5 Rules of Thumb for Windows 7

Microsoft will release its latest version of Windows this week. If you're a small to mid-range business, here are five rules of thumb if you're considering an upgrade. 1. Don't.

Well, don't "upgrade". If you're technically capable, install the operating system clean instead of upgrading and restore your data from a backup. This may help avoid a lengthy upgrade process; some instances of upgrades from Vista to Windows 7 are reported to take upwards of six hours to complete. You can install the o/s cleanly and avoid many migration hassles. In fact, you may wish to just purchase a machine with Windows 7 already loaded on it and forget about the upgrade - especially if you're running Windows XP. There's no upgrade path from XP so you're going to have to install clean anyway.

2. Backups.

"Don't get cocky, kid." It was good advice from Han, and you can use it, too. You need to realize that an operating system upgrade isn't the same risk as installing a hotfix or a service pack. This is a major upgrade that may prevent your system from restarting correctly, and may even contribute to data loss. Don't be a fool: back up your critical files prior to the upgrade. In fact, now would be a great time to review why anything "critical" is on a PC anyway and try to relocate that data to your network. Start to consider your PC as a disposable asset whereas the real treasure of information is available on network resources. Even better, start thinking about what you can do to get rid of that server... but that's a topic for another day.

3. Compatibility.

Windows 7 is perfectly compatible with your existing Microsoft networking solutions. What you may run into are problems with legacy software applications and hardware drivers. You may want to make a list of critical applications that you just can't live without, and check with the vendor on whether or not they've been tested on Windows 7, and can run on that platform. Believe you me: you don't want to be in a situation where you've gone through the trouble of upgrading and suddenly can't run your mission-critical apps. As for hardware requirements, the kernel is the same as Vista, so if your machine ran Vista fine, you can expect the same performance and response from Windows 7, so let's dispell any idea that you'll get some performance of this.

4. What are your Reasons?

I think you need to be very clear - with yourself and your stakeholders - why an upgrade to Windows 7 is necessary. What's the strategic, compelling reason for an upgrade "right now". Is it timing? Is it compatibility with upcoming vendor solutions? Is now a better time than, say, 2nd QTR 2010? What motivates you for introducing the new window dressing now? Certainly, for the small to mid-range business, it's hard to see a strategic reason to upgrade to the next release of Windows very rapidly. Windows 7 will not change the way that you get your work done. It won't change the way you see the Internet. It won't change the way you collaborate and use data. It will change the way you view files on your hard disk, how your applications perform, and how you access the settings on your computer. Think very carefully about your reasons for introducing Windows 7 to you and your team right now.

5. Consider a Test.

When you buy a car, you want to test it. You want to drive it around the block a few times and make sure that it meets your needs. The same is true with 7. Don't take the hype for granted: install the upgrade on a separate, non-production workstation and see how you like the look and feel. Give it a whirl. Get some feedback from others in your workplace. They can sit behind the wheel and give it a shot, too. You can decide then if you really want to deal with the learning curve now, or, put it off until a later date.

Just a couple of practical pieces of advice before you take the plunge. Listen, be practical: think about a strategy. Who will you upgrade? When? Why? What's the purpose? When could you upgrade all of your machines, not just one, as to reduce the complexity of your technology environment? When is the best time to facilitate training with your staff? Which members of your staff would be good candidates for beta testing the product on a spare machine? What's your company going to do if the PC's don't start back up the way they should? How about a means to recover lost data? Don't look at this as something your company is doing for kicks and giggles: take it seriously, and have a plan.