By Michael Rau
May 19, 2008
I have a confession to make.
In the year and a half since Microsoft released the Vista version of its Windows operating system, the closest I've gotten to working with it is spending all of about two minutes exploring a Vista desktop on a system in a big-box store.
The truth is that my experience is actually rather common. Microsoft claims to have sold 140 Million copies of Vista, which I wouldn't dispute. But in the scheme of things, considering the number of Windows computers worldwide, is that really all that many?
How does that figure break down as far as enterprise versus consumer users? Business Week has reported that a survey conducted by Gartner Research found that only 7 to 8% of their clients were using Vista. The rest are still running XP. Many of the largest companies in the world, including General Motors, have declined to make the transition citing concerns about software interoperability.
Also, with the exception of security improvements, few of the features added to the operating system with the release of Vista, such as the memory-hungry graphical interface used on the desktop, provide any added benefit to the average enterprise user.
This lack of interest in Vista reflects my own circumstances. While I use Macs at home and for my freelance work, I use a Windows system in my primary workplace every day. All of the 150 or so workstations there are running XP - not to mention the 2,000 or so corporate-wide.
I asked our main IT guy about this the other day. He told me that, while he's comfortable running Vista on his home system, he still has no confidence in deploying Vista throughout a large networked corporate environment such as ours. The company occasionally re-evaluates this position, but so far, no one has expressed any enthusiasm for making the transition.
We've replaced probably half of our workstations in the past year. All of them came with Vista, but were downgraded to XP Pro. This has been a fairly common practice in enterprise environments. Many large manufacturers like Dell take advantage of a loophole in the licensing agreement for Vista Business and Vista Ultimate and offer such downgrade programs.
Interestingly, although all of these systems are running XP, because they also came with a Vista license, they're included in that figure of 140 Million copies of Vista sold that I mentioned earlier.
So why am I bringing this all up now? Because if you want to buy a new computer and prefer to get a Windows machine preloaded with XP as your operating system, you're running out of time. Microsoft will discontinue selling XP to non-volume users on June 30th.
I'm not saying that the average consumer should be concerned with this deadline. As long as you are aware that for Vista to operate as perceived, your computer needs a certain minimum in terms of performance specifications, and as long as you're aware that some older software doesn't really like Vista, and as long as you're aware that there are some driver compatibility issues, you'll be fine with Vista, and maybe even a bit more protected from all the security threats to Windows systems.
Some manufacturers are stocking up on OEM copies of XP before the deadline so they can continue to offer that option. The cutoff date for this is January 30, 2009 when all manufacturers - except those using the downgrade loophole - are supposed to stop installing XP on their systems altogether.
Microsoft just released its third and final service pack for XP (SP3) (although it apparently has some bugs), and has promised to offer patches for XP through 2014. But they'll end all live and warranty support for XP in April of 2009.
General Motors has stated publicly that they'll likely wait until Windows 7 is released in 2010 or 2011 before upgrading, and unless you feel a pressing need, you may want to consider doing this, too.
Although Microsoft remains mum about the development of Windows 7, early reports are that it might represent a vast improvement over Vista. The buzz is that Microsoft will make it in modules allowing you to install as little or as much of the program as you want (and are willing to pay for, of course).
In all fairness, particularly following the release of the first service pack of improvements (SP1), many tech writers are now saying they prefer Vista over XP. The graphical desktop is very attractive. The security enhancements are significant. And with the prices for RAM plummeting, it's fairly cheap to beef up a system that already has sufficient processor speed to run well with Vista.
But with enterprise users representing such a large portion of Windows consumers, until Microsoft manages to convince its corporate customers that post-XP versions of Windows are ready for prime time, XP will remain the globally dominant version of Windows.
If you work for a larger (100+ employees) local company that has deployed Vista, I'd be interested in hearing how it's working for you. Drop me a line!
Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, go to http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.
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