The pIT stop Q&A: Should I move to Windows Vista?

17 Jun 2008 View Comments
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When is the right time to move to Windows Vista?

John Craggs asks the pIT stop panel:

What is the consensus on companies moving to Windows Vista as their main operating system? We have remained with Windows 2000 but need to do something soon and it seems too late to go to XP but a bit early to consider Vista.

Further reading

The pIT stop panel's replies:

Windows Vista has certainly caused some controversy. The decision can’t be taken in isolation though. I generally look at three factors.

The first is a full application compatibility and support audit, to understand which of your applications are properly supported on Windows Vista and the impact on any third party support agreements that you have.

The second factor is user sentiment. Vista has generated polarised responses and you should understand the current appetite, or otherwise, of your staff for using Windows Vista.

The final factor is the age of your current desktop and laptop fleet, and your plans for these. If you are considering a major upgrade of the hardware estate then Windows Vista can be more readily planned into that. If you’ve no plans to upgrade the hardware estate then you need to carefully calculate the cost of hardware upgrades, driver issues, and so on, and factor this into any decision.

However, the overriding factor is probably your organisation’s attitude towards being an early adopter of new technologies. Ultimately, Vista is still in the early stages of adoption in the market, with early adopters and innovators having taken the plunge. We’ve not yet seen it heading into the early majority and late majority market stages. If you organisation is typically an early adopter then go ahead with Windows Vista, with careful planning, otherwise Windows XP is still a viable technology for the rest of the market.

By David Mitchell, senior vice president of IT research, Ovum

Talk about the longhorns of a dilemma. XP is a good stable operating system, with everything nicely bedded down, but if you chose not to migrate from Windows 2000 (another stable operating system), you’re now two full versions behind the current code base. Vista, for all its teething problems, is going to become a corporate desktop standard. While some major organisations- notably General Motors – are reportedly considering a move straight to Vista’s successor Windows 7, they are currently running XP. If you wanted to do something similar it would mean committing to Windows 2000 for another two to three years at least.

The launch of Vista has been pretty shocking. Microsoft likes to point to the much harder job it needs to do than, say Apple or Linux, because of the “combinatorics” – that is, the fact the software needs to support so many drivers and applications. But changing the driver model in Vista, and not even getting HP on board to offer a seamless experience from day one, smacks of negligence. Microsoft evidently needs to learn the fine art of triage. Many software vendors were also not ready for the new operating system. Complexity is not a sufficient excuse.

An organisation in a similar position to yours needs to ask what it is trying to achieve, and take broader software licensing and strategy issues into account. What applications does the company need - bespoke or packaged? Microsoft’s server products such as SQLServer are excellent, and the wildcard is Sharepoint, which offers a range of internet-style collaboration services. A Software Assurance licensing deal could offer substantive benefits, with a choice of operating system going forward, and the full range of Microsoft Server products, and possibly home-use Office licences if you were considering, say home-working. XP is good, but it’s old news.

By James Governor, co-founder and principal analyst, RedMonk

It might appear, at first glance, that migrating to an operating system that has already been replaced will cost more in the long run and cause more disruption to your users. There may or may not be something in this. But the simple answer here is there is no simple answer; the considerations go beyond the currently-stated support lifespan of the operating system.

To prove the point, during an operating system transition the biggest challenge facing any organisation is backwards compatibility of existing applications, the verification of which is usually ascertained through what is known as regression testing. Therefore, always aim to migrate to the current offering from your preferred vendor.

Related to this is the hardware and driver profile of the deployed hardware. Testing procedures apply here as they do with applications, and the results of hardware and driver compatibility testing in terms of a stable platform image will give you a good idea of the risks involved in the transition.

The other key decision is on the software your organisation needs to run its business, for example, an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system such as SAP. Make sure you understand what this software needs in order to execute successfully.

Finally, some operating systems represent a greater change in terms of user experience than might at first be apparent. The risk here is that the migration will create a need for training and transition change management. A lack of planning here may result in a smooth project delivery, but a huge burden in support.

The principles at work in this scenario are the same as when planning a major hardware upgrade, namely compatibility testing, total cost of ownership, as well as management of risk factors associated with change.

By William Crowe, enterprise solution architect, Intel

The increasing complexity of moving from one major version of Windows to another is causing a lot of organisations to rethink not just the timing of the operating system upgrade, but their whole end-user computing strategy.

Many companies have in the past worked on the assumption that they will move forward with software updates in line with their hardware refresh cycle – but the pain of checking compatibility of application software and hardware drivers has increasingly put people off making the move.

At the same time, other factors have emerged to complicate what was once a simple decision. The growing availability of hosted online applications – so-called software as a service – means that some users simply do not need the full functionality of a PC. This is particularly relevant for smaller businesses, where tools such as Google Apps and Microsoft Office Live allow basic productivity software to be used across the web. Maybe a simple, cut-down PC running Linux and an open source web browser is all such users need.

Then there is the green agenda and the environmental impact of power-hungry PCs on every desk. Technologies such as thin client and desktop virtualisation offer ways to provide cheaper, more energy-efficient personal computing.

And then there are the light users for whom a handheld computer such as BlackBerry covers most of their needs.

If your organisation is considering the next steps for its PC operating system, it is worth going through a broader exercise to look at all these trends in personal computing and devise a strategy that combines the best of each technology targeted at the needs of each group of users.

There is every chance you will find that Vista is a sensible option for many users – but not for all.

It is certainly fair to say that business users have not flocked to Vista and there remains scepticism about the product in the short term. Don’t feel you have to upgrade – but do invest the time in deciding how best to serve your end users, and to understand how, where and even if, Vista fits into that plan.

By Bryan Glick, editor, Computing

Read more about the pIT stop here: www.computing.co.uk/pitstop

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