Are You (And Your Apps) Ready For Vista?

It’s been five years since Microsoft released a new client-side operating system. Although consumers will have to wait two more months before they can use Vista, businesses will have access to it today as part of the company’s launch.

How quickly will they dive into the Vista pool? Projections for adoption range from almost immediately to “whenever we get to it.”

Microsoft expects it to go gangbusters. “We have been working very closely with hundreds of companies throughout Windows Vista’s development, and all of them have plans to move quickly to Windows Vista after it is released. We expect that once it is released, Windows Vista will be the fastest and most broadly adopted operating system in our history,” said a Microsoft  spokesperson.

Why ship Vista one month before Christmas? Is there a compelling reason, beyond Microsoft being able to say it kept a deadline? As one analyst pointed out, who is going to begin testing an operating system at this time of year?

Lots of people, it turns out. The reality is that people have been testing it for a long time in beta and release candidate-mode, said Dwight Davis, vice president with Ovum Summit. “By the time they got around to final code from Microsoft, it’s already been very broadly deployed and testing has been under way for some time. So it’s not like [today] is the real kick off of people getting their hands on the code,” he said.

Ovum doesn’t do projections on something like adoption, but Davis has said he’s seen plenty of interest. “There’s even some enthusiasm in some quarters for an OS that was designed with more of an IT administrator’s needs in mind, rather than an end user/consumer.”

Steve Morton, vice president of product management and marketing for IT consultancy Altiris, echoed that sentiment. “I think we’ll see an uptake immediately. I don’t have a really good sense of how this will compare with XP, but I can definitely say there is a pent-up interest. We’ve been talking about it for a year now.”

Altiris services a mostly technical community, which has been following the Vista betas carefully. “They like the security features, the productivity features, [and that] it’s organized differently and geared for information discovery,” he said.

However, Michael Silver, research director with Gartner, is sticking to his conservative estimates that real deployments won’t begin until at least 2008, and he said it’s not entirely Microsoft’s fault. “The ecosystem really isn’t as ready as it could be. Things like devices, applications, device drivers, there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be supported, and a lot of the ecosystem didn’t think Microsoft was going to meet its dates, so a lot of them aren’t really ready.”

Because the consumer release is 10 weeks away, third party system makers have some breathing room to catch up. They’d better move soon, since Microsoft is getting stricter about driver quality. Microsoft’s Driver Quality Rating (DQR) system grades device drivers based on how often they crash. A low grade could mean OEMs will shun the product. Microsoft is doing this to light a fire under some hardware providers to offer better quality device drivers, since they are often the source of system failures.

The lead time between business and consumer releases of Vista also gives Microsoft time to tweak its operating system some more. Silver thinks there will be a lot of fixes coming out through Windows Update between now and the January consumer release.

Rory Byrne, senior director of business development for Hyperion Solutions, found out about foot-dragging among other software vendors when he installed Vista on his own computer. His VPN and Oracle software both failed. Like Silver, he thinks vendors dragged their feet because of the release schedule. “What we’ve seen, because Vista isn’t live yet, is that major software vendors haven’t certified their products for Vista. There’s a lot more certification to be done with desktop client tools than something server-based,” he said.

And this could prove an impediment. In a September posting touting Vista, Jim Allchin, Microsoft’s outgoing head of the Windows division, alerted developers to Microsoft’s application compatibility efforts.

The Upgrade Timetable

Byrne said Hyperion has been advising customers to hold off on upgrading, mostly because its software doesn’t work in Internet Explorer 7 yet and IE 7 is a part of Vista. “[It] has the potential of being a huge benefit from the IT business as a whole,” he said. “I’ve heard the buzz it’s generating, but that’s balanced by the effort to do the upgrade and the concern that not all apps will run on it.”

But Morton of Altiris did have words of praise for Microsoft’s efforts to promote migration and system analysis. “Microsoft has been stronger at letting people know how they can be moved over [from XP]. I think overall, there are clearer instructions and expectations of what it takes to get people migrated,” he said.

How quickly? Hyperion and Altiris are rather definitive in their recommendations; both are advising customers to wait until application compatibility issues are resolved.

Ovum’s Davis thinks businesses will be drawn to features such as User Access Control for security enhancements. “On balance, this will prove to be something a lot of people are testing, and from an IT manager’s perspective, will find a fair amount to like about it. I would expect a fairly solid uptake by the end of 2007,” he said.

Gartner is sticking with its 12-to-18 month timetable. “Most of the people we are talking to are going to deploy it with new hardware, which means once they start it will take 3-4 years to finish,” said Silver. This would match with a recent report from Forrester Research, which said that Windows XP did not reach a majority of the installed base until four years after its release.

All of the subjects interviewed by expect that Vista will make its way into the enterprise on new hardware, rather than through upgrades. Microsoft has stated its system requirements for Vista, but some OEMs think the bar should be set higher, which would rule out more PCs from qualifying as upgrade-worthy.

And don’t forget, Silver added, that Vista isn’t the only new offering from Microsoft. There’s also a new version of Office, with an ambitious new interface. Most clients surveyed by Gartner have said they will deploy Office with or after Vista, while a small number will deploy Office first.

Ready or not however, Vista’s arrival on the technology ecosystem is underway.

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