The verdict on Vista

Where the server goes, the desktop doesn't necessarily follow

Windows Vista has been slow to catch on in business. Could Windows Server 2008 ride to the rescue? The new server operating system shares the same code base as Windows Vista and includes some features that are optimized to work with Vista.

The problem is that most people don't even know about them. Microsoft has done a poor job of promoting the synergies between the two products, says John Enck, an analyst at Gartner. "Most people have no idea of the benefits," he says.

There are a few minor changes, such as the ability to update and manage Vista clients more easily, but the most significant is the faster TCP/IP networking protocol stack used in both Windows Server 2008 and Vista. Applications that have been sluggish on the client side because of network performance issues could see an improvement when run on Server 2008 and Vista clients. "That's a big improvement," says Enck, "but it's not compelling enough to make you change your mind."

Vista first shipped to businesses more a year and a half ago -- on November 30, 2006 -- and launched to consumers two months later on January 30, 2007. But now, some 19 months after its initial release, many IT organizations still don't know whether they'll migrate to Vista or skip it and go to its successor, dubbed Windows 7.

Here's a quick rundown on where eight US IT executives, picked at random, stand on Vista. The results: One "yea," three "nays" and four "undecideds." The bottom line: In most cases, Vista's benefits aren't enough to change minds.

Yea: Woods and Aitken. The law firm hasn't migrated to Vista yet, but IT manager Chad Mawson says he has tested it. He expects to migrate to Vista as the back-end infrastructure moves to Server 2008, and will bring in Vista PCs as existing machines rotate out of service. "Vista and 2008 do work together pretty well. The group policy features improve security and manageability of Vista workstations," he says.

Undecided (leaning toward yea): CenterPoint Properties. CIO Scott Zimmerman initially decided to take a pass on Vista but is now reconsidering his options. "Our initial impression was that we'll just wait for Windows 7, [but] we're starting to reassess that a bit," he says. There's no compelling business need to migrate, he maintains, adding that his technical people were "scared to death" of Vista because of all of the horror stories they had heard. He feels more comfortable now, he says, noting that most of the negative stories were about upgrades and that CenterPoint would be bringing Vista in on new machines that have been designed to run it. "We could probably just ride the XP wave for a while," he says. But at the moment he's leaning toward making the jump to Vista some time in the next year.

Nay: Pacific Coast. Enterprise architect Matt Okuma isn't interested. "We're not going to roll out Vista any time soon. There's no business case for it," he says flatly. What's more, he thinks the user interface changes would be disruptive for many of his 1,400 users, since the majority aren't savvy Windows users, but rely on PCs simply for order entry. "The differences are too much for them," he says. "It doesn't help them be more productive."

Undecided: The Vanguard Group. The financial services firm has held off on Vista and remains on the fence. The current thinking is that the organization will eventually migrate some 14,000 desktops to Vista, but no hard and fast decision has been made, says Bob Yale, information technology principal. "Windows 7 is an open question. Do we wait or don't we? We still have to have that conversation," he says. But a Vista migration, if it comes to pass at all, won't even begin until next year at the earliest.

Nay: City of Amarillo. "There's no compelling reason to upgrade," says Rick Redman, senior IT analyst for the city of Amarillo, Texas. Nonetheless, he says, the city could eventually be forced to migrate its 1,500 users onto the new operating system as Windows XP support wanes.

Nay: Axium Healthcare. The online pharmacy has taken a pass on Vista because it didn't work with some of key applications during initial testing, says Norbert Cointepoix, director of IT. Today Axium orders new PCs with Windows XP preinstalled, but if Microsoft succeeds in phasing out XP as an option on new PCs, he says he might be forced to try Vista again. If it still doesn't work, Axium will have to remove Vista from those machines and install XP. But he'd rather not be bothered. "To answer your question, my preference is to wait until Windows 7, unless I am forced to entertain Vista."

Undecided: SEI Investments. "We are evaluating Vista, but I'm not aware of any specific plans to adopt it at this time," says Michael Lebiedzinski, director of infrastructure for SEI's Global Wealth Platform.

Undecided: Pella. Director of IT operations Jim Thomas says the window manufacturer is assessing its options. "We are still doing compatibility testing and evaluating whether to implement or not," he says. But making a decision is not a priority right now. "It has taken a back seat to several other projects for the time being."

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