10 things to consider before taking the Vista plunge

If a business is planning to install the latest Windows operating system, certain factors should be evaluated first.

While Windows Vista is now available for big businesses, organizations vary widely in their plans for adopting the new operating system.

Some have plans to aggressively move to Vista, while others are taking a far more wait-and-see approach. Here are some things you need to consider before taking the plunge.

#1: Is your hardware up to scratch?
Vista is famous--or, perhaps more accurately, infamous--for its hefty hardware requirements. Certainly, minimum system requirements are more demanding than for any previous Windows operating system.

In reality, there are two separate sets of hardware requirements: one for machines that are merely "Vista Capable" and another for those that are "Vista Premium Ready." Whereas "Premium Ready" requires a 1GHz processor, one gigabyte of RAM and a high-end video card, requirements for "Capable" are a bit more easily (and inexpensively) attainable. It's important to remember that, although the eye candy afforded by Aero Glass is very cool, it's probably not really necessary for most business applications.

Before you start making plans to upgrade all your organization's workstations to Vista, you should check out the exact system requirements on Microsoft's Windows Vista Enterprise Hardware Planning Guidance Web site.

#2: Which edition(s) of Vista do you need?
Selecting the right edition of Windows XP was pretty simple. There were four basic varieties: Home Edition, Professional Edition, Tablet PC Edition and Media Center Edition. If the computer needed to join a Windows domain, the first and last editions were out (MCE 2004 could join a domain, but 2005 could not). Unless you were installing on a Tablet PC, there was no need for TPCE. The logical choice for the vast majority of systems on a business network was XP Pro.

Things get slightly more complicated with Vista. Now there are five editions: Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Enterprise and Ultimate. Although you probably won't want to use the Home editions on a company network, you may be less certain whether to choose Business, Enterprise or Ultimate.

Business Edition is roughly comparable to XP Pro, whereas Enterprise Edition includes extra features such as BitLocker Drive Encryption (an added layer of security for corporate laptops), application compatibility tools, SUA (Subsystem for Unix-based applications) and advanced multilanguage support. Ultimate is a superset, with all the features of all editions (including Media Center), which may be more than you need for your business PCs. You'll find more information on the editions here.

#3: Understand Vista licensing
With Vista, Microsoft is adding an Enterprise Edition that will be available only to customers with a Software Assurance or Microsoft Enterprise Agreement.

Another new option, the Windows Anytime Upgrade program, may be of interest to some small businesses. The program allows buyers to upgrade some editions of Vista to a higher edition. (For example, you can upgrade Home Basic to Home Premium, or Business to Ultimate.) For more info, see "Vista Anytime Upgrade Goes Beta."

#4: What about application compatibility?
When it comes down to it, the applications, not the operating system, matter most in terms of getting the job done. One important consideration in rolling out a new operating system is ensuring that your essential programs will run on it without problems.

Vista's built-in compatibility modes will help you install and run applications written for previous versions of Windows. Microsoft has created the Application Compatibility Toolkit to help you identify applications that may need enhancements to work with Vista's User Account Control (UAC) feature and to fix those programs.

You can also use technologies such as Virtual PC/Virtual Server or Terminal Services as a workaround for incompatible applications.

Nonetheless, it's important to test your mission-critical applications beforehand to ensure they will work with Vista, or develop a plan to replace them or implement a workaround if they don't. For application compatibility resources, see this overview.

#5: Assess the network infrastructure
Although there's no requirement that you do so, upgrading to Vista may provide you with motivation to move to IPv6. Vista includes much better support for the new Internet Protocol. With XP/Server 2003, IPv6 support requires installing a separate protocol, whereas the TCP/IP stack in Vista/Longhorn Server supports dual IP architecture and both IPv4 and IPv6 are enabled by default.

There are many reasons to make the move to IPv6. A transition to IPv6 not only enhances IP security, it also allows doing away with NAT and makes it easier to incorporate video and audio into applications. For a list of advantages of IPv6, see "IPv6--The evolution of the Internet."

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