Is Windows 7 the beginning of the end for fat-client OSes?

Despite a shift toward lightweight computing, vendors say the the desktop OS isn't going away.

 

It's no longer misguided to wonder how long the fat-client, desktop OS has to live. Virtualization and cloud computing, along with the appearance of lightweight OSes such as Google's Chrome, seem to have Windows down for the count. Chances are, though, it'll be a long count.

Aaron Suzuki, co-founder and CEO of Prowess Consulting, which makes applications that deploy what some might consider more traditional OSes, from Windows 7 to Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, doesn't see clients lining up to move to Windows 7. Many will stick with XP, he said, and just pay extra for support when Microsoft finally kills XP support in 2014.

 "I don't think it makes Microsoft very happy or comfortable," Suzuki said at the Tech-Ed conference in Atlanta this week, "but that's the client mentality. People don't have a reason not to deploy [Windows 7], but there are also some barriers. It's not about the software costs. It's about running their business. You don't buy Windows just to be able to have Windows." 

Prowess this week announced enhancements to its flagship SmartDeploy product.

The next question is whether companies will buy Windows again at all, but Suzuki suspects that they will -- in time. And, he says, they'll keep buying it for a while to come. Even hypervisors still rest on a traditional OS, he said.

"We are very bullish on desktop virtualization," Suzuki said. However, he added, "Something has to get a hypervisor there. It's like a key. It has to fit properly for the operating environment to land on whatever it's landing on. The ability to move operating systems from environment to environment [is critical]. I don't know anyone who is in a homogenous environment."

The desktop OS, he figures, isn't going away anytime soon. "That no-operating-system thing is a 30- to 50-year proposition," he said. "Even in that picture of a highly virtualized desktop, that virtual machine has to get from place to place and the hypervisor on the workstation is probably not going to be identical to the hypervisor in your datacenter."

If the traditional OS is going to continue to exist, then applications are going to have to move in the migration from one version to another. U.K. company ChangeBASE has users covered there. The vendor has developed a system for identifying and remedying potential problems with applications in OS migrations.

ChangeBASE's software looks not so much at what applications do as at how they behave with an OS and with each other. Using a knowledge base developed through years of experience, ChangeBASE can reduce the process of testing for and fixing application-compatibility issues from days or weeks to minutes, said Greg Lambert, the company's chief technical architect, at Tech-Ed this week.

"We deal with classes of problems," Lambert said. "We don't deal with applications. [We] ignore the application and look at behaviors. Is this application trying to install to this directory, yes or no? It's like an anti-virus model. There are new updates available."

Solving problems with application compatibility could be a critical step in helping companies move from XP to Windows 7. Lambert says he's seeing movement already, primarily from the companies with the most money and the most risk inherent in their businesses, such as banks. He says he's also seeing a geographical track for Windows 7, starting in the U.K. financial sector and moving to the financial sector on the U.S. east coast, then to the U.S. west coast, Asia and Europe.

"I'm actually seeing the dawn of Windows 7 move across the world," Lambert said.

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