Dell Computer isn't the only one warning clients of the pitfalls of moving to Microsoft's Vista operating system.
System builders and VARs, however, aren't just talking about it. They are are ripping the much ballyhooed operating system off desktops and notebooks at a breakneck pace because of the problems that come with moving clients to Vista.
A Dell European client services business manager, Niall O'Callaghan, earlier this week created a firestorm that swept through the blogosphere when he warned that the computer giant was "stepping back" from telling people they must upgrade to Vista. The Vista flare up comes on the eve of the company's annual partner conference in Denver next week where Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is likely to rally channel partners to the Microsoft Vista cause.
The Dell executive warned of the significant challenges of moving to the new OS including application migration issues and hardware requirements. Those challenges should not be underestimated, the Dell business manager warned. Dell, for its part, refused to comment on the Vista comments from O'Callaghan. But Dell does have a link on its web site called "Still looking for Windows XP" that proudly proclaims: "The Choice Is Yours: Windows Vista or Windows XP, you decide."
VARs and system builders said the Vista issues are so significant that they are simply ripping Vista off most systems.
"We are ripping it off systems 99 percent of the time," said Jay Tipton, vice president of Technology Specialists, a Fort Wayne, Ind., Microsoft Gold partner. "There are too many issues especially in the medical vertical market. It hasn't been tested with any of the medical software out there. I'm not willing to make my client a beta site to find Microsoft bugs. I just can't in good faith put Vista on a client's network and expect all their software to work." Tipton said in the medical industry that he is serving new systems that come with Vista must be tested by the Food and Drug Administration because they are being used in chemotherapy scenarios. Wiping the operating system off systems and replacing it with XP is a two and half hour process, said Tipton.
Technology Specialists won't even run the operating system internally on any of its production systems because Tipton does not want his technicians taking time out of their day to "debug Vista." The earliest Tipton sees that ripping and replacing ending is when Microsoft releases Service Pack 1 for Vista. "Hopefully at that time Microsoft will fix all the little gotchas that make the older software not work," said Tipton.
Glen Coffield, president of Smart Guys Computers, an Orlando, Fla.-based retail chain with six stores in central Florida, said his No. 1 service job right now is wiping Vista off sysetms and replacing it with Windows XP. In the last 90 days, Smart Guys has ripped Vista off more than 1,000 systems and replaced it with Windows XP Professional. Smart Guys is charging anywhere from $150 to $250 for the rip and replace, said Coffield. He said XP Pro is outselling Vista by a 20 to one margin at Smart Guys Computers. Now that retail giants like CompUSA are touting the fact they still have XP systems the Vista rip and replace market is somewhat slowing for him, said Coffield.
Coffield said that the biggest hurdles facing Vista are hardware and software compatibility issues. Clients don't want to replace all their hardware and software to move to Vista, he said. Many clients see Vista as nothing more than a prettier interface and they aren't buying the claims that it provides better security than Windows XP, said Coffield. "No one believes that Microsoft knows anything about security," said Coffield. "There is enough bad press out there that most people have already gone to third party solutions for security. They are firewalling and doing stuff outside the operating system."
A CRN Test Center review in May found that users of Windows Vista and Windows XP are equally at risk to viruses and exploits and that overall Vista brings only marginal security advantages over XP.
Coffield said most small and medium business simply have no interest in migrating to Vista. "I just don't see what you are getting with moving to Vista," he said. "You can't expect businesses to make a total migration. It's just not going to happen not with the economy we have now." VARs are likely to find better luck selling Vista into government and corporate accounts that have an IT budget and must use it or lose it, said Coffield. "They are not spending their own money," he said. "For others, there are just not enuogh reasons to move with the expense of implementation and additional training. Why do I want to go through that?" It would be different if there were compelling 64 bit applications that were driving Vista adoption, said Coffield.
Coffield said he believes Dell is sending a calculated message to the marketplace that it has XP systems with the comments from its European business manager. "When Vista came out it was very difficult to get an XP System from Dell," he said. Not so today, he said.
Tom Derosier, co-owner of CPU Guys, a Hanson, Mass., system builder, said he is telling every one of his customers to stick with Windows XP. He is also seeing a healthy rip and replace Vista in favor of XP service market. "I just took Vista off three laptops (a Compaq and two Acer systems) today," he said. "One of them was a brand new system that hadn't even been used."
"Vista doesn't exist to me," said Derosier. "I don't like it. Why am I going to put Vista on an a computer when an end user is going to be upset with me because they are not familiar with Vista." Ultimately, selling a Vista system would end up costing CPU Guys more to support than its worth, said Derosier.
Derosier said Dell is probably speaking out because of the number of support phone calls it is having to deal with from clients frustrated with Vista. "I wouldn't want to be taking those support calls," he said. "That is why I have only sold XP. I don't want to deal with complaints from users."
"Vista is great for security and many other things," added Derosier. "It has a lot of good points for a technologist or an IT person, but for an end user it's all about familiarity and the learning curve to use it."
In a prepared statement, Microsoft claimed it has seen "more enthusiasm from the ecosystem for Windows Vista than any other operating system in the past, and we are pleased with what has been an overall positive consumer response to Windows Vista."
"It's standard practice for original equipment manufacturers, retailers and system builders to continue offering the previous version of Windows for a certain period of time after a new version is released," the Microsoft statement said. "However, our partners tend to recognize that the vast majority of consumers want the latest and greatest technology, and that includes Windows Vista. "
Microsoft claims "demand is strong" for Vista and its momentum is unprecedpented. "For instance, we sold 20 million copies in the first month of availability -- a record -- and we're close to 40 million copies sold now," Microsoft said. "The PC market has been the main driver of this increase, and it's having a great impact for our industry partners as well."
Microsoft cited statistics from market research firm IDC proclaiming that worldwide PC shipments grew by 10.9 percent in the first quarter of 2007, and in the U.S. PC growth was up 3.6 percent when compared with the similar period one year ago.
On the business side, Microsoft said enterprise volume software licensing agreements and Software Assurance (SA) renewals are at historic highs (66 percent to 75 percent) with new agreements growing at a rate of 20 percent. Microsoft also pointed out that market research firm Gartner is predicting that Windows Vista will be adopted in businesses in the first 12 months at rates faster than previous versions of Windows.
The big question looming over the marketplace is what happens when Microsoft no longer allows big brand system makers and system builders from offering Windows XP?
"Customers won't buy PCs or they'll bootleg XP unless Microsoft does something to vendors and partners behind Vista," said Coffield. "It's not going to happen. People don't have to buy a new computer. They can get the one they have now fixed."