Microsoft: Give Windows Vista Another Chance

That's the message from Microsoft, which is in the midst of a pre-holiday full court press to dispel what it feels are misconceptions about Vista that have sprung up since the operating system's release in January, and which have caused many businesses to remain in a Windows XP holding pattern.

In an interview with CMP Channel, Mike Nash, corporate vice president of Windows Product Management, said Vista has come a long way since it was released in January, especially when it comes to ironing out the application compatibility issues that plagued the OS early on.

Microsoft's ecosystem of vendor partners has worked diligently to fix compatibility issues in their products, said Nash. "Vendors had to decide whether to update old products or focus on new versions, and compatibility "shims" (fixes) haven't always been available," he said.

But despite the rosy picture being painted by Microsoft, some channel partners say the OS is still as unpredictable as a bucking bronco when it comes to porting applications from XP to Vista.

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"The biggest problem is that I can't install Vista on a client's network that has any pre-existing software without the risk of needing to spend 4 or 5 hours working on it," said Jay Tipton, vice president at Technology Specialists, a Fort Wayne, Ind.-based solution provider.

"For business owners, it just doesn't make sense to pay someone to sit there and debug. Someone is going to have to pay for the time needed to make it work, that's what it boils down to," added Tipton.

Microsoft plans to release Vista service pack 1 in the first quarter of 2008, and many organizations are waiting for that to happen before taking the Vista plunge. But Nash says the telemetry features built into Vista, which help Microsoft gather feedback and then follow up quickly with updates, dramatically reduce the significance of SP1.

"The old mindset with XP has been that in order to get fixes, you had to wait for service pack 1. But that's no longer true, because telemetry in Vista allows us to distribute critical updates more quickly," Nash said.

However, in a sign of the still-strong demand for Windows XP, Microsoft in September extended the deadline for sales of new direct OEM PCs with Windows XP installed from January 31, 2008 to June 30, 2008. Microsoft is also working on a third service pack for Windows XP, which is currently slated for release in the first half of 2008.

With Vista, Microsoft carefully constructed a balance between compatibility and security, and has gone to great lengths to address security issues in previous versions of Windows that made it more susceptible to attack, Nash said.

Security has been improved by not allowing users to run with administrator privileges, as well as through firewall configuration tweaks, said Nash. As a result, only 10 security vulnerabilities were found in Vista in the first six months after its release, compared to 23 in the same period after XP's release, he added.

"Vista has less vulnerabilities than other Windows releases, and less than any version of Linux," said Nash, adding that Vista is 2.8 times less likely to be infected with malware than XP. From a reliability standpoint, moving the graphical subsystem in Vista from the kernel to user mode had also paid off, Nash said.

From a sales perspective, Nash said Microsoft had shipped 88 million Vista licenses at the end of Q1, driven by strong consumer adoption. Vista is gaining slower traction in the enterprise, Nash allowed, but it's just a matter of time before sales in that segment begin to pick up.

"Vista is the first version of Windows in a long time that spans consumer and enterprises. As more consumers adopt Vista in the home, their level of comfort in the enterprise space and confidence goes up dramatically," Nash said. Bitlocker, which protects data by encrypting hard drives to render data inaccessible in case the PC is lost or stolen, is a feature that's likely to bring many enterprises into the Vista fold, according to Nash.

Still, some solution providers simply don't see enough of a business case to warrant recommending Vista to their business customers. Dan Hogan, vice president and COO at DSR, an Elkridge Md.-based solution provider and Microsoft partner, says the combination of technical uncertainties and the cost of migrating an entire organization to Vista is keeping customers on the sidelines.

"Most of my customers are staying on XP Professional, and I think businesses are going to hold off as long as they can until the word is out there that Vista is fixed and running smoothly," Hogan said.

In an effort to make it easier for companies to move to Vista, Microsoft recently refreshed its Vista migration toolkits. Microsoft Deployment, formerly known as Business Desktop Deployment 2007, features application compatibility, hardware assessment, and user state migration tools, all of which streamline each step of the process for upgrading PCs to Windows Vista and Office 2007.