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Windows 7 Poised To Take PC Pole Position

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

Analyst says Windows 7 will become the top PC operating system by the end of 2011.

James Alan Miller

James Alan Miller is Managing Editor of Tom's IT Pro. He is a veteran technology journalist with over seventeen years of experience creating and developing magazine and online content. Founding editor of numerous business and enterprise computing sites at the network, James headed up the After Hours section at PC Magazine, as well as hardware and software sections of various Windows publications.

After the debacle that was Windows Vista, Microsoft needed a hit, and it got one in the form of Windows 7, which debuted to solid reviews and sales in and out of the enterprise back in the fall of 2009. With Windows XP finally falling to the wayside after ten years and Windows Vista a bad dream many organizations skipped altogether, Windows 7 appears to be poised to take its place as the preeminent PC platform.

According to analyst firm Gartner, Windows 7 will hit that major milestone by the end of 2011. At that time, the platform will be running on 42% of all business and consumer PCs worldwide, making it the leading desktop and laptop operating system for the first time.

Greatly contributing to the explosion of Windows 7 PCs is an escalation in information technology spending and the follow through by enterprises with planned Windows 7 deployments. Late last year, Gartner predicted IT spending globally would rise by 3.1% to $2.5 trillion in 2011 from $2.4 trillion in 2010.

"Steady improvements in IT budgets in 2010 and 2011 are helping to accelerate the deployment of Windows 7 in enterprise markets in the U.S. and Asia/Pacific, where Windows 7 migrations started in large volume from 4Q10," said Gartner research director Annette Jump. "Many enterprises have been planning their deployment of Windows 7 for the last 12 to 18 months, and are now moving rapidly to Windows 7."

The researcher estimates 94% of all new computers shipped this year will run on Windows 7. That's 635 million Windows 7 PCs in 2011 alone.

Gartner cautions that Windows 7 may be the last Microsoft operating system deployed to all employees through large-scale, corporate-wide migrations, however. Instead, you'll find many organizations using alternative client architectures and delivery methods, including for Windows, as they increasingly turn to virtualization and Cloud Computing over the next few years.

In the meantime, although Mac OS share continues to tick up modestly—it’s forecasted to hit 5.2% by 2015—the platform remains largely a consumer proposition and an afterthought with business. Gartner, meanwhile, expects Linux will remain a niche player over the next five years, with below 2% of the business PC (and even less of the consumer) market, mostly due to the high cost of application migration from Windows to Linux. And it predicts that Google's Chrome OS or Android platforms and HP's webOS won’t become significant players on PCs any time soon, in or out of the enterprise.

In 2012, however, Gartner said we'll see a rise in what it calls OS-agnostic applications for the enterprise. By then, the research firm said 50% of applications will be OS-agonistic and, therefore, capable of running across multiple devices and platforms. The consumer market, where OS-agnostic apps are already common, is where the potential benefits may be felt first for today’s minor PC-platform players over the next three to five years.

For the IT pro and business, OS-agnostic applications simplify the maintenance and distribution of not just individual programs but of PCs themselves. So, in a world of OS-agnostic—and, by extension, device-agnostic software—compatibility becomes a given across PC operating systems as well as up-and-coming computing platforms such as tablets. This should be a welcome transition for IT shops, which (in spite of Gartner’s noted uptick in enterprise technology spending) are generally being tasked with making due with few resources and staff in a far more heterogeneous environment than even just a few years ago.

As for Microsoft, it’s started beta testing the replacement for Windows 7, Windows 8. Expect developers to see a preview of that PC platform in the fall, with a public beta likely appearing a few months later, early in 2012.