How Good Is Windows 7 for Colleges?

With the new Microsoft operating system, Windows 7, hitting the shelves tomorrow, there has been a lot of hoopla surrounding the product. But will it help colleges? Microsoft representatives demonstrated the new operating system at The Chronicle’s offices to bolster a claim that the new Windows — unlike a previous effort, the much-reviled Vista — will be a major boon for higher education.

To find out if the product lives up to the hype, The Chronicle spoke with a number of college CIO’s and IT project managers who have already tested and, to various degrees, deployed Windows 7. Their conclusion: Microsoft has taken a solid step forward, creating something that could save institutions some money and improve security, and is decidedly not Vista. But at the same time the new OS, in the words of the tech columnist Walter S. Mossberg, of The Wall Street Journal, is “much more of an evolutionary than a revolutionary product.”

At Central Bible College, in Missouri, Windows 7 is allowing employees to continue using “legacy computers” that are three years old. The college downloaded the OS in January and began deploying it to a small number of college computers almost two months ago.

“The aggressive machine specs of Vista made it challenging to implement on our older hardware,” says Daniel E. Ruiz, executive director for technology. “And we were not fans of XP, since it’s a system that’s basically a decade old, but Windows 7 is so efficient it makes it possible to recapture our old equipment.”

Mr. Ruiz said the college is going to wait to roll out the product institutionwide until Microsoft comes out with a Service Pack 2, a collection of software patches that will deal with potential bugs. Organizations usually do that, preferring that other groups find and suffer through the initial bugs.

At the Kentucky Community and Technical College system offices, where there are about 250 employees, Windows 7 has been put in place and lauded for its improved security.

Tony Eversole, the IT project manager, says that having Bitlocker — a full disk-encryption feature — come standard (it had to be added to Vista) has been a good way to secure the confidentiality of data. Also, the advent of Bitlocker to Go, a feature that encrypts files on portable flash drives, could be a boon for a modern office.

“Our work force is completely mobile, we all use laptops, and everyone takes their laptop wherever they go,” says Mr. Eversole. “We haven’t allowed flash drives before, but with Bitlocker to Go, we might start allowing them again. It’s important that people get more leeway when handling their own data.”

While security has been beefed up on the new OS, everyone interviewed said they would not be giving up on third-party antivirus monitoring programs.

“It’s a little early to tell, but it could take a while for Microsoft to catch up to the best antivirus software,” said the University of New Mexico’s CIO, Gilbert Gonzales.

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