Microsoft executives are hoping that a host of security improvements in
its long-awaited Vista (formerly Longhorn) operating system will have
companies lining up to install the new product when it’s released in late
But IT managers and experts alike say the software giant could be
”I plan on using Windows XP until its logical end of usefulness and then
re-evaluating my options,” says Allen Gwinn, senior IT director at
Southern Methodist University in Dallas. ”Vista is going to be a closed
source proprietary piece of software built on the most notoriously
insecure platform in history and just like its predecessors, it’s bound
to have bugs.”
Gwinn, who has led the university through several iterations of the
Windows platform, is skeptical that Microsoft has solved the security
problems that have plagued previous versions of the operating system.
He says he worries that the time and effort it will take to install the
new platform — and suffer through the initial patches and testing —
will be exorbitant, draining his team of time and money.
”This is the first product they’ve announced that makes me worry about
my total cost to have Microsoft,” he says. ”How many more virus battles
am I going to have to fight? How many more millions of bug-ridden lines
of code are they going to write? When you look at it, is it going to be
more expensive to go with another option? I’ll bet if you look at the
time spent dealing with all this, it wont be.”
But Microsoft, which recently released Vista Beta 1 to developers and
other testers, says it has fixed a lot of the issues that have had IT
managers scrambling in the past. Here are some of the newest features:
spokeswoman says this will avoid the problem of malware being let onto
machines through administrator-level access;
important data into safe repositories. If a laptop or desktop is stolen
or hacked into, critical information can’t be accessed, the spokeswoman
automatically during upgrades, and
and network access, she says.
The spokeswoman adds that Microsoft has beefed up security in Internet
Explorer so a data cache can be cleared with a single click and users can
easily check the validity of a Web site’s security certificate.
Even with all these improvements, experts agree that the response to
Vista has been lukewarm.
”At this point in time, we’re not seeing a lot of demand for Vista,”
says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group in San Jose,
Calif. ”We’re still about a year out from its release, but XP and NT
were hot products in advance.”
Dave Kearns, an analyst at the Virtual Quill consultancy in Silicon
Valley, says Microsoft is facing an uphill battle. ”They don’t know how
to make a secure platform that is user-friendly for the average
customer,” he says.
Kearns points to patching as an example.
”They have gone back and forth on whether to automate patching. There
are consumers who want it automated and IT managers who don’t. There’s no
solution to that dilemma,” he says. IT groups want to test patches
before they go out to make sure they don’t interrupt other applications,
while consumers don’t want to have to remember to download and install
patches, he adds.
Identity management is another area where Microsoft faces problems,
Kearns says. ”Microsoft doesn’t stand a chance at getting identity
management perfected because of privacy groups,” he says. Previous
initiatives like Hailstorm and Passport have privacy protectors raising
red flags about any collection of information and that ties Microsoft’s
Microsoft’s biggest problem lies in industry apathy, according to
Enderle, who takes a different view on customers’ feelings towards Vista.
Although IT managers rate security among their top concerns, he says they
aren’t ready to shed their current operating system in favor of Vista.
IT managers should be starting to build their budgets for Vista, he says.
”If demand isn’t there, there are going to be problems.” A reason for
the tepid interest is that ”people aren’t concerned about the desktop.
It’s just not broken enough,” he says.
Enderle hopes that as the release date gets closer, IT groups will see
the need for heightened security. ”As companies see their security
exposure and that Vista addresses this problem, they will move
aggressively toward the platform,” he says.
Experts say the ”rip-and-replace” nature of Vista, rather than it being
an upgrade to the current platform, means IT groups will have to plan
extensively for it. ”To roll out Vista, IT managers are going to want to
roll it out on new hardware — this could make it costly,” Enderle says.
”However, with the reduction in overall hardware costs, maybe it won’t
be as costly as before.”
Kearns agrees customers will have to do a complete hardware overhaul to
accommodate Vista. Nowadays, that’s expected, he says. ”The average
person doesn’t upgrade their operating system anyway. They buy a new
computer,” he says.
But for Gwinn, that’s just one more reason to shy away from Vista.
”This destabilizes the investment we’ve already made in Microsoft
products,” he says. For him, the biggest question still remains to be
answered: How long will Microsoft continue to support XP before it is
moved to the backwater? That tells me how long I have to make my