XP/Vista SP Blockers to Expire as Vista Surges

You might call it a tale of three operating systems.

That’s the circumstance that Microsoft, its partners, and customers find themselves in as Microsoft works to support Windows XP, promote Windows Vista, and prepare for Windows 7’s debut.

First off, Microsoft announced last week that it will stop blocking automatic downloads of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) and Windows XP SP3 this spring. SP3 is the last planned release of XP, but it has been problematic for some users. Because of that, many companies have blocked downloading the nearly year-old service pack using a blocking tool that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) provided. Now, that blocking software is set to expire.

“After April 28th, Windows Vista SP1 will be delivered via Windows Update. And after May 19th, Windows XP SP3 will also be delivered via Windows Update,” Brandon LeBlanc, Windows communications manager on the Windows client communications team, said in a blog post Thursday.

Although Microsoft is not giving users the ability to block automatic delivery of the service packs any longer, it is not forcing all users to accept the service packs either. In a Q&A, LeBlanc said that the service packs will not install themselves automatically, giving users the opportunity to accept or decline adopting them. The Q&A describes the process.

Microsoft is also moving forward with development of SP2 for Vista, but that service pack is currently running about a month late, with final release now slated for the second quarter. The beta test for Vista SP2 began in early December.

A Warm Fuzzy Feeling?

The pending arrival of Vista SP2 may also be helping to warm the hearts of IT decision makers when it comes to Microsoft’s black sheep operating system.

According to the latest Forrester Research survey, corporate plans for adoption of Vista are picking up. Following its debut in January 2007, many IT shops decided to wait for the delivery of Windows 7, staying on XP in the meantime.

Now, that attitude seems to be changing. In a report released last week, and entitled “Enterprises Warming To Windows Vista,” Forrester analyst Benjamin Gray said the firm’s latest survey of 962 IT decision makers found that 31 percent have begun deploying Vista.

Those types of adoption numbers were considered the conventional wisdom when Vista first launched, but the ho-hum response it received in the marketplace eventually cast a malaise over the replacement for Windows XP.

“When specifically asked about their Windows Vista deployment plans, almost one-third responded that they have already started their deployments, with another 26 percent citing plans to start this year or later,” the report states.

At the same time, however, the Forrester survey, which was conducted August through September, found that XP is still king of the hill. “Windows XP still powers 71 percent of PCs within North American and European enterprises,” the survey continued.

Some 15 percent said they will await Windows 7.

Next page: Waiting for Windows 7

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However, a different survey from a different firm conducted in the same time frame found that 46 percent of the 700 IT decision makers it polled were waiting for the arrival of Windows 7. That survey was conducted by long-time industry analyst Laura DiDio and her firm, Information Technology Intelligence Corp.

Survey methodologies are often very different, which probably explains the discrepancies between them.

“New industry analyst reports confirm what we’ve said previously, that we’re seeing positive indicators that Windows Vista enterprise adoption has moved from the early adoption phase into the mainstream,” a Microsoft spokesperson told InternetNews.com in an e-mailed statement.

According to two analysts not involved with either survey, part of the warming trend toward Vista comes from the stability of Vista SP1, the promise of increased reliability with the arrival of SP2, and the proximity of Windows 7, which most observers currently have pegged as during the second half of the year.

“My perception is that the combination of the SP1 update with the device driver support for all the new hardware has made it okay to just go ahead and get Vista,” Michael Cherry, operating system analyst at Directions on Microsoft, told InternetNews.com. That would tend to make installing Windows 7 on Vista machines much easier than it was for installing Vista on XP machines.

“A user can say, ‘in the interim, I’ll use Vista’,” Cherry added.

Indeed, for those who have been sitting on the fence for the past two years since Vista launched, part of the problem has been just the passage of time. Most of the hundreds of millions of PCs that are running XP are beginning to reach the end of their useful lives. That provides increasing pressure on IT decision makers.

“They can’t wait any longer,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told InternetNews.com. For one thing, hardware makers tend to look toward the future and not to the past, so getting support for XP on new hardware may soon become a serious problem.

Additionally, Enderle cautioned that both surveys were conducted prior to the worst of the economic tailspin hit and so may not accurately reflect the current market environment.

The Future’s Up Ahead

Finally, Microsoft Monday announced its Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 (Release 2) “Ecosystem Readiness Programs.” The program provides tools and resources that its hardware and software partners require in order to assure their own products will be compatible with 7 when it ships.

“The Ecosystem Readiness Program, … provides the Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 betas, tools and resources our partners need to build their expertise and understand the opportunities with these products,” Mike Nash, corporate vice president for Windows Product Management, said in a statement.

“As we continue to progress toward the release candidate and final version of Windows 7, we want our partners to test their Windows Vista-based products to ensure they run well on Windows 7,” he added.

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