Big Opportunity

Columnist Frank Hayes responds to Mark Hall's prediction that Vista Is IT's Big Headache.

Why do I suddenly feel like that unhip guy in the Macintosh commercials?

Frank Hayes. Credit: Robbie McClaran

Frank Hayes

Credit: Robbie McClaranAt least we agree on one thing, Mark: Microsoft will ship a lot more Vista to IT departments than Apple will send of Mac OS X Leopard. No doubt about that. And no doubt why: Apple doesn’t sell to corporate IT. That’s not even Microsoft’s fault. Back in 1985, Apple launched “the Macintosh Office” (the LaserWriter printer and AppleTalk network) with a TV commercial showing corporate users as lemmings marching off a cliff. The Mac’s corporate fortunes never recovered. “Long-held prejudices” indeed.

Yes, Vista will have the volume. But exactly what effect it will have will depend on IT people. Vista could be just another upgrade. Or it could be the last operating system we’ll ever need to worry about.

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Look, we all know why upgrades are miserable. Upgrades break things. Operating system upgrades break lots of things. They break client/server applications, because the clients won’t run. They break standard desktop-productivity apps. (Gee, did you wonder why Office 2007 arrives on the same day as Vista?) They break the spit-and-bailing-wire scripts we write to connect processes. Worst of all, they break users’ productive habits.

So before Vista goes live, IT shops will pour time and money into finding out what it will break and what to do about that. Just like in the upgrade to Windows XP. Which was just like the upgrade to Windows 95.

That’s Vista as just another upgrade. It may not be your Great Vista Fiasco; it won’t have much impact — just lots of expense without much benefit.

Here’s a different option: We can get off that upgrade treadmill. We can use the Vista upgrade as an excuse to start chopping out the operating system dependencies in our applications.

I know you think that’s a good idea, Mark. You said so a year ago, when you argued that browser-based applications are the wave of the future and IT shops should replace as many desktop PCs as possible with thin clients (see “Wave of the Future,” Jan. 2, 2006).

You were wrong about thin clients, which just don’t give users the flexibility they need. But you had it half right.

Turning enterprise client/server applications into browser-based apps cuts to the heart of upgrade misery. With browser-based apps, user front ends don’t have to be written for one operating system and its quirks. They can be written in AJAX or Java, and then even when the operating system changes, only the browser has to be upgraded.

At that point, an operating system upgrade starts to be about how we benefit, not what it breaks.

VISTA VISION

Which operating system will have the biggest impact in 2007?

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 Windows Vista
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 Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5
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 Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise 10
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 Mac OS X 10.5, Leopard
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 Other
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Source: Computerworld's quarterly Vital Signs survey, 252 respondents

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