Vista turns 1, and businesses start to come around ... slowly

The secret weapons: SP1 and free and easy deployment tools

When Microsoft Corp. released Windows Vista to businesses exactly one year ago, near-term expectations weren't high.

Experts widely predicted that Vista, even if it was bug-free and proved to be an immediate hit with consumers, would only slowly catch on with corporations.

For instance, Gartner Inc. forecast at the time that fewer than 5% of PCs worldwide would be running a business version of Vista by the end of this year.

One year later, it's unclear whether Microsoft has met even those pessimistic projections. In July, Microsoft said companies had renewed 42 million Windows licenses that made them eligible for Vista. Trouble is, Microsoft also admitted that the vast majority of those 42 million PCs were likely still on XP, though the company claims it has no accurate way of tracking this. Microsoft has not provided a more up-to-date figure in the last four months.

According to another estimate of Vista's uptake, a Forrester Research Inc. survey of 565 North American and European PC decision-makers, after six to eight months, only 2% of corporate PCs were running Vista.

By the end of this year, only 7% of respondents plan to even start deploying Vista at all, said Forrester analyst Ben Gray in that report.

"I'll be honest, we haven't moved a lot of users," said Lee Nicholls, global solutions director at Getronics NV. While the Microsoft systems integrator has the conversion of 200,000 Windows corporate users in its current pipeline, it has so far actually moved only about 14,000 Windows users to Vista, Nicholls said.

Fault enough to go around

Not every reason why companies are dragging their feet is Microsoft's fault. Planning and preparing for an operating system upgrade, especially for a large corporation with tens of thousands of PCs running thousands of different applications, can take months or years.

Other reasons, such as Vista's hefty hardware requirements, can be laid at Microsoft's feet. Deploying Vista requires companies to upgrade many PCs faster than they want.

"Bringing forward a hardware refresh [to upgrade to Vista] is not a conversation that is going to fly with many companies," Nicholls said.

Microsoft reportedly planned to spend $500 million worldwide this year to market Vista. Despite that spending, Microsoft still "didn't do such a great job" explaining "the business value" of Vista to corporations, asserted Nicholls.

That has led to the perception that "XP is good enough in most cases," Nicholls said -- a perception that he argues, citing Getronics' own projections for IT labor cost savings from Vista's improved security and manageability, is untrue. Microsoft should use similar data to take the offensive, he said.

"How many financial services CIOs just want 'good enough'?" he said. "Don't they want software that can create genuine improvement on the bottom line?"

Microsoft also invested heavily in tightening Vista's security and adding features such as BitLocker drive encryption and Group Policy, improvements the company figured would drive corporate upgrades.

That may have also been a misstep.

And while consumers are more drawn to flashy new features, companies tend to be more concerned that new software is fully baked and bug-free -- something that Microsoft has burned them in the past.

"A lot of people still have the impression that no Microsoft product is stable or complete until SP1 or SP2," said Sumeeth Evans, IT manager at Collegiate Housing Services. That's wrong, said Evans, who moved all 78 of the Indianapolis firm's employees to Vista earlier this year and said he enjoys fewer help desk calls concerning Vista than XP.

On the horizon

Microsoft shipped a release candidate for Vista SP1 earlier this month. It still plans to release the final version in the first quarter next year.

And Microsoft isn't standing still. The company is actively pushing a slew of free tools designed to help companies more easily plan for and deploy Vista.

Collegiate Housing Services used the Windows Vista Hardware Assessment tool and the Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.0 to help it upgrade to Vista, Evans said. The tools helped his IT team upgrade nearly three times the number PCs in half the man-hours, he said.

Microsoft said Windows Vista Hardware Assessment has been downloaded 329,000 times, Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.0 340,000 times and the Business Desktop Deployment 2007 kit 283,000 times.

All this to say that things should start to pick up in the coming year. By the end of 2008, one quarter of corporate PCs in North America and Europe will be running Vista, according to Forrester's Gray. Linux will make continue to make minor inroads, but Gray is unequivocal that corporations will eventually standardize upon Vista the same way they have on XP.

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