A bump on the road to Windows Vista

IT managers are saying "not so fast" as they move toward the OS, despite Microsoft's optimism about quick adoption.

Businesses that had been thinking of a quick move to Windows Vista may be rethinking things a bit, according to a new study by Forrester Research.

"IT managers are finding themselves pulling back their initial Windows Vista deployment plans," Forrester analyst Benjamin Gray said in a report issued this week.

That said, Forrester notes in the first line of its report that it's not like most businesses are really going to skip over Vista.

"For the vast majority of businesses, Windows Vista is a matter of when and how, not if," Gray wrote. "This is thanks in large part to Microsoft's dominance in the corporate client operating system market."

While Linux has made considerable inroads in the server world and Apple has been able to substantially boost its market share in the consumer market, the corporate desktop remains solidly in Microsoft's domain.

But Microsoft has made the case that not only will businesses adopt Vista, they will do so quite quickly.

In September, Brad Goldberg, general manager for Windows Client product management, predicted that Vista would be put in use by twice as many businesses in the first year as Windows XP was in the 12 months following its October 2001 release.

Research firm IDC said that Windows XP usage was at 10 percent after a year in release. But IDC analyst Al Gillen said in September, talking about Vista, that "for them to do 20 percent in the first 12 months of availability is almost impossible."

Though slower Vista adoption would be a strategic blow to Microsoft, the financial impact could be muted, so long as businesses and consumers keep buying new PCs and its volume license business remains strong.

Forrester finds that many businesses are focused on issues like making sure they move to Vista before support runs out on older operating systems. Windows 2000 remains in the extended support phase until July 2010, while Windows XP remains in mainstream support through April 2009, and in extended support until 2014.

"When it comes to Windows Vista, Microsoft's biggest competitor isn't Apple, Novell, Red Hat or Ubuntu (just to name a few)--it's Microsoft itself," Gray wrote. "Businesses have, for the most part, been running either Windows 2000 or Windows XP for the past four or five years. These (operating systems) are mature, thoroughly tested and have been proven 'good enough,' making the business case for Windows Vista even harder for a lot of companies."

Another area of concern for businesses is the lack of specificity around the first service pack for Windows Vista. Although Microsoft has been making the case--and Forrester concurs--that SP1 need not be a critical milestone, some businesses are awaiting that release before migrating their machines to Vista.

"Most of the IT managers we spoke with cited SP1 as the reason they have yet to seriously consider deploying Windows Vista into their respective companies," Gray wrote. "Whether right or wrong, experience tells IT managers that the first service pack is Microsoft's official blessing that the new OS is complete."

Microsoft has not said exactly when that release will be available. It did say, as part of an antitrust settlement court filing, that a beta version will be out this year, but it has not said when the final version will be issued.

And, although Microsoft initially touted the ability of older programs to run smoothly on Vista as a strength of the new operating system, Gray notes that "application compatibility doesn't look as good as we had hoped."

"We heard application compatibility success rates that ranged from as low as 60 percent to as high as 90 percent," Gray wrote, noting that the figures have improved over time.

Also, Gray said that many businesses are finding Vista is not a good bet for their older, but still-in-use PCs. "Hardware compatibility is hard to get around with PCs older than 12 to 18 months," Gray wrote.

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