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Windows Vista: Just skip the thing?

Love it or hate it, eventually midmarket companies will have to migrate to Vista.

Regardless of the apparent reluctance on the part of midmarket CIOs to adopt the Windows Vista operating system, experts agree waiting much longer probably isn't a good idea.

A new Gartner Inc. survey conducted late last year found that less than 1% of business desktops in the U.S. are running Vista. Only about 2.5% of laptops are using the operating system.

The survey -- which Gartner analysts point out had a small, but representative, 177 respondents in North America -- was conducted nearly a year after the release of Vista, which has been a magnet for IT grumbling and just plain bad press. Service Pack 1 was released in February.

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With almost 40% of North American survey respondents telling Gartner they'll wait until 2009 to bring on Vista, it is pretty obvious that few CIOs are in a rush. And with the weakening economy, it could take longer than that, analysts Annette Jump and Michael Silver wrote in a report.

Jeff Brittain, IT director for the city of Hickory, N.C. said he is migrating to Vista slowly, as the city needs new computers. Brittain gave the OS a trial run last fall and found no major problems. But he also found no reason to rush into adoption.

"There's nothing in there that's going to force us to make a wholesale change," Brittain said, adding that his 10-member IT department also hasn't "run into a showstopper."

The only problem has been a single application in the 660-employee city's fire department that won't run on Vista. Brittain said he'll keep those machines using XP and will phase out his remaining Windows 2000 machines.

"All the new machines we're going to start bringing in with Vista, unless there's a definitive reason not to," he said. "It's not going to be a wholesale change. We did that years ago when we went to 2000, but this one we're going to phase in."

Now Microsoft CEO Steven Ballmer has left the door open to new Windows XP contracts -- the company is scheduled to stop doling them out next month. But if CIOs and their staffs are dreading Vista, or even just can't be bothered with it, could they get away with just ignoring it?

Possibly -- especially if a company is using a late version of Windows XP, according to Michael Cherry, a Directions on Microsoft analyst specializing in Windows.

"My rule of thumb is simply this: You can afford to be back one version," Cherry said. "You can be minus one, but if you start to be minus two or minus three, you're going to start running into problems.

"There is an awful lot of organizations who seem to be wanting to do an 'every other' version," he said.

Cherry said XP users could chance waiting for Windows 7 to appear in a few years. But he warned against holding out with hopes of 7 looking like XP. It will almost certainly be more akin to Vista, he said. The Gartner survey found that nearly 80% of business laptops and desktops were running XP at the end of last year.

The release of Service Pack 1 should spur Vista adoption, Cherry said.

"I think there is truth to the old myth that you don't install the OS until the first service pack," he said. "They won't even start if certain applications are blocked, because they're so critical."

It's not going to be a wholesale change. We did that years ago when we went to 2000, but this one we're going to phase in.
Jeff Brittain
director of ITHickory, N.C.
Cherry also guessed that the expense of upgrading to Vista may have CIOs holding back, especially if their IT department already has a full workload. That could leave CIOs following Brittain's as-we-buy-new-machines plan.

Another reason for the slow uptake may just be perception. Vista was a significant release, but Cherry said he believes the days of operating systems as milestones -- Windows 95, Windows 98 -- are over.

As for the actual product, Cherry said he's happy with it. Companies just need to be sure they are purchasing the right edition -- there are three for business and two personal options -- and that machines meet the hefty hardware requirements.

The Gartner analysts say XP users "don't need to rush" to Vista but should start testing it now that Service Pack 1 is available. But, mirroring Cherry's "every other" rule, they believe Windows 2000 users should seriously consider moving to Vista. Microsoft will end support for Windows 2000 in July 2010.

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

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