Skipping Vista: What’s the Best Strategy for IT Pros?

Recently, Microsoft released its quarterly earnings reporting, detailing a continuing problem with the adoption of Windows Vista. The new operating system has not been adopted as quickly or as wide-spread as previous OS upgrades from Microsoft.

Now, with the financial problems of 2008 in full swing, Microsoft said to analysts that they expect corporate IT budgets will be reduced for the remainder of 2008 and most likely for 2009 as well. With industry analysts expecting a release date of late 2009 for the new Windows 7 operating system, it may be the case that Vista never becomes a widely adopted platform.

While Vista has long been the subject of unflattering reviews and criticism (some deserved and some not so deserved), most IT professionals have been moving forward assuming that eventually Vista would replace Windows XP, and then, of course, be replaced itself some time in the future as part of the natural cycle of upgrades.

After all, legions of systems engineers live by the motto, "Wait for SP1." Now, some debate has shifted to whether or not it is best for the enterprise, or for consulting clients to skip Vista altogether and just wait for Windows 7.

Indeed, PC World recently published an item entitled Five Reasons Why Skipping Vista Could Backfire, based on a Gartner research report: Understand the Risks of Skipping Windows Vista from earlier this summer, which suggests that both organizations sensed a large enough question in the business community to produce such a study.

The report suggested that skipping Vista could actually lead to more problems, most notably, because Microsoft may not be able to deliver Windows 7 without some delays, and due to the fact that most ISVs take 12 to 18 months to offer full support for a new operating system, a delayed Windows 7 shipping in Q2 of 2010 could mean a company running on the aging XP platform for another 30 to 40 months.

Not a pretty picture. Even worse, as the study notes, budget cycles, and vendor software development cycles may not match up with the organization waiting for Windows 7.

While organizations today have the option of holding off on the upgrade to Vista until 2009 due to continued support from virtually all technology companies for Windows XP, such support will begin to taper off.

What the study does not mention, is that the Windows 7 user interface will be much more like the Windows Vista interface than the Windows XP interface. While it is true that some early adopters of Windows Vista experienced significant problems with their systems, it is also true that much of the grumbling has come from users and employees who were simply used to Windows XP and resented the need to learn something new in order to use their computer.

These legions of users were the ones who pushed the "Vista Sucks" belief beyond the smaller universe of users who actually had trouble with their systems and into the realm of "common knowledge."

Skipping Vista will not help these users who will be just as shell shocked when they migrate to Windows 7.

While Vista sales are disappointing for Microsoft right now, the fact is that Vista is beginning its journey to the mainstream. Thanks, in part, to Microsoft’s declining willingness to allow any vendors to continue shipping Windows XP systems, Windows Vista is becoming more common on the desktop every day.

In fact, a significant percentage of the under-sales of Windows Vista is now due not to users continuing to get Windows XP machines, but rather due to the increasing adoption of so called netbooks or other systems which have a base-level OS and are used primarily for directly booting into online access.

Such systems use either a stripped down Windows OS or Linux, and thus contribute to the decline in Vista sales since the buyers of such systems would have normally had to buy a standard desktop with the current OS.

As Vista systems become more the norm, both retail customers and corporate users will become less willing to tolerate the notion that a software product is just fine, but Vista broke it.

Two years after the release of Vista and an impending SP2, make such assertions less believable which means that software companies will be working hard to upgrade their products to full power while running on Vista.

A declining economy means that most companies will be required to do such a thing with fewer developers, not more, which inevitably leads to a slow down of support and upgrades for non-Vista products.

Best Strategy for IT Pros

Despite the release of Windows Server 2008 and its improved features for rolling out upgrades, migrating to a new operating system is never an enviable task. However, making the same migration in a wholesale manner (forklift upgrades as Gartner calls them) won’t be any easier in a few years.

One of the main problems with Vista came from its inability to support the vast array of drivers and peripherals that people had installed on their machines. So the upgrades from XP were the most painful.

By moving now to implement an infrastructure capable of leveraging Vista’s features, and more importantly, being fully compatible with both Vista and XP, an organization can start bringing Vista in on new machines being added or replaced due to natural lifecycle.

This eliminates all the issues from upgrading and positions those machines in a much better place to be upgraded to Windows 7 when the time comes. When that deployment rolls around in 2010 or 2011, the only systems left running XP will be the ones due for refreshing anyway, and then the migration can start via newly purchased "clean" systems instead of upgrades.

The biggest factor for IT professionals though will be to not skip updating their skills and training for Windows Vista. As we all know, job security can be shaky in this industry even for the most qualified and it won’t be long before a resume without Vista on it just doesn’t hold up. In addition, the skill for Vista will be more directly transferable to Windows 7 which is being built on the Vista code base.

So keep reading and keep learning. You’ll need to know Vista, now or next year.

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