Should Your Customers Skip Windows Vista?

Windows Vista

Which means it's also a question solution providers need to be prepared to answer for their customers.

For many CIOs attending this week's Midsize Enterprise Summit in Grapevine, Texas, it seems to be a waiting game more than anything else. In the words of one retail CIO, "There's no compelling reason to upgrade, so I'm putting it off as long as I can."

Anecdotal evidence from the conference shows Microsoft's Vista battle might be even more uphill than that. Before his session on Windows technology, Michael Silver, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, asked the audience of approximately 340 CIOs from midsize business to raise their hands if they plan to skip Vista altogether; the vast majority did.

Of course such results have to be taken with a grain of salt. IT executives who today scoff at Vista might tomorrow face an entirely different set of requirements or challenges that will force them to migrate. Plus, hating on Vista is a popular sport these days, so maybe some folks just wanted to play along with their peers.

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That said, there are both pros and cons to skipping Vista altogether, and solution providers will need to take several factors into account before advising customers on the migration path they should (or should not) take.

First, Silver points to Microsoft's long-term support plans, noting that the company offers a minimum 10-year support horizon for its products. That's comprised of at least five years of mainstream support that includes both functionality and security updates and five years of extended support that only includes security updates.

Windows XP Pro will be in mainstream support until April, 2009 and in extended support until April, 2014, giving users a "pretty long runway" to move off of XP, Silver said. But the catch, Silver noted, is that just because Microsoft will offer XP support that far out doesn't mean ISVs will follow suit. In fact, many are expected to bring out applications by 2010 that no longer support XP, he said. With that in mind Silver recommended that companies plan to have all of their PCs off of XP by 2012.

NEXT: Factoring In Windows 7 Another factor is the next step on Microsoft's roadmap. For its Vista successor, Windows 7, Microsoft is likely shooting for a ship date at the end of 2009, or 2010 if it's a year late, Silver said. But customers will wait 12 to 18 months beyond that before they begin to feel comfortable rolling it out, pushing most deployments into mid-2011 or 2012.

Silver offered several reasons not to bypass Vista. One is the ISV factor: not only will they not support XP long enough, they likely won't support Windows 7 soon enough to fill the gap. Plus, businesses that skip Vista won't have the luxury of bringing in Windows 7 through PC attrition as part of their desktop replacement strategy. They'll have to do a forklift upgrade in the 2012 timeframe, Silver said.

In Silver's point of view, customers who should consider skipping Vista include businesses with fewer than 1,000 users, organizations with more than 35 percent of their applications written in-house, and customers that have the ability to perform zero-touch operating system upgrades. Also on the list would be organizations that already have a forklift desktop replacement project scheduled for 2012.

The key for solution providers is to make sure that their customers don't stand still. For businesses still on Windows 2000, Vista migration should be well underway, Silver said. Companies on XP should plan to deploy Service Pack 3 by the first half of 2010, and, if moving to Vista, should plan to start bringing in Vista PCs by 2009. When moving to Vista, Silver recommends a six-to-12-month period for testing, planning and piloting. And for those customers that prefer to wait for Windows 7, Silver recommends against it unless they know they'll be able to fund a forklift upgrade when the time comes.