Tag Archives: windows

Seven Reasons It Is Time for Windows 7

What’s your reason for not upgrading to Windows 7? Many IT managers wait for the first service pack before deploying an OS upgrade; others update the operating system as part of a hardware refresh. Here are some advantages to upgrading.


If you have been watching Microsoft’s enterprise desktop operating systems over the past two decades then you are aware that there is a pattern emerging and that pattern places Windows 7 as the long term successor to Windows XP and that XP was the clear successor to NT 4.0.  Each of these were the golden child of the Microsoft machine, blessed with prime market positioning, lack of extreme overhauls and sporting a high level of polish.  As such, whether you are seeking the latest and greatest or just looking for the best desktop OS investment, Windows 7 meets your needs.  Windows 7 is here to stay and adoption rates are already very high.

Once you accept that Windows 7 is coming to your environment sometime over the next several years then the question truly becomes: “What are you waiting for?”  The sooner that you get Windows 7 in place, the sooner you can make the transition and the sooner you can start reaping the benefits of the latest technologies and nearly a decade of development since Windows XP originally released – and let’s face it, most shops are moving from XP to 7 today.  You will achieve your greatest benefits from Windows 7 the sooner that you put it in place giving your users maximum time to adapt to it and giving you more time to take advantage of its features.


One of the biggest complaints of users who switched to Vista from XP was a lack of performance.  Windows 7 addressed this very well and is more performant than Vista and has lower minimum requirements allowing it be used in the Netbook realm that had been previously reserved for Windows XP up through the Vista era.  Windows 7 runs nicely on Vista-era equipment and much of the XP-era equipment while taking good advantage of new hardware as well making it a good option for in-place software upgrades.

Having a Windows operating system that actually outperforms its predecessor on the same hardware is a major feat.  Traditionally an OS was only expected to be comparable or faster when used on hardware current to its release.  Unlike any other Windows upgrade, Windows 7 can be deployed onto existing hardware without needing hardware upgrades and you will still see small performance gains.  This alone removes one of the traditional obstacles to in-place operating system upgrades.


Security is always of concern and Windows 7 comes with a slew of security enhancements.  The best one results in an improved user experience as well – the update of User Account Control (UAC.)  This update makes UAC, the bane of Windows Vista, into the security tool that it was always meant to be.  UAC is now easy to use and control but still powerful enough to protect you in critical ways.  Moving from XP to 7 provides a very important security update from a technology side while moving from Vista to 7 makes this technology user friendly enough that it can remain enabled without the bulk of users demanding that it be removed.
Solid State Drive Support

With solid state drives rapidly dropping in price and growing in popularity, having specific support for them in Windows 7 is a very big deal today but especially over the next few years as solid state drives move from the realm of power user equipment to mainstream user equipment.  Solid state drives work best when the drivers handling them are aware that they are solid state.  SSDs should not be treated like tradition, spindle-based hard drives for maximum performance and reliability benefits.

Windows 7’s solid state enhancements like TRIM and removal of spindle drive tools like Superfetch and ReadyBoost give SSDs better performance and longer lifespan on Windows 7 then on previous Windows iterations.  These features may not seem like a big deal today but over the lifespan of Windows 7, as SSDs become more and more of an expected desktop component for the average office worker these SSD-specific features will play a bigger and bigger role.
XP Mode

XP Mode is one of those really stand-out features that sets Windows 7 apart from its predecessors.  Previous Windows version have struggled in handling legacy applications.  Windows 7’s new approach of including a Windows XP operating system as a complete virtual machine handles this issue in a graceful way.  Now legacy apps are more reliable and the Windows 7 system is not encumbered with extra subsystems needed to handle legacy systems.  With Windows XP having been such a dominant player like no Windows platform had been before, this approach is brilliant and a shrewd move on Microsoft’s part.  XP Mode delivers a level of confidence that existing apps will continue to work on Windows 7 – even apps that no longer see active development and are not being tested against the newest Microsoft operating systems.  Once again, Windows 7 provides more than its predecessor in an area where we would not expect to see this – backwards compatibility.  Windows 7 is dramatically more compatible with Windows XP software than Vista is.
Branch Cache

Enterprise customers can leverage Branch Cache, Microsoft’s new WAN optimization technology targeted at supporting branch offices within a larger, enterprise environment.  Branch Cache can be a significant feature for the many companies who struggle with providing storage resources out to small, remote offices.  Branch Cache’s ability to seamlessly store previously accessed CIFS and web resources out at a branch office can, for some businesses, mean that extra equipment and larger Internet connections need not be purchased which can result in substantial cost savings and branch office productivity gains.  Branch Cache will also reduce loads on central storage systems allowing file server dollars to be stretched a little farther too.
Direct Access

Previous versions of Windows have had VPN products included with them but Direct Access takes the idea of “always connected mobility” to a new level.  Direct Access adds seamless VPN to Windows which gives users a unified experience between remote and “in office” computing modes.  No longer do users need to manage their VPN experience – as long as they are online they are connected to the office.  Direct Access leverages IPv6 and IPSec for simple, efficient and extremely secure remote computing.  Direct Access is designed to work with Microsoft’s existing authentication systems allowing it to be used for normal, everyday computing without breaking communications with Active Directory so that both the machine and the user can properly authenticate – even when working remotely.


At the end of the day, however, what makes Windows 7 compelling isn’t any significant feature.  In fact, it is the lack of major features that makes Windows 7 so important.  Like XP, its spiritual predecessor, Windows 7 tweaks a working formula.  Vista introduced the new kernel, the new interface, UAC and other features.  Introducing change is painful.  Windows 7 takes what works and makes it better.  Windows 7 is the long term, strategic desktop decision because it is a polished system that introduces small, incremental updates and relies on established features to drive its overarching value.  Think of 7 as the evolutionary whereas Vista was revolutionary.

Considering NetBooks for Small Business

There really is not any question about whether or not NetBooks will be an important tool for businesses of all sizes – they will be.  The upsides to NetBooks are too big to overlook: highly portable, generally more rugged that laptop counterparts due to size, light weight, easier to store and transport and mostly quite inexpensive compared to traditional laptops.  There are exceptions to any rule but the prototypical NetBook is dramatically smaller than a traditional laptop, weighs only one to two pounds (under a kilogram) and often costs no more than seventy percent as much as a laptop (any price comparison is massively subjective for obvious reasons.)

The question is not whether or not NetBooks are a good idea, but whether or not the NetBook market is ready for the enterprise (or, in our case, the SMB.)  While the idea of NetBooks has been around for quite some time that realization of the market has only begun to take effect within the past two years.  The NetBook was originally developed by Psion in 2000 but they exited the market in 2003.  The next big player was the United Nations with the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) which was an extremely low cost, ruggedized, Linux-based NetBook available for just $199USD.  With the development of the OLPC and the ecosystem of suppliers and developers that it fostered the low-cost, portable Internet device market was set to explode.

The big news for normal consumers came in 2007 when Asus, a major Taiwanese manufacturer famous for their high-quality motherboards, released their EEE PC line of NetBooks and, later, NetTops.  The EEE PC proved to be a major hit with consumers because of its low price tag, attractice looks and size.  Once the market was identified many manufactures jumped in with top-tier manufacturers like Acer, Lenovo, Dell and HP finally in the market now as well albeit generally from their consumer divisions and not from their commercial divisions.

Today we are in a rapidly maturing consumer NetBook market.  This means that NetBooks are well established, widely available and stable but, thus far, only in configurations designed for consumer use.  This presents our first barrier when considering these devices for the workplace.

With only rare exception, NetBooks ship with either consumer versions of Microsoft Windows (i.e. XP Home, Vista Home) or with non-enterprise versions of Linux (i.e. Linpus, Mandriva.)  To be sure, there are a few machines that ship with appropriately enterprise class operating systems like Vista Business or SUSE Linux but mostly the operating system that you find on the NetBooks are not the same as you would require in your business.  (Many niche NetBook manufactures do ship with Ubuntu or Fedora which are acceptable to many businesses but these are rare as well.)

In some cases, such as the very popular Acer Aspire One, it is quite easy for an IT department to establish their own operating system image and to apply it to the NetBook.  This is hardly a cost effective approach for a small shop to take, however.  This is only an effective approach under very specific circumstances or for very large orgazations who will be rolling out a large number of identically imaged machines and can spread the cost out over the group.

In the case of the Acer Aspire One we have a very well built unit that runs either Linpus Linux (a derivative of Fedora 8) or Windows XP Home.  Windows Home editions are not able to be integrated into business environments so we can rule out that option completely.  The cost of obtaining an additional XP Pro license would be very prohibitive on hardware that is so inexpensive.

The Linpus model is significantly less expensive than the Windows XP Home model and can be outfitted with a custom build of Fedora 10 replacing the including system at no additional external expense.  This does require a rather knowledgable Linux engineer to do and takes many hours to perfect and test.  Most likely a few days of labor at a minimum.  Only large shops with good internal Linux expertise or smaller shops with IT outsourcing partners with the necessary expertise should attempt to go down this path as it leaves you completely without any form of vendor support.  It also requires your IT department to monitor and support an additional operating system image unless you have already standardized on Fedora – which is not very common.  There are other options, such as installing OpenSUSE or an Ubuntu variant but these require additional work as Fedora is used to create the Linpus base and installs so easily onto the device.

Using Linux-based NetBooks often presents another problem.  On a normal corporate desktop running Linux it is most common to find either KDE or Gnome running as the desktop.  These are the two most popular, full featured desktop environments for the UNIX platforms and, to most users, it is the choice of KDE or Gnome that establishes the familiarity with the environment and not the underlying operating system.  Because of this, users who have used KDE on SUSE Linux can often be switched to KDE on PC-BSD without the user even realizing that the operating system has changed (Linux to FreeBSD.)  But NetBooks are often underpowered when it comes to running these heavy desktops and so alternatives are generally recommended.  Most commonly today we see XFCE chosen as a lightweight desktop environment alternative but even lighter options exist such as IceWM.  These environments can make NetBooks very usable instead of being slow and cumbersome but they do cause users to face potentially unfamiliar interfaces that can lead to additional support needs and possibly even training.

Having NetBooks available for a certain class of highly mobile or continuously on-call personnel can make a lot of sense.  The advantages are very real and, while some users are put off by the small screens and keyboards and dislike the lack of high-performance hardware, many users adore the portability and easy of use of these small devices.  If having a NetBook makes the difference between staff being able to work or having to disconnect from the office then the NetBooks will easily pay for themselves.

For most businesses I feel that we are still in a phase of early-adoption when it comes to NetBooks.  The hardware itself is well tested and widely available but the software is mostly not ready at this time.  In the next two years I expect that we will see a lot of advances in the market, especially as AMD and NVidia are expected to begin entering the market in force during this time allow with other potential players who currently have had very little input to the market such as Freescale.

Currently, and for the near future, businesses looking to NetBooks need to almost across the board make a commitment to using Linux rather than Windows.  The Windows operating system is just not ready to handle the NetBook market and will likely wait until NetBooks catch up to modern laptops in performance before really looking to enter the enterprise NetBook market.  During the mean time, however, alternative architectures, such as PowerPC, ARM and MIPS, are being experimented with within the market and their adoption poses a technological barrier to running Windows on these devices.  Microsoft may find that the NetBook could be a critical loss of market for them as Linux vendors like Novell, Red Hat and Canonical will see it as an inroad into the enterprise desktop space.  It is not coincidence that Red Hat has just announced its official return to competiting in this market.

At this particular time I feel that it is good to begin investigating NetBooks and seeing how they may or may not fit into your business IT strategy.  Most small businesses will find, like their large enterprise cousins, that the NetBook is inexpensive to obtain but expensive to support in a corporate environment.  This will be changing rapidly as the NetBook format becomes more common and business begin to clamour more and more to get these provided, in business-ready configurations, from the top vendors.