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Windows Vista upgrade: Consider cost, risk and potential return

You must consider the cost, risk and potential returns of a Windows Vista upgrade.

IT channel takeaway: Enterprise executives are still showing a low demand for Windows Vista upgrade after its initial release. Should VARs, systems integrators and consultants make the investment and push the benefits of upgrading -- or follow suit and avoid the headaches until some time as passed? This Q&A offers some points to consider. Sound Off below to share your thoughts.

With Dale Vile, research director, Freeform Dynamics. The firm's report, "Appetite for Windows Vista," shows only 12 percent of organizations are looking to upgrade to Vista at the moment.

Question: Your firm recently conducted a survey of enterprise executives and found very low demand for Vista, at least within the first year of its release. Why such a lackluster response to what is likely to be a substantial upgrade?

Vile: There are three things to consider with regard to a potential investment decision – the cost, the risk and the potential returns. From previous Windows upgrades, people managing larger Windows installations in particular are sure that there will be significant migration costs, and their experience also leads them to assume there will be risks associated with security, stability and hardware/software compatibility in the early days. At the same time, they are generally uncertain about the business benefits, so the investment case just doesn't stack up for them at the moment. We also have to remember that many organizations have only just completed their move to Windows 2000 or XP, and trying to justify another costly, time-consuming and disruptive upgrade to business stakeholders so quickly, when there is typically a queue of other high-priority projects waiting for funding and resources, is probably not the smartest political move for a CIO or operations manager.

Question: For those firms that are considering Vista, how should they prepare their networks? What sort of hardware/software preparations should they be undertaking?

Vile: Much of the pain of migration is associated with testing, upgrading, porting and/or validating applications. This is extremely time-consuming and resource-intensive as the desktop application portfolio in many organizations is very diverse. Rather than spend time lifting the commonly encountered mishmash of apps, switching the operating system, and dropping the existing application mix back down again, we would therefore recommend that organizations prepare for the next major upgrade by rationalizing and modernizing the application layer first. Ironically, there are lessons to be learned here from those who have migrated from Windows to Desktop Linux, who typically switch to Open Office, Firefox, etc, on Windows: Stabilize users on the new applications, then switch the underlying operating system. This is a much less disruptive approach.

Question: What is the likelihood that a major Windows upgrade will cause users to bleed off into Linux or even Mac/OSX?

Vile: Our research suggests that only a tiny minority is thinking this way at the moment, and application compatibility and availability is the most significant blocker here. The big Linux vendors such as Red Hat and Novell are doing well encouraging ISVs to port mainstream applications to Linux, but commitment is patchy. In contrast, we can be pretty sure that all mainstream ISVs have Vista on their roadmaps if they are not already there. There are then the hundreds of in-house developed applications that many organizations have in place that are Windows-specific. While moving from one major Windows release to another has historically led to application compatibility problems, this is nothing compared to the issues many would face moving from Windows to Linux. There are similar issues with Mac OS X, but the cost of hardware switching is added into the mix also.

This 3 Questions originally appeared in a weekly report from IT Business Edge.

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