That is a key question for Microsoft, now that it hason the new operating system and is shifting into sales mode. It will that have volume license contracts, and smaller businesses will be able to get downloads at CompUSA, or wait until the mainstream consumer launch in January.
According to a new poll, 86 percent of IT decision makers surveyed said their companies plan to implement Vista, though only 20 percent plan to do so in the next year. The poll of 761 buyers, commissioned by online retailer CDW, found 51 percent of respondents saying that they would have to replace or upgrade half of their PCs in order to run Vista.
Rob Helm, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, said that most large businesses won't start looking at Vista until January or February and will then spend a year or more planning their rollouts.
"We're talking the end of 2007 and into 2008, before you start seeing mass production deployments," Helm said.
The CDW survey appears to back up Helm's estimate. While many businesses expressed their intent to move to Vista, only 24 percent of respondents said they had even a rough plan for how they would make the move.
It's not that the improved security isn't a good selling point, Helm said. It's just that it will take time for businesses to adapt to Vista, as they deal with new requirements that companies individually activate each copy of Vista--a step that wasn't needed with Windows XP.
Microsoft, meanwhile, isfor Vista. Brad Goldberg, general manager for Windows Client product management, predicted in September 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."
Microsoft is counting on several factors to boost Vista adoption. One is, of course, the--particularly the security enhancements and improved means for deploying the operating system throughout a large company. The software maker also said it is ready far earlier with tools that help businesses figure out which of their applications are Vista-ready.
Gillen was still skeptical that even those efforts would enable Microsoft to meet that goal.
"They have done all the right things, but adoption is going to be driven by corporate adoption and deployment cycles--more so than by whether Microsoft has greased the skids to make the product glide in faster," Gillen said in the September interview.
Jeff Rosado, who runs a computer consulting business in Pensacola, Fla., said that he is recommending large businesses wait before moving to Vista.
"For large institutions, I am recommending probably waiting until Service Pack 1," Rosado said. That will give Microsoft more time to work out any bugs and allow other companies to update their drivers and applications. "I think that Vista is a great operating system, but the third-party support is going to take a while," he added.
For small businesses, though, Rosado said the and improved ability to do remote management are good reasons to move sooner.
"Generally, (for) small businesses, I'm recommending almost an immediate implementation," said Rosado, who has been an early tester of Vista.
Aiming to get some of those small businesses as early customers, Microsoft announced on Monday a partnership with CompUSA. Under the deal, businesses that want five or more licenses for Vista or Office Small Business 2007 will be able to buy them as of Nov. 30 under Microsoft's Open Value or Open Business licensing options. The software won't actually be in the box, though, meaning customers will have to download the programs.
Rosado said that companies that have compatibility issues can take advantage of virtualization to run Windows XP from within Vista, using Microsoft's Virtual Server and Virtual PC products. The upside of running Vista, he said, is that it is much easier for remote management, meaning an eye can be kept on a company's PCs without having to make a service call.
University of Wisconsin-River Falls IT worker Gary Knigge said that he is in the process of coming up with afor the PCs his department manages. There are a number of considerations on his list, ranging from security to how buggy the operating system proves to be, to when there are people using Vista at home demanding they get to use it at work, too.
"Eventually, there will certainly be key business applications that require Vista," said Knigge, who serves as the college's main software consultant. "These will force the most conservative of IT managers to move to the new operating system."
Knigge said he would expect to start the first Vista installations in May or July of next year, but said that any "technical problems could delay this significantly."
Within a year from the first deployments, Knigge said he would hope to have all Vista-capable machines running the operating system. Completely moving off XP will require as much as three years as the school buys new machines to replace older machines that can't run the new Windows.
Microsoft points to its own experience in adopting Vista as an example of how it can be done. The software maker has about 60,000 machines currently running Vista and expects a total of 90,000 to be up and running within 60 days, Chief Information Officer Ron Markezich told CNET News.com this week.
"My help desk calls are nominal from Vista," Markezich said. "It's totally ready to go."
Microsoft has a total of about 150,000 desktops and laptops in its offices. Many of those machines will move to Vista, but not all. In part, that's because of folks who are working on sustained engineering for Windows XP. But also, Microsoft doesn't plan to upgrade some of its older machines that aren't capable of running Vista.
Markezich said that Microsoft hasn't accelerated its hardware purchase cycle, which typically sees machines replaced every three years. As a result, there are some machines that either wouldn't run Vista or would see performance below that of Windows XP, he said. Those machines will likely stay on the older operating system until they are retired.
In general, Microsoft said that its testing shows that machines with 512MB of memory get somewhat less performance on Vista than on XP, while machines with more than 1GB will get better performance on Vista. Markezich said Microsoft is letting people with 512MB of memory move to Vista.
"They will get slightly worse performance than XP," he said. "Most of our machines internally are a gig or more (of memory)."
CNET News.com's Joris Evers contributed to this report.