The question Microsoft – and many other companies – want answered is both a simple and straightforward one, yet one that may not be so easy to divine. Specifically, that question is how many will rush to deploy Windows Vista, the next “great” update to Microsoft Windows, when it debuts anywhere between November of this year and January of next?
It matters to other companies for many reasons, including those that have products that depend on compatibility with the upgrade, who offer deployment assistance personnel, or just question whether they should jump on the Vista bandwagon. Much of corporate America, to be certain, runs on looking about to see what competitors and colleagues are doing before the decision makers flip a coin to determine what their operation will do.
Of course, with Microsoft, release dates are always a bit of a pot-boiler. Their release date schedule, like their math, can slip significantly.
It’s no wonder that more than a few office pools, especially in IT departments, concentrate on when really Microsoft will release a much-heralded product. Corporate deployments of major upgrades, after all, have to be set up months ahead so that when a product slips a date, more than just the software publisher of record takes a hit.
In the 1980s and 1990s, many companies took big financial hits in rushing to upgrade. The result was, especially around the time of the bursting of the overall tech bubble around 1999 and 2000, a greater and greater reluctance to hurry to deploy new products.
The running joke for a very long time was “never install version point zero of anything.” Like any good joke, this is based on some reality: the first to upgrade are often the first to experience the problems not worked through during the beta cycle. A fast-paced office environment is usually no place to take on the role of inadvertent post-beta tester. They paid for their site licenses and they expect what they bought to work. Who can blame them?
Microsoft has seen this reluctance to upgrade with many of their products since Office 2000 and Windows 2000 and yes, even Windows 98. This is true as well for other producers such as hardware manufacturers who must be sure their devices work under the new operating system and technical reference publishers like O’Reilly and Wiley and Sons who tie their release schedules to Microsoft’s.
As a result, in Fiscal Year 2007, you continue to see many firms running Office 2000 products and earlier versions of Windows professional than the current Windows XP (with Service Pack 2). In government offices, you frequently see far more elderly versions still, yet less over deployment concerns than that their budgets for IT upgrades often get diverted elsewhere.
One issue Microsoft is hoping will stoke much higher purchase and deployment of Windows Vista is security. Previous Microsoft operating system and Web browser versions have been riddled with the kind of holes that tech-savvy miscreants can and have taken advantage of to create backdoors for access, steal confidential data, introduce viruses and worms, and generally wreak havoc.
Yet this is not quite the first security wunderkind since Microsoft head Bill Gates announced the Trustworthy Computing Initiative in 2002. Service Pack 2 for Windows XP was mostly a security redesign that stationed patches throughout to place much-needed virtual fingers into API holes inadvertently left behind in the data dikes to prevent a flood of bits and bytes making it out to the wrong people. Even with Service Pack 2 applied, however, problems still arise.
Whether Vista addresses all this remains to be seen, as it probably will for at least a few months after the first of several different versions of Vista – from Start and two types of Home through Business, Enterprise and the so-called pinnacle of Vista Ultimate – appear. These different packages, of course, will feature varying levels of security based on the objective of each package.
An equal challenge to security to some companies and consumers on whether to go the Vista route will be the rather massive changes to the look and feel of Windows Vista. Office workers, for example, may not find it an easy move from Windows 98, Millennium, or XP to the Windows Aero (which stands for Authentic, Energetic, Reflective, and Open) interface, especially if they are averse to dealing with eye candy as they try to work. Vista’s diet seems heavy with candy, usually more appreciated by the younger home user than the corporate one although IT deployment can and no doubt will adjust how much of the cutesy stuff gets installed to corporate workstations.
However, for those with more than some familiarity with the Apple operating system, the Vista interface may feel a bit more comfortable: there are many similarities between them, probably more than among any other Windows operating system. This will be a big plus for some. Yet serious Apple enthusiasts are still likely to prefer their Apple environment while Windows users traditionally do not have much Apple experience under their desktop tool belts.
Off the bat to this twenty-plus year user of Microsoft operating systems, Windows Vista does not make me salivate. Short of huge advantages over existing technology and desktop use experience, it’s frequently the “drool factor” that gets people, including whole corporations, to upgrade.
Can Microsoft get even 25% of current Windows users, especially those in large corporate environments, to take the leap? Only time will tell.
In talking with IT professionals and corporate decision makers, however, I found less than 10% voiced eagerness to make the jump to Vista, with relatively few of those planning rollout timed with Vista’s release date. Roughly 30% indicated they planned to wait to see how Vista does in initial rollout elsewhere to see whether they would adopt the platform within a year of its ultimate release. Another 27% of those already running a Windows platform said they had no plans, immediate or otherwise, to deploy Vista; among those using some mix of Unix/Linux, the rates were even less enthusiastic, with several stating they were more interested in going more into Unix than they already were.