Its older products are so hard to get rid of that Microsoft has assigned a senior executive to hasten their demise. APC spoke to him at Tech.Ed Australia.
As the worldwide head of Microsoft's application compatibility program, it's Chris Jackson's job to help migrate enterprise customers to the latest MS platforms while officially “retiring” outdated software. This includes old favourites (and legacy enterprise touchstones) such as Windows XP, Internet Explorer 6 and Office 2003. So if it's his job to kill off support, could he rightly be considered the hitman for pre-loved Microsoft products?
“It's funny," Chris says, "because the word 'retire' was recently put in there [in Chris's bio] because it used to be 'kill', and then there was this notion that 'That's not politically correct... we might want to think of a different term'. So we actually have an initiative right now... It's not just saying the new product is so awesome but the old product is something that no longer is meeting the awesomeness requirements that you [as a customer] have.”
Microsoft's Chris Jackson.
Chris, known within Microsoft as the “App Compat Guy”, keeps a “support countdown gadget” on his desktop, which tells him exactly how much longer legacy systems will be maintained. He didn't have it on him when we met at this year's Tech.Ed
, but off the top of his head... where does XP stand now? “900 and some odd days... [support will end] somewhere in mid 2014.”
For the kinds of large-scale enterprises that Chris helps with their migrations (pretty much the biggest entities you can imagine, like the approx. 500,000-seat strong US Air Force), it can be a pretty major task. So one thing organisations should strive for is not just being up to date but to consciously manage as much as possible their “technology agility”.
“The reason why enterprises standardise is not because they are control freaks. [These days] everyone is so busy they're just like: 'Whatever I can do to make it possible to do my job and keep costs down, I'll do it'. It's all about managing the risk. I don't want to have to be constantly testing and doing what I call running in place.”
“At the same time one of [Microsoft's] goals is to help customers become more agile so that we don't have as many really deeply baked independencies that make it so that every transition is a large project. So [the question is] can you make yourself better able to make the next transition less expensive and less time-consuming by taking some pro-active actions now?”
The particular benefits of upgrading vary depending on the platforms organisations utilise and what they want to achieve, but in terms of Microsoft's offerings -- with its current promotion of Windows 7, IE 9 and Office 2010 -- the common incentive, Chris says, is large-scale businesses will ultimately save money in the long term.
“It depends upon the platform. Each platform has its own value proposition that comes up in terms of what sells it.” According to Chris, the potential cost savings of deploying Win 7 can range widely. He gave examples citing the ease of implementing standard user accounts through to power savings made via the broad eradication of unnecessary screensavers.
“In the IE space, [user] capabilities are what I see as being the big sell, particularly when you look at what you can do with HTML5... With Office  it's end user productivity.” He readily concedes deploying Office 2010 often requires staff training to overcome the likely post-adoption productivity dip, but says afterwards productivity goes “way up”.
“The [common] thing is it's all about money right? ... It costs you something to get there, but the end result is you should [save] more and if you plan it correctly, I can't think of a platform we're pushing right now where it doesn't come out that way.”The writer travelled to Tech.Ed as a guest of Microsoft.