Headaches May Remain In Microsoft Vista Land

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"Maybe it will grow on me as I continue to test it, but for the first time in my career, I feel 'upgrading' to Windows Vista is somehow going backward," said Jack Harrington, a self-described die-hard Microsoft fan and corporate .Net developer.

Harrington's company is testing Vista because it will have to use the operating system on new PCs that come with it preinstalled, but he's unimpressed with what he's seen so far.

"In order to get the most out of [Vista], the hardware requirement is ridiculous," Harrington said. "Microsoft claims Vista is much more secure, but I see it as much more restrictive. It seems Microsoft will be more in control, and I will be less in control."

Because older PCs will have a hard time with Vista's resource requirements, the primary influx of Vista users will come through new PC sales, which Microsoft estimates at 225 million in 2007.

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Despite those eye-popping numbers, developers say they're not rushing to make their software Vista-ready.

"My personal sense is that XP will be the de facto choice on the desktop for some time yet. I have not had many clients even ask the question, 'Would we get something more from this application being developed predominately for Vista?' " said Michael Ruminer, principal consultant at Magenic Technologies, a Microsoft Gold partner in Minneapolis that focuses on custom applications development. "Is a change worthwhile for many companies? I'd say most simply assume it is not, and it's not really even on the agenda for at least a year."

Vista's steep hardware needs and major security overhaul are two oft-mentioned targets of ire. Vista's User Account Control (UAC) clamps down on administrative install privileges, making it less likely that users will inadvertently install malicious code but also forcing users to navigate a barrage of pop-up messages to make changes to their PCs.

Scott Stanfield, CEO of solution provider Vertigo Software in Point Richmond, Calif., said that while most of his employees will have UAC enabled, his firm's engineers are turning it off because its annoyances offset the protection it offers.

While UAC is annoying on an individual level, it may be a godsend for administrators of large deployments, said Chuck Macomber, senior consultant at Magenic. Vista's granular security controls are aimed at striking a balance between a PC lockdown and overly permissive settings. While jumping through security hoops may annoy some users, it also should help prevent destructive changes and downloads.

Vertigo's Stanfield has been running Vista preview releases on his work computer for months, and he's enthusiastic about upgrading—he likes features such as good speech recognition—but he admits his clients are taking it slowly. Vista doesn't immediately sell itself with the sizzle of earlier overhauls. "I think the benefits are not quite as apparent as they were when we made the move to Windows 95," he said.

VARs may be faced with a fair bit of futzing to get Vista working smoothly. The list of software it chokes on grows by the day, and a number of applications require the very latest bits to play with Vista. SQL Server 2005 will need the still-in-development Service Pack 2, while Visual Studio 2005 will need SP1 plus a forthcoming patch that will lag Vista's release. Older versions of SQL Server and Visual Studio won't be supported at all on Vista.

The hassles and delays of upgrading have some focusing on what pieces of the "Vista wave" they'll be able to use without actually investing in a full Vista upgrade.

Karl Seguin, a lead architect at Fuel Industries, a custom developer in Ottawa, loves some of the features in the .Net 3.0 framework (formerly WinFX) at Vista's core. "Within about 10 minutes of playing with the [previews], I was like, 'Wow, this is how it always should have been.' It's how Windows applications should be built—no more ugly gray forms." But Seguin expects to deploy his .Net 3.0 apps on Windows XP, not Vista.

"Put bluntly, if Microsoft wasn't planning on releasing .Net 3.0 for XP, we wouldn't look at it for at least another couple years," he said.