Vista: You Might Not Care Yet - But You Will

Thursday Feb 1st 2007 by Rob Enderle
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While the new release has been greeted with tepid response, certain key features are highly seductive, argues our guest columnist.

Microsoft just released Windows Vista to what is perhaps the most jaded audience that has ever received a product from that company since Windows 1.0. The public impression is that no one cares. But I’ve had a chance to look at what is coming, and you will care – boy, will you ever care.

So let’s talk about the future of Vista and reflect on the fact that it really isn’t a product, it’s an OS, and an OS is a platform for other things.

Hardware On Vista

I’ve had a chance to talk at length with the team leaders on both the Microsoft and the Toshiba side of the Protégé R400, the high-end laptop with built-in wireless USB. Yes, both sides. You see, the R400 was a joint project between Toshiba and Microsoft. And while it’s an executive product (translated: your CEO will want one and you won’t be able to say no), for now the process will repeat itself with other Toshiba products. It’s already moving to the other vendors because it was so successful.

This points to a future of products designed jointly by Microsoft and various hardware partners that are increasingly attractive to look at and provide ever increasing feature sets, like built-in wireless docking.

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Think premature product cycles, think executives who won’t take no for an answer. Think about laptops that folks will actually start taking care of.

A few years back Leslie Fiering over at Gartner predicted that at some future point employees would buy their own PCs much like they typically buy their own cell phones today. This could herald that practice into the market and disrupt – perhaps dramatically – how we currently deploy and manage PCs.

Of course with migrations vastly improved, both through the new Vista Migration wizard and third party products like LapLink PCMover, migrations seem to go vastly better with Vista. Once users become aware of this, one of the big impediments to employee movement – employee disruption – is largely removed.

Finally, if that weren’t enough, Windows XP kind of sucks on multi-core systems, which are becoming more and more of the norm. Vista was not only designed to use 2 cores, it scales up to 8 and 16 cores, giving it the headroom that XP lacks (XP cannot scale past two).

Software Alliances

Just as the success with Toshiba has driven a move on the hardware side to more closely collaborate with Microsoft, so too on the software side did a similar effort with Electric Rain create a market-leading presentation product called Standout. This offering, also largely due to close collaboration with Microsoft, has led to an Aero user interface that is elegant, simple, and very easy to use. Based on this collaboration there were a number of changes to Vista, as well improving the development tools and even the product itself.

Other products that appear to have benefited are Symantec’s Internet Security for Vista, which provides the most comprehensive and non-disruptive coverage for remote employees and family yet. Also, Yahoo’s new Instant Messenger offering stands as a testament to the fact that Microsoft can play well with others.

The Symantec product runs almost entirely in the background now and virtually all of the annoying firewall related warnings and disruptive virus reports are obsolete. Overall, the products work as they always should have (but didn’t) and the Yahoo Instant Messenger is even a better example of this. By making difficult tasks easier it enhances discoverability and is likely to become one of the biggest competitive advantages in the segment. This means change and a lot of it.

As other companies realize this collaborative work style is a way to not only improve their offerings but make them more useful and easier to use (less likely to generate help calls), they are expected to follow this path as well. They will start not only using the newer tools sets, but collaborating with Microsoft to make both the tools and future versions of software products vastly more powerful and elegant.

Security: Are You Yawning Yet?

You’ve heard and yawned at all the security promises but have you been watching how the Democratic Congress wants to hold companies and executives criminally responsible for lost company data? Sure you can add a third party product to Windows XP and hope it takes the stress (or the user doesn’t turn it off).

The advantage to Vista is that it more transparently manages the process. The user’s ability to turn off security is not only more difficult once set by IT, but the user may not even want to because the performance hit is nearly imperceptible when done as part of a new hardware roll out.

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Think of what happens to the CIO when the first executive gets criminally charged with data loss. Who do you think the CEO is going to designate as his bunk buddy in the Federal Martha Stewart room once he finds out that Vista might have been able to prevent this problem?

(By the way, Security is also bolstered by current TPM hardware and up-to-date security technology like the Alcatel-Lucent Project Evros, which allows the instant remote locking of all laptop data even if the laptop battery is removed when the signal is sent.)

While I understand you can meet all kinds of overly close friends at facilities like this, I’m sure your executives would rather spend their twilight years at home and not at a government sponsored detention facility.

Obsolescence: Make It Stop

You don’t have unlimited time. Putting an old OS on new hardware, however common, is one of the quickest ways to discover how good your PC supplier isn’t. While XP’s official life has been extended, unofficially top support and developer resources begin moving to the new platform once it starts shipping – leaving the marginal or outsourced talent behind.

This means that, starting this month, support on XP will start to degrade over time. Getting things done efficiently on that platform will be increasingly difficult. Depending on how complex the environment is this could become painful in 12 months and very painful in 24, as the needed resources become less and less capable of dealing with complex support requests.

This isn’t just a question of Microsoft support. People like to work with the most up-to-date tools, and the best support people often get to vote on what platforms they will support. This extends downtime, results in cascading problems where one thing being fixed breaks something else. Ugly things can happen to support budgets and internal user satisfaction metrics. Not to mention pissing off influential executives.

Timing and Preparation

Unless you set a budget last year, you aren’t doing Vista this year. However, some folks are and you probably should be watching them closely for tips and to get a sense for how you will build justification for your own upgrade.

The next window, no pun intended, is in 2008. So you’d better be thinking about setting a budget this year to at least get those who are likely to be the most exposed on current generation hardware migrated to Vista during your best 2008 deployment period. You should also begin cycling in Vista as part of the hardware renewal cycle as soon as software qualification is done. And that should probably enter planning even sooner.

It would be wise to put some of your lead people on Vista immediately and pick up a book called Windows Vista Secrets for them to use as a reference so they can begin to get comfortable with the product and test compatibility with core internal apps. These lead users will become kind of an interoperability bellwether as to how well you can integrate Vista in your shop while much of the rest of the machines still run Windows XP.

Whether you actually move in 2007, 2008, or 2009, start your planning now and make sure you’re capable of responding intelligently with a plan when your executives ask for one. Because, chances are, given current trends, before the end of this year they probably will.

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