Analysts grade Vista's first year: Did not meet expectations

Enterprise uptake much slower than expected

If Microsoft's Windows Vista were graded for its first year, the report card would read "not meeting expectations," analysts said last Friday, a year and a day after the operating system code went gold and was sent off for duplication.

On Nov. 8, 2006, Jim Allchin, then the head of Vista development, announced that Vista had gone RTM (release to manufacturing) -- the first step toward its release later in the month to businesses, and in late January 2007 to consumers. "This is a good day. I am super happy," Allchin told reporters in a conference call.

While Vista might be a sales blockbuster -- Microsoft's last quarter broke eight-year-old records, in large part behind Vista -- it hasn't made the kind of progress anticipated in the enterprise world. And if Allchin, who retired as soon as Vista shipped in January, was still with Microsoft, he might not be super happy now.

"The uptake is much lower than expected," an analyst with Gartner, Michael Silver, said. "Organisations really seem to be way behind where they said they would be last year." Silver compared the results of a Gartner survey last month on Vista adoption plans with an identical survey taken in October 2006, and concluded that enterprises are 9-12 months behind their original expectations.

"They overestimated their vendors' abilities to get Vista-supported versions of their applications done, they underestimated the difficulty of moving to Vista and they overestimated the value of Vista," Silver said in explaining why corporations have fallen behind their original plans.

"It's just a much slower deployment overall," he said. "Now we're hearing a lot of folks talking about late 2008, early 2009. Before, they'd been saying late 2007, early 2008."

An analyst with Decisions on Microsoft, a research firm, Michael Cherry, echoed the slow adoption mantra. "I don't see anyone rushing out to do [the upgrade], especially now that SP1 is on the immediate horizon," said Cherry. In fact, he argued, it's because companies have realised the difficulties in upgrading existing hardware to Vista that deployment plans didn't meet expectations.

"Vista is totally a product for new hardware," Cherry said. He recommended companies leave existing operating systems in place on current hardware. "I think you need to be real careful of [Vista's] hardware requirements." He said many companies underestimate what's really needed to drive the OS.

Microsoft has touted huge numbers for Vista, saying just two weeks ago that it has shipped 88 million copies, twice the number Windows XP shipments during a similar stretch after that OS's release in 2001. So neither analyst would even come close to calling Vista a bust.

"It's pretty hard to call it a failure," Cherry said. "Any other company would love to have had a product launch like this." But Microsoft isn't just any other company, he added. "Microsoft can afford to wait for Vista to become a success."

Silver was somewhat tougher in his final analysis. "Vista's done about what we expected for consumers, but to a lesser extent in the enterprise," he said. "People have realised that there are a lot of bumps when it comes to an upgrade, especially when it's coming [after] something good, and something stable, like Windows XP."

That, in fact, is one reason for Vista's poor reputation, and poorer-than-anticipated showing in the enterprise. "When you're coming from an OS that wasn't all that great, you don't notice the hiccups as much," Silver said, citing the move from Windows Millennium to XP as a perfect example. "But when you're moving from something stable, like XP, and end with instability, everything is magnified."

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Gregg Keizer

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