Analytics Brief: Vista In The Enterprise - InformationWeek

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Software // Operating Systems
04:15 PM

Analytics Brief: Vista In The Enterprise

Vista is coming. But when, where, and how will it end up on your users' computers?

The Vista operating system eventually will run on all Windows desktops and laptops, but corporate adoption is likely to occur more slowly than Microsoft hopes. This is because Vista is essentially an incremental upgrade in user interface, security features, and network performance--areas that most companies already have addressed with third-party vendor and homegrown solutions. Few companies with complex IT environments can justify the upgrades in client hardware, server infrastructure, and application software that Vista requires.

In small companies, the timing will be dictated by the hardware-refresh cycle; Vista will be preinstalled on new machines. In larger ones, the planning cycle and value proposition are more complex. An InformationWeek poll of 546 organizations suggests that most are taking a wait-and-see approach to Vista.

For companies with diverse hardware and custom applications running under Windows XP, the complete process from planning to full migration will take between 18 months and two years. For those with older Windows operating systems or that lack political backing and a strong business motivation for a desktop change, the Vista upgrade is further off.

chart: Migration Drivers -- What are the drivers for a Vista migration within your organization?

Vista offers many enhancements over Windows XP, though it's unclear how or whether they will improve the productivity of knowledge workers. The most noticeable change is the Aero user interface, delivering a smooth, glassy look and feel that's eerily reminiscent of Apple's Aqua. Though Microsoft has touted Aero as revolutionary, it has a clear downside--the need for retraining. It also hasn't impressed corporate IT: 49% of respondents to our poll say they would have preferred a leaner UI with lighter hardware requirements.

Microsoft sees security as another of Vista's core selling points, thanks to its more granular User Account Control and the inclusion of Windows Firewall, Windows Defender, and BitLocker. However, only 19% of respondents cite security as a major reason to upgrade, because they already use third-party tools. What's more, all the IT professionals we interviewed say they'll continue to use third-party security tools even after migrating to Vista.

Our testing shows that Vista's Windows Firewall does a thorough job of intercepting and vetting inbound and outbound network access requests, as well as restricting operating system resources if they behave in unusual or unexpected ways, indicating that a system is a likely host to malware. Windows Defender is an anti-spyware utility also offered at no cost to Windows XP users. BitLocker is hardware-based encryption aimed at reducing the risk of data theft from lost, stolen, and discarded PCs.

Other additions may cut down on calls to the IT help desk. The most notable is Shadow Copy, which is similar to the System Restore feature of Windows XP but designed for data rather than just system settings. By taking snapshots of the files that applications generate as users work, it enables users to roll back to previous versions of a document without IT's assistance. Only incremental changes are saved, so minimal disk space is used for these additional copies and for automated backups to a network share. File indexing and search capabilities have been enhanced through Instant Search, which uses metadata to let users refine search parameters quickly on both local machines and network shares.

Vista also promises to improve network performance through a new TCP/IP stack. Previous Windows operating systems enforced a fixed receive-side window size, which limited the amount of data a client could receive before sending an acknowledgement to its server. The new stack automatically adjusts the window size based on network congestion or latency. In InformationWeek lab tests, downloads from Windows Server 2003 over a LAN were about twice as fast when using Vista as XP.

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