Gartner: You may loathe Vista, but don't try skipping it

Microsoft Windows Vista is the scourge of IT managers nationwide. But the hassles of implementing it outweigh the risk of skipping it, Gartner says.

Vista is still something of a dirty word in the IT industry, the sort of conversation piece that starts eyes rolling as if the discussion was about politicians or taxes.

One year after the Microsoft operating system's January 2007 release, a Gartner Inc. survey found it running on only about 1% of business desktops and about 2.5% of laptops. CIOs and IT managers clearly weren't rushing to implement the bad press-plagued OS.

But another six months has passed and Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner has issued something of a stern warning: Don't skip Vista.

Why? Take your pick. Maybe an application vendor drops Windows XP support. Maybe Windows 7, due by 2010, is loaded with bugs. Maybe it does come time to migrate to Vista or Windows 7 and the IT budget is drained.

But many IT managers are at least considering putting off a migration, according to a June survey by King Research in Jackson, Calif.

The survey, sponsored by a company that makes systems management tools, found 60% of respondents have no plans to deploy Vista. About 90% of the 1,162 respondents were IT executives and managers or high-level IT employees.

A full 92% of respondents said the release of Vista Service Pack 1 did not affect Vista deployment plans. Fourteen percent said they are waiting for more information about Windows 7 before making deployment plans. Another 14% plan to skip Vista and wait for Windows 7. Nearly half of the respondents said they have considered moving to a non-Windows operating system, though many said they had concerns about the challenges of managing multiple OSs.

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All told, the King survey found that only 2% of organizations have fully deployed Vista, up from 1% in November 2007.

All of Gartner's reasons not to skip Vista are definitely maybes. But they are very real and realized concerns, Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst Michael Silver said.

"What we've seen is any time people try to skip a version of Windows, they encounter these perils," Silver said. By extending the wait on Vista or skipping altogether, CIOs are closing escape hatches, he said. The fall could be a tough one.

"As XP gets older, you may hit more issues and at some point -- we think that point is 2012 -- you will need to bite the bullet and move all your users from XP to Windows 7. Which means you may need to hire an external service provider to help you move."

Silver is advising all but a few unique businesses to face up to Vista and get the migration under way. Smaller IT shops that handle only a few unique applications and update their OS across the business all at once might be able to get away with waiting for Windows 7, he said. But that's about it.

Windows 7 is the big X factor here. Choosing how and when to migrate to Vista requires playing a guessing game on exactly what Windows 7 will be and when it will come. Microsoft hasn't said much about it, but conventional wisdom among analysts is that the OS will be less a major release, more an evolution of Vista. Windows 7 is expected in late 2009 or early 2010, but Microsoft's track record in shipping new operating systems is "unpredictable" and "isn't good," Silver wrote in a report.

Silver noted it was "sort of odd" defending Microsoft though, going so far to say there has been "misplaced aggression" against the company concerning Vista. To illustrate that, he said support for XP is more likely to be dropped by some application vendors before Microsoft halts its own support.

But the laundry list of risks in skipping over Vista goes on.

Consider cash. Since an OS refresh of some sort is inevitable, CIOs should consider conducting on when they have the budget to do it. Waiting another two years -- or more -- for Windows 7 is a gamble on a business's financial future. And that wait could be longer if Microsoft delays Windows 7, further complicating application compatibility issues.

Support for XP from hardware vendors could also wane by 2011 or thereabouts, Silver said.

"There will be hardware with XP drivers," he said. "The question is: 'Is it the machines you want?'"

What we've seen is any time people try to skip a version of Windows, they encounter these perils.
Michael Silver
vice president and distinguished analystGartner Inc.
Lastly, organizations working without the Microsoft Software Assurance program may also be stuck if Windows 7 does not include downgrade rights to XP, a scenario Gartner considers likely. In that case, XP users who skip Vista would be required to buy Windows 7 licenses to upgrade.

Eastern Mountain Sports Inc. vice president and CIO Jeffrey Neville has a different plan for skipping Vista on most user machines: Switching to Linux.

Neville said the Peterborough, N.H.-based retail outdoor sports equipment chain is attempting to run a series of Winterm thin clients through a Citrix connection, eliminating the need to swap out store terminals to upgrade to Vista.

"Most of our in-store systems are Linux-based," Neville said. "Our new point-of-sale system is not Microsoft-based. It's Linux-based."

Some home office users -- especially those doing heavy data analysis and numbers work -- may get Vista, but Neville's team is still trying to determine if critical business applications will run on the OS.

Mobile and traditional office desktop users may also get Vista, eventually. But Neville said he's still doing the front-end work of testing and determining system requirements, which he described as a challenge.

"I'm attempting to make [Vista] less of an issue through our strategies," he said. "We'll see how it goes.

Gartner clients have been asking for advice on whether or not to skip Vista, Silver said. Concerns over a lack of a value and an "overall bad feeling" have been cited as reasons to consider a skip.

"They're definitely higher than previous releases of Windows, and I guess more disturbing is the reasons they're giving for not moving," Silver said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Zach Church, News Writer

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