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Commentary: Windows Vista--finally

For all the new features in the Microsoft operating system, there's no real hurry for most businesses to deploy it.

Commentary: Windows Vista--finally
By Forrester Research
Special to CNET
November 30, 2006, 12:50PM PT

By Simon Yates and Benjamin Gray, with Erica Driver, Kyle McNabb and Christine E. Atwood

After years of waiting, months of beta testing, multiple release candidates and endless speculation on actual ship dates, it finally happened--Microsoft has released Windows Vista to manufacturing.

What does this mean? Windows Vista is available now to enterprises with volume licensing agreements, and consumers and businesses alike will start seeing the operating system preinstalled on new PCs by late January 2007.

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New versions of Office, Exchange are ready, too. But
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On November 8, Jim Allchin, co-president of the Platforms and Services Division at Microsoft, announced that the next generation of the Windows client operating system, Vista, had been released to manufacturing. As far as Microsoft and its hardware and software partners are concerned, this is the final product. It is the culmination of work that began in earnest in August 2004, when the first beta kicked off, followed by 27 months of stress testing, more betas, two release candidates and more than 2.25 million downloads of the beta software.

The Windows Vista DVD includes all five SKUs, eliminating the need to buy different versions of the operating system for different hardware. The software is initially being released in five languages, with 32 more to follow within 100 days, and Allchin promises more hardware support and 50 percent more device driver coverage than was available when Windows XP was released.

Three versions of Windows Vista are available to businesses: Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Enterprise and Windows Vista Ultimate. The Business release is geared toward companies of all sizes that don't have Microsoft enterprise agreements in place. Windows Vista Enterprise is targeted for large, global organizations that have PCs covered by Microsoft Software Assurance or a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement. The Ultimate version is the top-of-the-line operating system for consumers and small-business owners alike, and it includes all of the features of both Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Enterprise.

The big questions that enterprises need to ask are:

• When? Windows Vista is available now to business customers with volume license agreements, and the consumer versions will debut in late January. The Windows ecosystem of hardware manufacturers and software developers must now turn their attention to final fine-tuning and driver tweaking to be ready for the major operating system debut at the end of January. Expect a long list of Vista-ready hardware from PC suppliers at launch, but systems probably won't start shipping in volume until 2007.

Forrester's take: Forrester's research shows that 34 percent of PC decision-makers at North American and European enterprises plan to start their Vista deployments within one year after its release, but how broad the deployments will be is still up for debate. The pace of enterprise adoption ultimately depends on three things: one, readiness (including application compatibility, image development, and application packaging and testing); two, PC refresh cycles and enterprise plans to upgrade with Vista-ready PC hardware; and three, the relative importance of PC upgrades when compared with other key IT initiatives at budget-setting time. Enterprises should start to introduce the operating system on new hardware, rather than upgrading existing XP systems with a large migration project. To reduce IT costs and lost end user productivity while PCs are being upgraded, it's time to abandon operating system migration projects and simply begin introducing new operating systems on new machines as they are acquired, following a comprehensive testing and evaluation period.

• Why? According to Allchin, performance, reliability and security are the three keys to Windows Vista. Vista's SuperFetch, ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive will improve performance and provide the "fast on, fast off" experience that users have been calling for. Windows Vista has also been stress-tested and evaluated by more users than any previous version of the operating system, including 16 tech previews, millions of downloads and 60,000 desktops within Microsoft that are running Windows Vista already. Many new security features, such as User Account Control (UAC) and BitLocker drive encryption, will also appeal to enterprise IT.

Forrester's take: With Windows Vista, Microsoft has made it easier for businesses to deploy a new operating system. It also has improved security and compliance policies, and it will enhance the user experience with a sleeker user interface. There's no doubt that Microsoft has made a lot of fundamental changes to improve performance, reliability and security, but upgrade apathy will take time to overcome. In the end, the justification for a Windows Vista upgrade may well be driven by the combined releases of Microsoft Windows Vista, the 2007 Microsoft Office system (which does not require Windows Vista) and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007. Some enterprises should consider holding off deploying Windows Vista until they're ready to deploy Office 2007 or pull the deployment of Office 2007 forward so that there's only one touch to the PCs--streamlining deployment.

• How? Traditionally, IT operations professionals were responsible for building multiple images based on PC hardware, application and language requirements, burdening the task of deploying a new operating system on a large and diverse PC environment. Windows Vista aims to solve that with a single disk image, based on a new imaging format called Windows Imaging Format, for IT to deploy regardless of the specific PC requirements. Microsoft promises application compatibility for most applications that run on previous editions of Windows, and Vista has gone through thousands of application tests throughout its development. Other Windows Vista deployment tools include Microsoft Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment, ImageX, Windows System Image Manager, Application Compatibility Toolkit, Microsoft Windows User State Migration Tool (USMT) and Windows Preinstallation Environment (PE).

Forrester's take: IT operations professionals need to start running application compatibility tests now so that they'll be ready to deploy Windows Vista once all essential applications have passed. It may be too early to definitively say for sure, but it sounds like building test images for hardware already in the field and for planning future hardware purchases has become a more efficient process, even for enterprises with complex PC environments. Remember to run user experience tests as you deploy the new operating system in small batches, and focus on training employees with the new features of Windows Vista.

Forrester estimates that there are 95 million business PCs in use in the U.S. today, and approximately 20 million will be retired in 2007. The vast majority will be replaced with new Windows XP-based machines--not Windows Vista-based ones. Because roughly two-thirds of business PCs today run Windows XP, with the remaining Windows 2000 and Windows 95/98/ME machines still waiting for an upgrade, there's no real hurry for most businesses to deploy Windows Vista. IT operations professionals would rather standardize on a single, stable operating system that meets most of their end-user requirements before introducing the new operating system. As a result, we predict that approximately 5 million new U.S. business PCs will be upgraded to Windows Vista in 2007.

© 2006, Forrester Research, Inc. All rights reserved. Information is based on best available resources. Opinions reflect judgment at the time and are subject to change.