The Microsoft executive in charge of Windows urged some companies this week to dump Vista deployment plans and shift to Windows 7, the operating system the company has promised to ship in the fourth quarter.
"If you're just starting your testing of Vista, with the [Windows 7] Release Candidate and the quality of that offering, I would switch over and do your testing on the [Windows 7] Release Candidate, and use that going forward," Bill Veghte, Microsoft's senior vice president for Windows business, said in a keynote speech earlier this week.
That same day, other Microsoft managers said work on Windows 7 should wrap up in August, which would indicate availability on new PCs and at retail stores as early as mid-October if the company uses the same pace as Windows XP eight years ago.
Microsoft delivered Windows 7 Release Candidate (RC) to the public on May 4, but made it available to developers and IT professionals several days earlier.
Veghte's advice to abandon Vista didn't come as a surprise to Michael Silver, a Gartner analyst who tracks Microsoft. Silver and Gartner colleague Stephen Kleynhans said the same thing in a research note released on Wednesday.
"If they haven't started, certainly they should move right to Windows 7," said Silver today. "But the bigger question is what do those in the middle of planning do? Should they continue with Vista?"
The answer, Silver said, depends on where in the Vista planning and deployment process a company is. "If they started deployment, and are deploying Vista only on new machines as they buy them, then I'd continue. But if they aren't quite there yet, then we recommend switching to Windows 7."
Gartner's rule of thumb, Silver continued, is that if dumping Vista for Windows 7 will delay deployment plans by six months or less, then Windows 7 is the right move. "And for anyone looking to skip some version of Windows, Vista is the better one to skip," said Silver.
Because the bulk of corporate PCs continue to run Windows XP, and because more than half of the enterprises surveyed by Gartner plan to skip Vista, Windows 7 becomes the de facto choice for the future, Silver argued. And it will have to be sooner rather than later, since a major deadline is staring XP users in the face.
In April 2014, Microsoft will drop all support for Windows XP, putting a stop to security patches.
"That's effectively the end-date for XP," Silver said. "But a lot of [software developers], if they're writing a new product or updating [an existing product], they're not going to be supporting XP even that long."
Businesses should figure on leaving Windows XP no later than the end of 2012, he added.
"That means that if they start Windows 7 deployment in January 2011, as we think many will, they'll have nearly two years to upgrade, and a 16-month cushion until XP support ends in case they have problems or delays," Silver said.
But was this week's advice by Microsoft's Veghte a red-letter day, the implicit admission that Vista was a failure in the enterprise?
"Oh, I think they admitted that a while ago," Silver said, pointing to comments by CEO Steve Ballmer last October during a Gartner symposium refereed by Silver and fellow analyst Neil MacDonald.
"If people want to wait [for Windows 7], they certainly can," Ballmer said then. Earlier in a question-and-answer, Ballmer had said Windows 7 was simply "Vista, a lot better."
"They've been coming to terms with Vista's [failure] long before this," Silver said today.
Microsoft has not yet named a ship date for Windows 7, or disclosed pricing for the various versions.
Like Vista, Windows 7 will feature an Enterprise edition that is available only to customers with Software Assurance, the Microsoft program that gives large customers the rights to any updates to a particular product in return for a annual payment.