Ramblings on Small Business Technology

Operating Systems

End of Windows 7

As of Jan 2020, Windows 7 will no longer receive security updates.  If, like 25% of business users, you’re still running a computer with Windows 7 (or Windows Server 2008) then the clock has started for when someone will discover and exploit a yet-to-be-discovered vulnerability in Windows 7.  And Microsoft will no longer fix it before it’s widely exploited.

Like Windows 95 before it, Windows 7 has served us well. But time marches on and the desktop Gods have determined that Windows 10 will be the new King of the Desktop. Some of it is branding, some of it is the desire to move everyone to a subscription model, and a small part of it, yes, is about a better product.

Windows 10 Is Out. Do You Need It?

Windows 10Now that Microsoft has officially launched Windows 10, there will be a big push to get users of previous versions to upgrade to the newest Windows.  Microsoft is offering a “free” upgrade to most non-business users of previous Windows versions (Windows 7, 8, and 8.1, but not XP and previous). In addition, Microsoft is (literally) pushing the upgrade on-line, through it’s Windows Update service.  If you’re eligible for a free upgrade, they have by now pushed an update to your computer that advertises the free upgrade (in the form of a small windows logo in the system tray next to the clock) and entices you to register to receive it.  Should you?

If you’re on Windows 8.1 (or – shudder – still on Windows 8), you should absolutely take the leap to Windows 10. Windows 8 was such an unmitigated disaster (which the 8.1 upgrade only marginally fixed) that the jump to 10 is a no-brainer.  Technically, the system requirements are the same (and possibly even better for RAM requirements), so there should be no reason that your Windows 8/8.1 system couldn’t handle the upgrade to 10).  Most of the tablet/touch functionality has been preserved or improved, and the desktop (keyboard & mouse) mode has been restored to something that’s usable (which 8/8.1 wasn’t).  There are also other improvements, such as the new Edge browser, which shows promise to finally kill the beast that IE has become. Pull the trigger on the upgrade now!

If you’re still on Windows 7, it’s not as clear a decision.  Sure there is the bright, shininess to W10, but there is also a significant user retraining (arguably, much smaller than W8/8.1).  If you’re so used to doing things a certain way (and that way works for you), then W10 might change that a little or a lot – and for what benefit?  Speed? Security? Additional functionality? W10 only marginally improves all of these areas.  For most W7 users, there is not a compelling reason to upgrade (just yet).  Of course, this may change after MI would expect businesses to take much longer to push users into W10, probably as part of an overall hardware replacement schedule. icrosoft starts adding functionality this Fall.  Oh didn’t you hear? They promise much more frequent updates and new features (the equivalent of mini service packs), all released and forced down your throat pushed to your computer through the update service.

Of course, if your computer is part of a business domain, you won’t get a choice either way.  Your system administrator (people like me) and IT department will decide whether to upgrade your systems.  Oh, and those upgrades won’t be free.  Microsoft would like your licensing money, thank you very much.  Arguably, this initial version of 10 is primarily for home and student consumers (and the release date is timed for back-to-school purchase).  Many necessary business features aren’t included and will be coming later this year (or even next year), so this W10 really isn’t ready for business yet. I would expect businesses to take much longer to push users into W10, probably as part of an overall hardware replacement schedule.

So if you’re buying a new system, Windows 10 is just fine.  Have a current W8/8.1 system? By all means, get the upgrade.  Still on Windows 7?  I’d hang out awhile and watch what happens…

The Trouble with Vista

As you may have heard by now, Microsoft has terminated the sales of Windows XP (through most methods) and your only Windows desktop option is now Windows Vista.  Vista has been out for more than a year, but (other than for new home computers) hasn’t been widely accepted by the marketplace – especially by business customers.  Why? There are two primary reasons.

Reason One: Vista requires significantly more processor horsepower and memory to operate (in the “normal” mode with the jazzy graphics).  Many people have older computers with two or three year old CPUs that don’t really have the horsepower that is a good fit for Vista.  So for those computers, it makes sense to keep XP until the hardware needs replacing, but in most cases the machine (with XP) is just fine for what people need it for, so no upgrades here.

Reason Two: Vista in some cases uses a completely different programming model than did XP.  So in a lot of cases, software that ran fine on XP is broken on Vista.  Microsoft claims that the new model was implemented in the interest of security (and it probably was, since XP was VERY insecure to start with).  But with Service Pack 2 and the hotfix updates (and a decent IT staff), most XP desktops are reasonably secure for most business purposes.  Many businesses don’t want to risk having something critical break, just for the sake of the upgrade.

Many people in IT circles have hoped (and even petitioned) for Microsoft to keep selling XP, and they did extend sales for a few months (Microsoft typically sells the old OS for up to 24 months after the introduction of the new version).  But we’re only at Vista + 18 months.  Another truism: Only adopt the latest Microsoft product after the first “Service Pack” is issued (assumingly to fix all the major bugs that weren’t caught prior to the release).  So Microsoft rushed Vista Service Pack 1 to the masses in hopes of adoption after that milestone.  However, with the monthly “patch tuesday” updates, the SP1 is really a moot exercise (since most, if not all, of the updates in SP1 had already been pushed as part of the monthlies.

The real reason to stop selling  XP: Money (I know you’re shocked!).  Most people are just fine with XP, and most PCs sold in the last 2-3 years (with XP) have far more capabilities that are needed by 99% of the working public.  XP works just fine, and it’s (reasonably) secure for most purposes.  Moreover, it’s like an old friend – familiar and convenient.  We know how to make it work and find things.  We’re productive on it.

Microsoft (in a fit of Apple-related paranoia), had to “improve” the user interface of Vista – make it pretty, shiny and flashy – the “ohhh, ahhh” factor.  The problem is that scares off lots of marginally computer-literate people.  If Microsoft had just re-engineered under the hood (for security) and left the user interface the same, then it might have been a great product.  But the problem is that people wouldn’t have “seen” any changes to identify as “Vista”.  The best alternative (for the users) would have been a “XP Service Pack 4” that fixed several things under the hood, but left the UI alone.  Unfortunately, Microsoft couldn’t charge for that, since they have set the precedent that Service Packs are free.  No more money for Microsoft.

So we’re collectively stuck with an upgrade that we didn’t really ask for, we don’t really need, and we don’t want – just for the sake of Microsoft product cycle revenues.  If you need a new computer, Vista will work just fine, but you’ll be spending more that you really need for processor and memory (did I mention that the PC vendors like this too, for the same reason?).  You’ll have to learn the different parts of Vista (and the annoying “Are you sure you wanted to do that?” pop-up messages), but it will work.  But do you need it?  No, not really.

The real pain is the businesses that will be forced to operate in mixed-mode for the next several years, since there is no business case to upgrade their current PCs and yet there is no alternative to keep everything on XP until there is.  It just means more time, cost, and headaches for your freindly IT staff, who wish that we really had a choice in the matter.