Our advice has been don't wait for service pack. At least to get started with all your testing. That would be wasting a year. Companies need to get started on testing, and when SP1 ships, slipstream it in," he said.

Also, customers need to realize that the time when service packs were needed has passed. Before, a service pack was a roll-up of fixes Microsoft had issued after the release of the operating system. But since the early days of Windows 2000 and Windows XP, Microsoft now has its monthly "Patch Tuesday" cycle as well as emergency fixes when necessary.

"You have to be accepting of the fact your OS is in constant update and you don't have to wait for the service pack to come out with fixes," said Kleynhans.

Windows 7 was well-received throughout its beta cycle and started strong out of the gate when it shipped in October 2009. Since then adop tion has been quite brisk, owing to pent-up demand and many people holding off on purchasing a system with Windows Vista on it.

Nine months after its release, most customers have kicked the tires on Windows 7 at this point and are pretty comfortable with the operating system itself. The bigger issue is beyond the operating system. Customers need to test their apps, peripherals and other connected devices in their infrastructure, and that takes time.

Often companies introduce a new OS through replacement of old systems, and while the major hardware vendors have pointed out repeatedly that there is lots of old hardware out there, waiting for equipment to break likely won't get a company migrated to Windows 7 in the 18 months Gartner has recommended.

As conversions go, Gartner has found that customers are making the transition surprisingly smoothly for the most part, Kleynhans reports.

"That's not to say there aren't issues, there are issues," he said. "But a lot of the issues customers are coming upon they are able to work through with compatibility tools that are available. They are finding a lot of software and hardware vendors were much better prepared for Windows 7 than they were for previous releases of the OS."

Gartner is also finding about an even split between whether customers will go for 32-bit or 64-bit Windows 7. The only real difference between the two is addressable memory; the 32-bit version can't address more than 4GB of memory while 64-bit can address far more than any desktop PC can hold. Kleynhans said it is early and most firms have not made a final decision, but Gartner does offer guidance in this area.

"What we've been telling customers is unless they're going really quickly, like this month, then they should probably be planning for 64-bit and look for reasons why they can't do it, and fall back to 32-bit if they have to. Most companies I talk to seem to be taking that approach," he said.

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.