A Clearer View Of Vista - InformationWeek

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3/31/2006
04:05 PM
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A Clearer View Of Vista

With the next major release of Microsoft Windows on the horizon, businesses need to start planning now. Our survey shows what some business technology professionals have in mind--and why.

At a time in the software industry when marketing buzz is hitched to whether your product can be delivered over the Web, Windows Vista could well be the last great gasp of the PC software revolution. Or Microsoft's biggest product release since Windows 95 could usher in a new way of thinking about computer operating systems--more a bridge between conventional software and online services than a collection of exciting new features.

How Windows Vista plays out depends as much on how companies end up using the desktop operating system as when it finally arrives and when they buy it. Most companies that bring in Vista will do so initially for its nuts-and-bolts security, administration, and cost-of-ownership benefits: 68% of 410 respondents to an InformationWeek Research survey last month who plan to implement the new Windows release cite improved data security as the top reason they're considering it, and more than half cite better management features and the need to buy new PCs anyway. If those are the main benefits, then Microsoft's much-delayed product will signal nothing more than yet another complex and costly operating system upgrade, with some solid operating benefits.

Distant Horizons, pie chartOn the other hand, if users embrace Vista's new approaches to finding, organizing, and sharing information, the release could transcend the desktop. On that point, Microsoft still has a lot of convincing to do--just 23% of the business technology pros surveyed cite Vista's new search engine as a reason they're planning to upgrade.

Regardless of what they're looking for--reimagining an information organization or just securing a laptop that might get jacked--companies running Windows must start reckoning with Vista now, nine months before its general release. With its complex plumbing and need for backward compatibility with hardware and apps written for older Windows releases, Vista boasts 50 million lines of code, 40% more than Windows XP.

"We don't view it as just another upgrade," says Greg Vigil, director of global enterprise collaboration at Gates Corp., a supplier of parts for auto and industrial-equipment makers (no relation to the software baron of the same name). Based on beta testing, he expects Vista to cut patching and repair time 20% or more, and he sees Vista improving collaboration among worldwide design teams. At least a quarter of the company's 6,000-plus PCs will be running Vista within a year of its release.

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That enthusiasm is far from universal. Only 40% of all 650 IT managers surveyed plan to install Vista within a year of its release, and many of those will be small initial deployments. Nearly four in 10 expect the cost of their companies' Windows licenses to rise in moving to Vista. And they're lukewarm on other benefits Microsoft's been talking up, such as easier connectivity for traveling workers and tight integration with the upcoming Office 2007 suite.

Fancy Features
Microsoft's been touting some Vista advances, such as its new graphical user interface and WinFX APIs, as a way for IT departments to respond to business pressures--for instance, by designing slick Web services for marketing and sales. For many IT departments, though, building apps that rely on Vista is risky when the operating system is still years away from mainstream use.

Look at what's happening at the British Broadcasting Corp., where Vista could play a part in its first foray into selling programming directly to consumers online. The public television service recently completed an online video trial with 5,000 U.K. BBC viewers with broadband connections, giving them the ability to download programs to catch up on their favorite shows. The BBC hopes to launch its online video service across the United Kingdom by year's end and expand it internationally next year.

At a Microsoft conference last month, Ashley Highfield, the BBC's new media and technology director, got on stage with Bill Gates to demonstrate prototype software running on a test version of Vista that lets viewers find programming with a desktop search engine, stack up a playlist of shows they want to watch, and even drag shows' icons onto a buddy list to share with friends. It's an example of Vista's Windows Presentation Foundation technology at work--apps appear on the desktop instead of in a browser and harness the PC's processor and memory, while drawing their content from the Web.

Yet many of the demo's features won't be included in the BBC's online video offering this year. Most viewers won't upgrade to Vista fast enough to ensure that those capabilities have a broad reach, Highfield says. And Microsoft's digital rights management software still makes it too hard to limit downloads to programs from the past week and serve up video free to U.K. residents while charging foreign visitors. "It would be totally wrong for us to roll out an operating system that wasn't available to the majority of Internet users in the U.K.," he says. "For us, ease of use is everything. We can't just play to the upscale geek."

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