Vista CTP Aims At Enterprise

Microsoft released a community technical preview (CTP) of Windows Vista on Wednesday, hoping to show corporate customers how the new operating system will reduce costs and boost productivity.

But one analyst said great new features won’t move businesses off their upgrade cycles — and most of them have just upgraded.

The CTP released today to approximately 5,000 beta testers is designed to give IT administrators a preview of the benefits they may get, as well as of the glitches they may encounter.

“We’re encouraging customers to test out the enterprise capabilities, understand application compatibility and look at the technologies included to understand the impact they’ll have in their own specific IT organizations,” said Brad Goldberg, general manager of Windows Client, in a conference call.

Goldberg said businesses would benefit from Vista in several ways: It will drive down both the initial deployment cost and total cost of ownership; decrease the image management costs; and make it easier to install updates.

Goldberg said corporations might spend as much as $100,000 to manage each image, and they must create a new image for each hardware platform, language and form factor. Vista’s new image format creates master images that are hardware- and language-independent, reducing the total number of images, although admins still will need to customize images.

Updates and patches can be applied to the master, rather than applied individually to each image.

Microsoft also provided an Automated Installation Kit for Vista, with tools and information to help administrators create, edit and deploy images.

By contrast, Microsoft didn’t deliver its Development Accelerator kits until several months after the release of XP Service Pack 2. The kit is not part of the CTP, but it’s available now via TechNet.

The CTP also demonstrates gadgets, introduced at Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference last fall.

Gadgets are tiny XML applications that can deliver real-time information to the desktop. They can be docked into the Vista Sidebar, so that an administrator could, for example, have a gadget showing the current server uptime within the normal Vista desktop view.

Gadgets also are available within Windows Live, Microsoft’s consumer-oriented online service. Eventually, users will be able to run Live Gadgets on the Vista desktop and vice versa.

Microsoft hopes that by offering special features designed for mobility, it can lure enterprises into buying laptops running the new OS. Laptops will boot up faster, there is new power management technology, and s Mobility Center will provide an easier way for users to change settings such as connecting to devices or wireless networks.

Roaming profiles will let users back up data from the machine to local servers, so that enterprise data remains secure.

JupiterResearch analyst Joe Wilcox said that Microsoft needs to emphasize context in its marketing messages, explaining the benefits of Vista in a variety of contexts. As there is more commingling of data among devices, he said, “There needs to be greater emphasis on context.”

He said the use of roaming profiles could exemplify contextual benefits, adding that Microsoft has used this concept for some time, but the implementation wasn’t very sophisticated. (JupiterResearch and both are owned by Jupitermedia.)

Said Goldberg, “Enterprises should begin testing Vista’s enterprise features and understand the impact these capabilities will have in the organization.”

The biggest impact could be the change in user-account control, he said.

In older versions of Windows, users run by default in administrator mode. That means that any malware installed has access to the entire operating system. To plug this gaping security hole, Vista users will run in standard mode.

But many organizations write custom applications, assuming the user is in administrator mode. “They need to understand the behavior of those applications when running in standard mode,” Goldberg said.

Microsoft plans a third and final Vista CTP next quarter. While the current build is feature-complete, there is still work to be done on some of the features. The next CTP, therefore, is not expected to add anything new to the feature set.

Microsoft will target the consumer audience with the final CTP, emphasizing features and functions of use to them.

“We’re trying to be very specific about the call to action we want beta testers to focus on with each milestone,” he said.

Microsoft still plans to ship Vista in the second half of this year; Goldberg declined to be more specific.

Wilcox said Vista may already be too late.

“Some of this stuff will appeal to the enterprise IT managers,” Wilcox said. “The real question is, ‘How many of them have deployed Windows XP in the last 12 to 18 months?” The answer? “A whole bunch.”

PC sales boomed in 2005. A December 2005 report by IDC forecast sales growth of 15 percent for the fourth quarter of the year, to be followed by a slowdown this year.

“It looks like Microsoft missed the major upgrade cycle from 2004 to early this year,” Wilcox said. “Windows Vista would have been a much better story in 2005 than in 2006, or, realistically, 2007.”

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