Friday, February 26, 2010

(Editorial): Picking Apart Intel’s Latest Windows 7 Migration Delay

I read with some amusement the recent account by an Intel IT engineer of how the company has been forced to repeatedly delay its migration away from Windows XP due to concerns for, among other things, Internet Explorer 6.0 add-on compatibility and support for applications that still use 16-bit code in places where, quite frankly, they shouldn’t.

It’s the latest in a long line of “public displays of procrastination” that helped fire the imaginations of the very publications I once contributed to. In fact, this is exactly the sort of excuse-baiting exercise that led to the creation of the controversial Save XP Campaign at InfoWorld.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, Save XP was a program that Executive Editor Galen Gruman dreamed up on his own and then forever associated with me by launching it, without my consent, from within my InfoWorld blog (it literally just appeared there one day – like magic).

In other words, it’s “shock jock” bait heaven, and the kind of story I might have seized upon for the Enterprise Desktop. But here, at the, I’m free to give my true and honest opinion of this kind of corporate soul baring. And in Intel’s case, I call “BS” on many of their excuses for delaying migration – both to Vista, which they skipped altogether, and Windows 7, which they’re just now getting around to addressing in earnest.

For starters, there’s the IE 6.0 issue. Intel claims to have hung on to IE 6.0 for this long because of a need to support certain important internal applications as well as legacy addons, including, apparently, some older version of the Java runtime. But Intel has been ignoring an important potential solution to this quandary: App-V.

The App-V runtime was purpose-built to address just this sort of scenario. It isolates file system and Registry changes made by application installers, allowing you to run multiple versions of a program, like Internet Explorer, side-by-side on the same PC.

It would be trivial to create an App-V sequenced package that encapsulated IE 6.0 (plus all of the required addons) and then roll this out as a short term fix. They would then be free to either upgrade their OS installed base or, barring that, to at least update the version of Internet Explorer to somewhere north of the paleozoic.

And what about their 16-bit applications? Intel claims that they need to maintain a wide variety of legacy operating systems, ostensibly for testing and verification purposes (this is never made clear in the original blog post). However, why this should affect their mainstream desktop computing stack, and its transition to 64-bits, is hard to fathom.

Note: Do they really want us to believe that some parts of Intel still rely heavily on 16-bit Windows or DOS code from the pre-XP era? For line-of-business functions that affect a significant portion of their user base? Really? Because, otherwise, this line of reasoning just doesn’t hold water – even when you factor in the occasional testing and/or legacy validation requirements.

The Intel engineer-author hinted that their solution to this problem will involve some sort of integrated VM solution, like Virtual Windows XP Mode (or more likely, MED-V). However, what struck me most after reading this posting is how the potential mitigation of these issues has virtually nothing to do with any specific Windows 7 capability or advantage. Vista had similar issues, and the same proposed “fixes” (App-V, MED-V, et al) could apply equally to either version.

In fact, this whole Intel blog entry smells like so much ass covering from a company that very publicly trashed Vista by skipping the upgrade cycle altogether. That controversial move, which was widely reported at the time, helped fuel a public perception backlash that cost Microsoft millions of dollars in potential revenue.

Now Intel is trying to make amends by claiming that everything’s just peachy under Windows 7, when in reality the very same compatibility hurdles – from IE to 16-bit code and even UAC - remain. Frankly, the author could have saved himself a lot of time and effort by skipping the play-by-play recap and saying something more to the point, like:

“Hey Microsoft customer base: We screwed-up by dissing Vista, and it cost our very best buddies wads of cash. Please disregard everything we said before about compatibility hurdles and migration issues and go buy lots and lots of Windows 7 licenses. Because we really do like this one. Honest! It’s better than Vista. Trust us!”

Of course, Windows 7 is better than Vista – just not in the ways that Intel is alluding to in this semi-confessional blog post. But at least they’re finally making the long overdue move away from Windows XP. And for that, I applaud them.

Because, at the end of the day, they’re still just a bunch of hardware guys. And as any hardcore software person will attest, when it comes to figuring out what to do with all those CPU cores and gigahertz, the hardcore hardware guys really don’t have a clue.


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