That's a concern for many small business owners as they weigh the pros and cons of moving to Vista. The debut of any new operating system involves its fair share of bugs, glitches and things that go bump in the night. Vista, probably the largest operating system overhaul in Microsoft's history, offers a number of challenges due to its hefty memory, hard disk, graphics and processor requirements. This is particularly true for small companies that lack IT support.
To help small business owners sort out the various issues, we spoke with the folks over at HiWired, a Web-based provider of technical support and services. The company, which says its mission is to "make it simple to enjoy your technology," has solved approximately 45,000 customer problems spanning the consumer and the small business world including Vista upgrade issues.
Pick Your Path
When it comes to Vista, you have two basic options: Buy a new PC with the software pre-installed or upgrade your existing PCs. Michael Wexler, HiWired's president and co-founder, says that they've been seeing customers with all kinds of issues as they attempt to upgrade. "One hundred percent of our customers who have tried to install Vista on their own have called in with at least one problem," he says.
The issue, he says, is a painful migration path from Windows XP to Vista. For example, if you have XP Home, Microsoft recommends that you install Vista on top of the XP software without reformatting the drive. Wexler disagrees with this strategy, and says it's best to reformat the hard drive and start with a clean installation. "That's a problem, because Microsoft markets the upgrade as a simple solution," he says. HiWired customers kept running into error messages and bugs.
According to Wexler, "any problem you had in XP Home still lurks in Vista unless you reformat the drive. It's like taking a dented car to the car wash. It may be clean, but it's still dented."
For small businesses that run XP Pro, Microsoft recommends reformatting the drive prior to installing Vista. Wexler agrees with that approach, but notes that it can take an average person hours or even days to do this. "You need to back up your data, reformat the drive, reinstall your applications and then reinstall your data. Typically, that's when you'll find some of your applications won't work with Vista," he says.
It's not just your PC either. Upgrading to Vista impacts your PC peripherals such as digital cameras, printers and scanners. Part of the upgrade process, says Wexler, involves hunting down and installing new drivers to make these devices Vista compliant.
Approximately 20 percent of HiWired's customers own PCs that are Vista-ready, leaving a large chunk of people with machines that require some type of hardware upgrade before they can handle the new operating system.
Microsoft lists the following minimum system requirements for Vista Home Premium, Business and Ultimate editions:
They're called minimum requirements for a reason, and most experts agree that you'll realize better performance with heftier hardware specs.
The real issue for Wexler is the cost-benefit ratio. "We just don't see enough difference between XP Pro and Vista Business to justify the pain of upgrading. It takes a professional four or five hours to upgrade one system at best. And that doesn't even consider the cost of any required hardware upgrades." he says.
Although he acknowledges that some small businesses in specific industries may derive some benefit from Aero (the sleek, translucent interface in Vista Premium, Business and Ultimate), Wexler says the average SMB doesn't need it. "It may be sexy, but it's not a show stopper for small businesses."
The total cost of upgrading is higher than the mere price of buying the software. Wexler says you need to factor in the following costs:
Vista is a great operating system, according to Wexler, and a big improvement. "It's just not big enough to justify the painful, expensive upgrade," he says. "We advise our customers to wait until they need to buy new PCs. That's when it makes sense. That's when it's worth the time and effort to migrate your data."
Tips for a Vista Migration
Whether you decide to upgrade or to wait and buy new PCs, once you are ready to move to Vista, it's important to make a plan. Migrating requires forethought, so we talked with Mike Riegel, IBM's director of mid-market services. He offers five steps to help avoid a migration headache:
This article was first published on SmallBusinessComputing.com.