Vista: One Year Later

One year ago today, Microsoft released Windows Vista to manufacturing. In the obligatory anniversary post we ask: Was it ready? Will it ever be ready?

The answer to the first question is an emphatic "no." Vista wasn't ready. Hardware manufacturers and software developers weren't ready for it. The channel and enterprises weren't ready, and consumers couldn't get it because Vista missed holiday 2006.

Microsoft promised WOW, but the reaction was, "What?" What is different from Windows XP? What is wrong with the hardware requirements? What is the difference between "Capable" and "Ready?" What is this Software Assurance requirement for Vista Enterprise? What happened to the familiarity of Windows XP? What is wrong with my Vista applications and hardware?

More recently the "W" question is "When?"--as in when will Microsoft release Vista Service Pack 1?

Ready or Not
Something about Windows Vista's two launches—on Nov. 30 and Jan. 30—felt wrong, like Microsoft was out of step somehow with the marketplace. Who launches a business operating system during the holidays when no IT organization could possibly want to begin compatibility testing or new deployments? What consumer would want to buy new Windows PCs more than a month after Christmas and days before the Super Bowl? But that's what Microsoft asked of its customers.

Early reviews complained about nagging security popups and missing drivers—for new hardware—and broken applications. Early enthusiasm waned as more businesses tested Vista and some early adopters returned to Windows XP.

Yesterday, Michael Silver, vice president of Gartner client computing, gave me the dim view of Microsoft's flagship operating system. "Vista adoption in the enterprise has been really poor," he said. "Enterprises are about a year behind where they told us they'd be a year ago."

A year ago, Gartner forecast that early Vista deployments would begin in earnest by the fourth quarter of 2007 and reach threshold by the second quarter of 2008. Now, mainstream enterprise adoption is tracking for early 2009, about the time Microsoft is supposed to be wrapping up Vista successor Windows 7.

"App support is really the biggest issue people have had, with the lack of a compelling reason to migrate following close behind," Silver said.

"With our customers the largest barrier to Vista adoption is compatibility with existing software," said Mytech Partners solution provider Lyf Wildenber. "Most software vendors are Vista ready. However, many times our customers are not at a version level that can run a Vista OS. Bringing one Vista machine onto the network can mean the organization needs to make bigger decisions regarding their line of business applications."

Resellers are moving what customers want, and there remains strong demand for Windows XP. In the United States, "25 percent of all PCs sold in the month of September had Vista installed in the VAR channel," said Chris Swenson, NPD's director of Software Industry Analysis.

The Waiting Game
So far, the two most compelling reasons to upgrade have little to do with Vista: Market shift to portables from desktops and normal hardware refresh cycles.

Steve Rubin, president of WorkITsafe, said he has seen, slow but steady Vista adoption—at least related to refresh cycles. "Most of our clients upgrade on three-year cycles, and they're coming up on the anniversary now," he said. "If the clients are ready to move forward, they're going to move forward."

The reasons to wait are more, particularly as businesses grapple with in-house application compatibility problems and sit tight for the release of Vista Service Pack 1. The update isn't expected until at least the first quarter of 2008.

No service pack may be more necessary than the first for Windows Vista. Microsoft has downplayed the need to wait for Service Pack 1. But some analysts believe that longstanding IT organization attitudes about waiting for the first service pack, not applicable to Windows 2000 or XP, apply to Vista.

"This time it's really the one you want to wait for," said Michael Cherry, Directions on Microsoft's lead analyst for desktop and mobile. He made this declaration based on the list of changes Microsoft plans for Service Pack 1.

"SP1 really does look like its fixing things that slipped through the release," he emphasized. "A lot of people had a feeling it was a date-driven release." The fixes, such as basic file copy, are surprising. "I'm just stunned they weren't caught during beta testing," Cherry exclaimed. "The beta testing for this thing was huge."

Cherry said that one of his Vista computers has two hard drives attached to a single controller. Copying 70GB of data from one drive to another takes about 24 hours.

"In many ways, Service Pack 1 is going to address a lot of peoples' concerns and be the release they wanted last year—it will lower resistance to the product.

Silver agreed about the update's importance. "SP1 will help, but time passing helps, too, as more ISVs support their apps on Vista," he said.

"We'll almost look back to SP1 as the launch date," Cherry asserted. "It will steadily grow from here on out."


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