Schools give Windows 7 favorable reviews

Compared with Vista, Windows 7 is just plain easier, some say.
Compared with Vista, Windows 7 is just plain easier, some say.

With Microsoft’s Windows 7 launching Oct. 22, two school leaders who have tested the new operating system say it improves on many of the features that were problematic with Vista, while outperforming XP many times over.

According to school IT staff who have tested the software, what makes Windows 7 better than Vista is that it simplifies tasks and improves functionality, rather than trying to wow the user with bells and whistles that have poor compatibility with many applications. Simply put, the program’s success lies in the small details, they say. (Read more about Windows 7 here.)

The positive reviews could ease school leaders’ concerns about migrating to Windows 7. A new report from Forrester Research, meanwhile, provides yet another reason to make the switch.

The report, titled “Windows 7 Commercial Adoption Outlook,” says large enterprises should “plan to completely migrate away [from XP] by the end of 2012 [owing] to application incompatibility concerns.”

The report also states that for the 79 percent of PCs in small to medium-sized organizations that are running XP, the clock is ticking. On April 8, 2014, extended support for XP will end–and at that point, Microsoft no longer will issue security patches for XP.

Forrester’s report also warns that IT staff will need about 12 to 18 months to test Windows 7 for application compatibility.

One school that already has begun this process is the Catherine Cook School, a private independent school in urban Chicago that serves some 480 students in grades K-8. Overall, the school supports about 350 computers, the majority of which are HP or Compaq machines.

The school entered Microsoft’s beta-testing program in April, and about 95 percent of its computers are now running on Windows 7.

The school was an early adopter of Vista, but it did have several computers still running XP.

“We were successful in getting all of these [XP] machines onto Windows 7,” said Bill Mierisch, director of technology for the Catherine Cook School. “In some cases we did a clean OS install, but in some cases we did an in-place move. Installation is easier and, in most instances, faster than previous [Microsoft] OS installs. There are a number of tools available with Windows 7 to allow for some creative network deployments as well. What’s more, we were able to use our existing instance of Symantec’s Ghost Suite to capture and deploy images en masse, without any changes in how we already use that software. For Vista users, the process of migrating was even easier–as long as SP2 [Service Pack 2] was in place.”

In upgrading to Windows 7, Mierisch said he didn’t want to rely on “proven but aging technology like XP.” Although continuing to use XP might keep things familiar in his school, “it would soon block us out from real innovations in the near future, or require reactive rather than proactive solutions to remain in the digital game.”

He continued, “Alternatively, I could keep Vista on hand, as it has been largely reliable and useful for us, in large part because the improvements that Vista brought to the user experience have really altered the way our end-users make use of their computers on a day-to-day basis. That said, those improvements have been further enhanced in Windows 7, particularly in the way that work and work spaces are organized. Driver support has also been almost completely seamless. A more robust compatibility mode means more legacy applications can run now than could run in Vista.”

One of the features Mierisch is looking forward to using the most is Direct Access, which gives mobile users seamless access to a school or district network without needing a virtual private network (VPN).

Laura Ascione

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