Compatibility problems still hamper Windows Vista migrations

Forrester Research predicts large-scale Windows Vista migrations next year, but Microsoft partners say software compatibility problems still have a lot of customers sticking with Windows XP.

Windows Vista migrations will soon be on the rise, according to Forrester Research Inc., but software compatibility problems are still putting off a lot of customers, say some Microsoft partners.

Although only 2% of businesses currently run Vista, Forrester analyst Benjamin Gray issued a report last week predicting that one in three businesses will initiate Windows Vista migrations by the middle of 2008.

Vista is much more widespread in the consumer market, where it's bundled with new PCs. But Forrester's most recent survey of both large and small companies estimates that 84% of companies are using Windows XP, 11% are using Windows 2000, 1% are using Linux and 2% are using other versions of Windows -- including Vista.

Gartner Inc. doesn't predict market share, but does estimate that it will be two years before Vista outsells XP.

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Gray predicts three main factors will drive the migration to Vista: more software will become Vista-certified, third-party hardware will have fewer compatibility problems and Vista machines will become more affordable.

But at Technology Specialists, a Microsoft partner in Fort Wayne, Ind., the prospect of mass Windows Vista deployments is still in the distance. Customers have no problems running their applications on Windows XP or previous versions, and they see no reason to move to what many still consider a less stable operating system, according to Jay Tipton, vice president of business solutions.

"There's been too many compatibility problems, and I don't think Microsoft's willing to fork over the money to work out the compatibility issues," he said.

The major hindrance is that Microsoft puts the onus on other software vendors to make their applications Vista-certified, instead of working to make Vista itself more compatible, Tipton said. As long as that's the case, he doesn't expect customers to start Windows Vista migrations.

"There's no business case to move to Vista," he said.

Phil Aldrich, Microsoft practice manager for Dimension Data North America, said some of his customers share those concerns and that "there's a general satisfaction with XP." Still, he sees another major factor that will drive his customers' Windows Vista deployments next year: businesses' routine PC-replacement plans.

Most companies go through a three-year cycle, and they'll be trading out more XP machines for new ones running Vista. Aldrich said he expects Windows Vista migrations to make up 50% of Dimension Data's Microsoft business next year, as customers look for guidance through the complicated process.

"It's a lot of work," he said. "It's lucrative for folks like us. Companies don't have people trained. They don't do this over and over again."

When a business buys Vista machines, they don't necessarily plan to migrate, however. At CPU Sales and Service in Waltham, Mass., most clients use restore CDs to run Windows XP Pro on the machines instead of deploying Windows Vista, according to sales director Todd Barrett.

Software compatibility is their major hang-up, Barrett said. Even those clients who are thinking about a Windows Vista migration have a ways to go, because testing applications usually takes six to nine months, he said.

Software testing isn't the end of it, either. Hardware compatibility is also an issue with Vista, and Microsoft partners like Technology Specialists won't address that until the software problems are resolved.

"If I can't run the application," Tipton said, "why would I even go down that road?"

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