Vista SP1: Is it Time?

Wednesday Aug 29th 2007 by Rob Enderle
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With SP1 due out early in 2008, should you now re-evaluate the product and consider deployment?

OK, Vista hasn’t exactly been the Windows 95 of operating systems, but this may be both a good and a bad thing. It certainly didn’t have the waves of people lining up to get it when it launched (the iPhone got that wave), but then it also didn’t have the large number of employees trying to slip it into production. Given that I was one of the employees that did that with Windows 95 and black screened my CEO’s laptop (that wasn’t a good day) I’m kind of glad of that.

But with SP1 due out early in 2008, should you now re-evaluate the product and consider deployment? Many of you have effectively paid for the thing anyway and while the labor cost could be daunting, it may not be, and you could have the ideal environment for it.

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I’ve been using Vista nearly exclusively on a variety of desktops (up to 8 Intel cores) and laptops (both old and new) since before launch. I just loaded the beta of SP1, and the one 4 core AMD desktop I was having problems with came up like a charm and is running better than it did with the initial Vista drop (read: it now works with my games). This is to say, while I’ve generally been happy with Vista it has had some annoying problems, and SP1 appears to have addressed most of them in this early beta. In short, I think it is now time to suggest you consider bringing it in for test.

Under the Hood

We’ve been so focused on the problems, mostly compatibility and drivers, for so long that it is likely time to refresh on the benefits. Windows Vista is built on a new, much more UNIX-like kernel. That doesn’t mean you can suddenly port your UNIX code to it, it means the kernel is better protected, which means there are entire classes of viruses that don’t seem to know how to run on it.

The offering, particularly on a laptop, moves between suspend and full operation much more easily. You get more of an instant on/instant off experience than you did with Windows XP, though the initial drop did continue to drain the battery in suspend, suggesting you need to set for timed hibernation if you want to leave the laptop for a couple of days off power (or you’ll come back to a dead battery). I haven’t tested the SP1 drop on a laptop yet, but my hope is they will have fixed this before SPI goes RTM.

A lot has been said about the new UI called Windows Aero. Now that third parties are beginning to put out Widgets (EMC has several coming) the advantages other than the pretty face are more apparent. Particularly in a multi-monitor set up (I use twin 24” monitors now). It’s not just pretty, it actually is functional and I’m constantly losing things because I have so much open. The 3D Windows view is a life saver if you have a lot of real estate open.

Installation: if you have to install Vista from scratch or re-image a machine, it is vastly better than Windows XP. No searching for floppy drives to load special drivers, no black screens because of the wrong graphics driver (if it’s the right driver but done badly, NIVIDIA comes to mind, it’ll still black screen though). In short, as long as the guys doing the drivers did their job, you get a really good experience. If they didn’t, you’ll still have issues (but SP1 has less of them).

Windows Mobile is vastly improved, syncs are seamless now and, if you are connected to Exchange, you probably are mostly doing wireless sync anyway. However, I find you need to sync physically every once in awhile to clear out your deleted items on the mobile device (assuming you want to be able to go back and undelete) and that is much better. Granted it is also better to sync music and movies, but I know most of you folks would never think of doing that on your business phone, so I probably shouldn’t even mention it.

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I know a lot has been said about security, but Norton 360 works incredibly well on Vista. And, if you use Bitlocker, this thing is likely as good as your third party solution (assuming you have one), and improvements in SP1 will allow you to protect additional drives as well. Passwords are better protected and, as mentioned above, it is more resilient to more existing viruses. SP1 addresses a number of the network performance problems that existed in the first product and even the initial drop of Vista was better with network discovery.

This is a lot of verbiage to say, in essence, that personally I think Vista is better than XP and we know that, for the hardware coming to market late this year and next, XP is going to increasingly have problems with getting the full value out of new hardware. I think it is time to begin evaluating so you can become comfortable with allowing Vista in on the new hardware that you buy.

Old OS – New Hardware

I spend a lot of time with the OEMs and one of the things that drives up their (and yours) support costs is the practice of putting an Old OS on new hardware.

One of the reasons for a new OS is to sync the operating system with the new hardware coming out. We have new chipsets, subsystems, and features coming from all the major technology suppliers, which will go into the new desktop and laptops we are likely to be deploying to replace what’s wearing out. If we deploy this new hardware with XP we will have to do an infield upgrade at some point likely to simply address the virus problems and increasingly unreliability that is almost certain to result. In place upgrades can be very ugly and it is vastly better to get the new hardware with the new OS in terms of both stability and vendor support.

You may want to consider a tool like the Mojopac to assist in this (kind of a light virtual machine) but, however you do it, you should at least consider that the practice of an old OS on new hardware is one that we likely should have given up at the turn of the decade.

Benefits of Participating in the Trial

As you should know if you trial during a beta period, not only do you learn about the new software you can better contribute to fixes that will make it into the final product. Assuming you will eventually have to deploy Vista anyway, this should allow for a better experience when that time comes.

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Even if you decide not to, you’ll be able to back up the decision with solid work that you’ll be able to demonstrate if an executive questions your decision. It is always better to be informed, in any case, that way you are responding from a position of experience and less likely to be blindsided by something you don’t know.

In the end, you’ll likely find Vista has improved substantially at the end of the SP1 trial. While it isn’t perfect, it is better than Windows XP, particularly on new hardware. That information could help you take better advantage of what you likely are already paying for anyway.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting you deploy, only that you get involved in the SP1 beta and reach the decision to deploy, or not. Also, that you contribute to the Beta process so the result, if you decide to deploy, better meets your needs and requirements.

Should you bring in Linux and the MacOS at the same time? Well, Leopard will be coming out and that would sure make the exercise more interesting and your feedback to Microsoft, and your executive staff, more valuable. Were it me I probably would. I personally think SuSe would be the best choice given Novell’s relationship with Microsoft, and Leopard is reported to be vastly better than any other Apple OS for this use.

I’ve been using this since last December and, particularly on notebooks, it is vastly better than Windows XP SP 2, so you owe it to your folks to at least check out the SP1 Beta bits. So to answer the question in this article’s title: SP1 is it time? Probably once SP1 goes gold, but only you will know for sure.

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