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Microsoft's Windows 7 operating system, due out next January, is getting positive reviews in test mode. The foundation it's built on is Windows Vista, which has been reviled despite improvements to it during the past year.
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msnbc.com
updated 4/17/2009 8:53:18 AM ET 2009-04-17T12:53:18

Windows Vista is much-improved and the early word on Windows 7, Microsoft’s next computer operating system, is encouraging. Still, the company faces an uphill battle to get corporate users to move from its older operating system, XP to Windows 7, due out next year, according to a recent survey of more than 1,100 information technology professionals.

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More than four-fifths — 84 percent — said they don’t plan to upgrade to Windows 7 when it is released. And Vista? Forget about it (Microsoft’s trying to) — 83 percent said they plan to skip Vista altogether and go directly to Windows 7 when they finally do make a change, according to Dimensional Research, which conducted the study in March.

“What is surprising is because there’s been so much positive news about Windows 7, I thought that might translate into a more open approach to migrating to it,” said Diane Hagglund, senior research analyst for Dimensional Research.

“But there’s a perception among the survey participants that Windows 7 is just another release of Windows Vista,” she said. “They think about it the same way and they’re concerned about it.”

It’s no secret that Windows 7 is being built using the code, or foundation, of Vista, which was released in early 2007. That first year was a bad one for users and for Microsoft. Vista was a memory hog, had snail-like performance and a shortage of software drivers.

Vista’s Service Pack 1, a grab-bag of fixes, came out in February 2008, and brought with it improvements that made Vista more efficient, especially for users who had newer computers with more processing oompah and memory.

Vista’s Service Pack 2 is being tested and due for release in the second quarter, according to Microsoft. Also being tested now is Windows 7, which is earning good marks so far.

Still, the Vista taint remains, and separating it from Windows 7 remains a challenge for Microsoft, which has seen its share of the operating system market decrease since Vista was launched.

In April 2007, two months after Vista became available, Windows had 93.18 percent of the OS market; as of last month, it was 88.14 percent, according to Net Applications, which tracks operating system and Web data.

XP stronghold remains
Windows XP, which came out in 2001,  retains its stronghold among Windows users, with 63 percent of users hanging onto XP two years after Vista’s release, and only 23 percent having switched to Vista, says Net Applications. The remaining percentage is divided among other versions of Windows (including Windows 98, 2000 and Millennium Edition, the latter being perhaps the worst OS ever created).

April 14 marked the end of free, technical “mainstream” Microsoft support for XP users, although “extended support” — on a per-charge basis — remains until April 2014, according to a Microsoft spokeswoman.

And, “the company will continue to provide security patches at no additional charge, automatically delivered monthly via Windows Update,” she said.

Microsoft understands that many users, home and business, will opt to go from XP to Windows 7, skipping Windows Vista entirely. One firm, StatCounter, which measures Web site traffic, noted last month that while Vista is "gaining some consistent traction in the United States" among home users, data shows that there is "still resistance to Vista in the business market."

Some 'slowly warming' to Vista
Another survey, done by Forrester Research and released in January, found that IT managers in North American and European companies “are slowly warming to Windows Vista,” and that 31 percent of IT “decision-makers” said they have started the shift to Vista.

“Windows Vista is now powering just fewer than 10 percent of all PCs within enterprises,” the Forrester report said. “Despite considerable interest in Windows 7 … Windows Vista is finally shaping out to be the operating system that dethrones Windows XP.”

Microsoft’s current ad blitz of the “Laptop Hunter” TV commercials, focuses on how cool PCs (and PC users) are, following on the company’s “I’m A PC” series of ads.

Those commercials were preceded last year by the “Mojave Experiment” campaign. It featured ads showing everyday folks testing out a “new” Windows OS that they liked and that turned out to be … Vista.

Separation challenge
And while Windows 7 is Vista+, separating the two in the public’s mind remains a challenge for Microsoft.

In future advertising, “I don’t expect any mention of Windows Vista and Windows 7 as being closely related,” said Al Gillen, IDC’s program vice president of system software.

“I don’t think that’s something you’ll hear from Microsoft. The best way for them to promote Windows 7 is to start fresh. I believe you’ll see them start Windows 7 with essentially a brand new marketing campaign that, if you will, acts like there is no history.”

But elephants and IT folks have longer memories. In the Dimensional Research survey, 50 percent they have considered switching their companies’ operating system to a “non-Windows operating system,” such as Mac or Linux, as alternatives to using either Windows Vista or Windows 7, and 14 percent said they already have, or are in the process of switching.

Among the concerns of going to a new Windows operating system: software compatibility, new hardware requirements and the employee training that would be required. Gillen said the same issues would exist if businesses move to Mac or Linux.

So staying with what they have, especially in the current economy, is a least-of-all-evils approach. In the survey, 72 percent said they are more concerned about upgrading to Windows 7 than remaining on XP, even as outdated as it may become.

The survey was done for KACE, a company that specializes in helping companies with computer systems management. Among the survey participants, 46 percent were IT professionals, 30 percent IT managers and 23 percent were IT executives.

Hagglund said the companies requested anonymity for the survey, but, she said, they represent an "even distribution between companies that are large and small," with "a lot of companies whose names you'd recognize and plenty that you wouldn't, as well."

“We’re not familiar with KACE’s methodology, so we can’t comment on their survey,” said Ashley Brown, a Windows manager for Microsoft.

“That said, we know from talking with our customers that there is tremendous interest in deploying Windows 7 once it is available, and also a desire for tools and resources which we’re developing to help them prepare for the migration to Windows 7 when the time comes.”

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