The hard part is over: Microsoft officially rolled out its Vista client operating system on 30 November. Now it must convince users, who have more desktop options now with Linux and Apple OS X, that the operating system is the way to go.
And Vista, Vista which has been in development for five years, is not the only decision on the table for corporate IT departments, as Microsoft also shipped Office 2007 and announced the impending arrival of Exchange 2007, which is slated to be generally available in early December.
The three products not only provide options and challenges for IT departments on their own, but together offer a formidable major software upgrade decision that will require careful consideration. It is the first time in 11 years – going back to Windows 95 and Office 95 – that Microsoft's flagship products, which still generate more than 90 per cent of the company's revenue, have been shipped simultaneously.
The Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger sang the band's "Start Me Up" to kick off Windows 95, but the fanfare for Vista's release to volume licensing customers appears to be fading into just another business decision.
Users are contemplating whether they want to make the upgrades, and more importantly, why and when.
"What are we doing about Vista?" asks Jim Tieri, director of IT for railway welding and maintenance equipment firm Holland. "In one word: Apple."
Tieri, who has 300 desktops used mostly by remote workers, says his department has been evaluating Vista and its benefits and thinks it looks a lot like Apple's OS X. "We have bought our first group of Macs and we are seeing how we can integrate them into the environment, and see if we can use them from a business standpoint."
He says the major application to support is enterprise resource planning and that can be run through a browser interface. As far as the Office release, Tieri says he is already running some copies of Open Office that are showing some real possibilities. "For us there are no features benefits in Office 2007."
Tieri is not alone in his evaluation. Tom Gonzales, senior network administrator for the Colorado State Employees Credit Union (CSECU), says his organisation is also considering its options, including Macs, given what he perceives to be support and training issues associated with Vista.
"The changes in Vista are significant enough that we think we can absorb the change going to Macs just as easily as going to Vista," he says. It is an evaluation process worth pursuing for CSECU, he says, because the organisation refreshed its desktops just 18 months ago and does not plan to roll out any of the new Microsoft offerings, including Office and Exchange, in 2007.
When investment is pumped into a desktop upgrades, CSECU wants to do the best thing available, Gonzales says. “If you asked me two years ago to consider Macs I would have laughed. But I have spent some time with Apple and they are not the unviable option that they use to be."
But not all users are looking at the grass on the other side of the fence. Engineering giant Bechtel already has its plans in place, according to Fred Wettling, the company's infrastructure architect. Office will be rolled out first, after the company certifies that its applications run on the new software.
Wettling says: "Vista will be through our engineering process in March, and certification of applications will take us through the third quarter before we get that done," he says.
Vista marks both milestones and a crossroads for Microsoft, Wettling adds. "Microsoft is starting to get the message they are not alone in the world and there is a need for integration," he says. "The way Microsoft is poking around with open source people, it is late to the game on that compared to IBM, HP and others."
But Wettling says Vista has some definite milestones, including support for Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) which Bechtel plans to exploit. "It is a major change and should have a significant impact on the industry," he says. "They have improved on standards support but still have a way to go."
Wettling also cites improved stability and security and says: "What we hope to see is real improvement in manageability."
While users have been doing their evaluations, some surveys of the overall market show that uptake of Vista will only barely outpace that of Windows XP when it shipped in 2001.
According to analyst firm Ovum, 15 per cent of PC users will move to Vista within the first year, compared with 12 per cent to 14 per cent of users who switched to XP in its first year on the market.
"This boils down to just another OS release," says Robert Hoffer, managing director of NewForth Partners, which offers merger, acquisition and consulting services. "Vista will do some things right and some things wrong, but it will be a while before IT and consumers hammer all that out."
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