Vista's Compatibility Challenge

Adobe, IBM, and Symantec are among the software vendors still struggling with the complexities of making their apps work with Microsoft's new operating system.
As for IBM, though its ubiquitous Lotus Notes e-mail and messaging products run on Vista, they aren't officially certified and users may encounter glitches. IBM has no plans to issue a patch but instead will focus on ensuring that the forthcoming Lotus Notes 8--due this spring--is fully certified for Vista, a spokeswoman says. "It's a matter of priorities and what we can do with the resources we have," she says.

Microsoft says it supports those decisions. Certification for Windows Vista sets a high quality bar, Wascha says. "It's not reasonable for people to go back and do that level of work for their old applications."

Vista is selling well, despite compatibility issues. Microsoft recently said it sold 20 million Vista licenses in the first month of availability--more than double the number of XP licenses sold in its first two months. But some analysts note that the PC market itself has more than doubled since XP debuted, making the sales numbers less impressive.


Compatibility issues have caused some potential customers to think twice about moving to Vista. The Federal Aviation Administration may pass on upgrading its 45,000 desktop and laptop computers from XP to Vista in part because of such concerns. Among other things, FAA CIO Dave Bowen says, a number of the plug-ins the agency uses to open attached files from within Lotus Notes don't appear to work properly on Vista-equipped systems.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, tech staffers have found that backing up files from the agency's Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations, or Cameo, program is problematic if they're stored in Vista's programs folder, according to a memo issued last month by the EPA's IT staff.

Users may have to reregister the CS2 version of Photoshop every time it's launched on Vista

(click image for larger view)

Users may have to reregister the CS2 version of Photoshop every time it's launched on Vista
In addition, a tool called EZ GPO, created by the Energy Star program--a joint effort of the EPA and the Department of Energy--to allow network administrators to automatically adjust the power consumption of computers on a network, doesn't work on Vista, according to an internal Energy Star bulletin.

Such early hang-ups are normal, Microsoft officials say, and won't hurt Windows Vista's sales in the federal market. "These are some of the biggest enterprise customers in the world," says Curt Kolcun, Microsoft's federal sales director. "We're fully confident they'll achieve standardization [on Windows Vista] over the next several years."

With previous releases of operating systems, Microsoft could afford to be nonchalant about compatibility issues. After all, what choice did customers have? The only real competing PC platform was Apple's Macintosh, which suffered from a far worse shortage of compatible apps.

But new competitors emerge. The FAA is considering moving to Google Apps to escape compatibility problems that may arise from combining Microsoft Office 2007 and Vista on older desktops. Dell has announced that it will begin shipping some PCs with a version of Linux preinstalled instead of Vista.

If temporary Windows Vista compatibility issues lead customers to alternatives, even as a stopgap solution, Microsoft faces the risk that they might never return. Still, Wascha remains undaunted. "The coverage we have today is outstanding. Every time you try to bring an entire ecosystem around to a new product, you are going to have some speed bumps," he says. Microsoft better hope those bumps don't turn into major roadblocks.

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