It’s the big question, one that will be truly unanswerable for weeks or months following Microsoft’s Oct. 22 launch of Windows 7: How fully–and how quickly–will SMBs (small- to medium-sized businesses) and the enterprise embrace Windows 7 as the operating system at the center of their IT infrastructure.

A new study by Chadwick Martin Bailey (CMB) should warm the hearts of all those executives currently biting their fingernails in Redmond: their survey of 145 IT professionals indicated that the majority intended to standardize Windows 7 across multiple products in their enterprise. The numbers broke down as follows:

51 percent “plan to standardize on Windows 7 for laptops and desktops.”

38 percent “to do so with netbooks over the next two years.”

60 percent “plan to standardize on Windows Server 2008 R2 in the next 24 months.”

“Our data shows a remarkably high number of organizations planning to standardize on the new Windows 7 OS in the near-term, especially given that we did this research prior to the actual release,” wrote Chris Neal, an analyst with Chadwick Martin Bailey. “Those who are holding back for the time being are commonly staying with XP (rather than Vista).”

Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with Liz Eversoll, vice president of CDW Microsoft Solutions Practice, who told me that her organization recently conducted its own multi-company survey and found that many IT professionals were expressing a fairly substantial interest in jumping to Windows 7. (CDW, it must be mentioned, is a prominent technology reseller, including of products that run Windows.)

The reasons for that interest, Eversoll told me, included Windows 7′s compatibility mode, “because in the past, one of the intimidators for an OS upgrade was that not all your applications will run.” Those IT pros were apparently positive about Windows 7′s data protection, hardware optimization, the ability to search both local devices and networked folders, and the fact that support for XP is rapidly dwindling.

This all seems in line with other data produced by research firms over the past few weeks, indicating that Windows 7 will indeed impel a certain degree of tech refresh through 2010. Most recently, an Oct. 12 analyst report from Jefferies & Co. said that “the Win7 inspired upgrade cycle can start in late 2010 and run through early 2013.”

(Just to get the other viewpoint, I’d be interested in hearing from any IT professionals out there who aren’t planning on integrating Windows 7 into their infrastructure by the end of 2010–are you planning on jumping to a non-Microsoft OS? Sticking with Windows XP until the bitter end? Taking the plunge with Apple or maybe Linux?)

Microsoft could have a hit on its hands with Windows 7, but the economy is still in somewhat rough seas–IT administrators may embrace the operating system more slowly, engage in a tech refresh on a more halting or limited basis, and that could prevent the operating system from becoming the monster hit that Redmond needs. If I were a Microsoft executive, I’d keep my fingers crossed for the next few months.

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