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RealTime IT News

Microsoft Hopes for Smoother Vista Sailing

Analysis: SEATTLE -- In launching its delayed but ambitious new operating system, Vista, and Office 2007, Microsoft faces the most daunting competitor in its history - itself.

Windows XP and Office 2003 are well-entrenched and the "known quantity" corporate America, and IT departments specifically, feel safer dealing with the known rather than unknown of recently-released software. In fact, for the many companies that still use the earlier versions of Windows NT and Office, a transition to Vista is not even on their radar.

At the WinHEC conference here, Microsoft made its best case for faster Vista adoption, unveiling new features, product strategies and customer endorsements.

"One of the things we're doing this time is we've released more builds along the way and we've had 15,000 beta testers," Michael Burk, a Microsoft Vista spokesman, told internetnews.com. Further, Microsoft's said this week's Beta 2 release of "Longhorn" Vista Server will be available to more than 500,000 subscribers to developer networks and other distributions to the IT community.

"That's a little different than what we did with XP," said Burk. "And it gives those people a head start on application compatibility, lab tests and figuring out the best deployment strategy on multiple machines."

Bottom line, Microsoft is betting that despite the delay in finally getting Vista commercially ready, the finished product will be more stable and feature packed than its predecessors. The stakes are high for Microsoft and also its many partners.

On the consumer side, "If there isn't the clear, rapid transition Microsoft expects, the peripheral makers rule because they'll sell the faster hard drives and other upgrades people will buy rather than new systems," Richard Doherty, director of Envisioneering, told internetnews.com.

"But if you're a system maker, a slow transition is a death knell, particularly if there are any more delays. 'Vista Ready' is a very fuzzy marketing message to use to sell PCs when most people aren't aware of the potential benefits."

The Vista launch will be very different than previous Microsoft OS releases. Currently slated for November for corporate delivery and January for consumers, both Vista and Office 2007 will, in a first for the world's largest software company, ship about the same time.

Also, Microsoft is tailoring different versions of Vista for different buyers. It's also the first Windows OS to scale to the hardware.

The "Vista Capable" version has relatively low hardware requirements. Users will have the option to upgrade to "Vista Premium" as they upgrade their hardware, primarily the graphics card and memory. There's even going to be a Vista "Ultimate" version that combines all the all the consumer and corporate features.

For its corporate sales, Microsoft can only hope it gets more customers like Chevron.

Alan Nunns, general manager of information technology and strategy for Chevron, joined Bill Gates on the WinHec stage to explain why the oil and gas giant plans to migrate to Vista.

Chevron was among the first corporations to standardize its desktop and servers on Windows NT back in 1998. The next big rollout was to Windows XP and now Nunns said Chevron plans a third wave of widespread adoption to Vista when it's released.

With 60,000 employees worldwide, Nunns said "information management is a real challenge."

XP offered Chevron improved security and a globalization of work processes. With Vista, Office 2007 and Microsoft's forthcoming SharePoint software, Nunns said he's looking forward to improvements in information management and collaboration.

"We have 60,000 employees who can collaborate now using XP, but with SharePoint, we're looking at having a standard information management structure."