Until Windows 7 was released late last year, I had recommended remaining with Windows XP rather than experimenting with Windows Vista. This was mainstream advice. However, almost immediately after Windows 7 was released, it became clear that Windows 7 is the worthy successor to Windows XP that we all wish Vista had been.

If you haven’t purchased a new computer for your office recently, you may not realize that the options permanently changed on October 22nd, 2010. This is the day that Microsoft officially retired Windows XP by no longer allowing computer manufacturers to sell systems with Windows XP pre-loaded. The long-lived and extremely popular “Windows XP downgrade” option is no longer available. This was effectively the final nail in the Windows XP coffin. With the reign of Windows XP over, Windows 7 stands alone as the current mainstream Microsoft desktop operating system. Windows XP will continue to run fine for the next several years, but it is being phased out as older systems are replaced.

When considering Windows 7, you need to choose 32-bit or 64-bit. I recommend 64-bit, which means the system can process twice as much information per CPU “clock cycle” and can utilize significantly more memory than 32-bit systems. There also are important security enhancements which were incorporated only into the 64-bit version. I have been working with my clients on a well-planned, gradual transition from XP to the 64-bit version of Windows 7 for the better part of this year, and the transition has been successful.

The change to Windows 7 is proving to be fairly painless. However, with any change, it’s important to take a conservative approach to ensure a successful transition. I recommend a single pilot system be deployed, ideally to someone who runs every application your firm uses. Be sure to update your PC installation checklist with steps that address any issues Windows 7 has introduced. After a successful pilot deployment, you will be ready to replace old PCs with new systems running Windows 7. If you haven’t already deployed at least one Windows 7 system, I urge you to test one in your office as soon as possible. It’s better to have a controlled pilot installation program rather than simply installing Windows 7 in an unplanned fashion, and then reacting to any problems that may be encountered.

What about Office 2010? It’s a great upgrade to the Office suite. Outlook in particular has many useful new features. A two-hour training course focused on using the ribbon interface in Microsoft Word is a very good idea for firms upgrading from Office 2003 to Office 2010.  If you’re already on Office 2007, training is helpful but not necessary.  Before the upgrade, it is important to determine whether your applications that integrate with Office are certified for Office 2010.

Evaluation, testing and training are always the keys to successful upgrades.