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Vista: What’s In It for You?

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When it comes time to market Vista to consumers, Microsoft will no doubt tout its flashy new interface and greatly improved media capabilities. But those features matter much less to the IT managers who are the target of Microsoft’s November 30 release for business users. Instead, they’re betting that decidedly un-flashy features like security, search, and deployment will capture the attention of those in the IT department.

But are these features tantalizing enough to overcome corporate resistance to change?

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The “Most Secure Windows Yet”—Again

Like several of its predecessors, Vista has been christened the “most secure Windows yet.” According to a Microsoft spokesperson, Vista “addresses growing security threats and will help protect your people’s data in and out of office, secure your environment, and make it easier to achieve compliance with government regulations and internal policies.”

Among Vista’s many security improvements over earlier versions of Windows, two are particularly noteworthy.

First, Vista’s BitLocker Drive Encryption has been generating a lot of interest among enterprises with a high percentage of mobile users. In a nutshell, BitLocker makes it tougher to access the data on lost or stolen laptops. In fact, thieves shouldn’t even be able to power up devices protected by BitLocker.

According to Microsoft, 600,000 laptops are lost or stolen in the U.S. each year, often compromising sensitive information. For IT managers frustrated by executives who continually leave their laptops at security checkpoints and in the backs of cabs, BitLocker provides peace of mind.

However, BitLocker is only available in the Enterprise Edition of Vista, and you need hardware built to comply with Trusted Platform Module (TPM) version 1.2 or higher in order to achieve all the benefits.

Another noteworthy security enhancement often gets classified among Vista’s management improvements. Group Policy enables IT managers to easily control power settings, access networked devices, and monitor other settings from a centralized location. It also closes one of the widest security holes in enterprises today—the devices that employees carry or wear to work.

Today, unthinking or ill-willed employees can use USB-compatible devices such as iPods and memory keys to copy sensitive data and carry it out the door. However, Vista gives corporations the ability to manage which users can use which USB devices.

Now Where Did That File Go?

In marketing the new user interface to business users, Microsoft continually repeats that the new GUI will improve productivity. While many of the changes will realistically save only fractions of a second, one productivity enhancement stands out. The improved desktop search (which happens to be Bill Gates’ favorite Vista feature) is truly radically improved over the search feature in Windows XP.

The new search relies on a technique familiar to database managers—indexing. In fact, Microsoft originally planned to build the Vista file system as a database. While that goal fell by the wayside, the indexed searching remains. Not only is the search much, much faster than in Windows XP, it automatically begins searching as soon as you type the first character into the search box.

Why does search matter so much? Microsoft quotes IDC research showing that “companies may loose up to $9-14K/knowledge worker/year in wasted productivity when users can’t find the documents they need to do their work.”

Easing Deployment Headaches

IT managers responsible for OS deployment may be the greatest beneficiaries of Windows Vista. That’s because Vista’s single image capability will dramatically reduce the complexity of migrating to the new OS.

“Deploying images or structured files containing machine instructions and data is the most efficient way to deploy an OS, but it was not part of the standard installation prior to Windows Vista,” notes Forrester analyst Benjamin Gray. “This left IT managers to build and maintain an ever-increasing library of unique images as new hardware and applications rolled out.”

Previously, a separate image was required for every unique hardware configuration and every language in use within the organization. With Vista Enterprise Edition, by contrast, IT managers can use just one deployment image thanks to Windows Imaging Format and the Multilanguage User Interface.

In addition, Vista supports non-destructive imaging. In other words, you can install the new OS on your current machine without losing your files and settings or first backing them up to another PC.

Next page: “Please Don’t Make Me Upgrade”

“Please Don’t Make Me Upgrade”

Despite all the new features—and the bells and whistles—Microsoft faces several challenges to widespread adoption. Perhaps the most difficult hurdle to overcome is human nature itself.

While a few people in every organization consider themselves technology enthusiasts, the vast majority tend to resist change. Whether they are clerical employees who don’t want the hassle of learning a new interface or IT managers who don’t want to introduce any new bugs to the system, employees are reluctant to embrace a new OS when the old one works just fine.

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In fact, a large number of enterprises still haven’t upgraded to the latest available version of Windows—Windows XP sp2. In an October 2006 survey, a full 38% of companies surveyed by Forrester were using an earlier version of Windows.

The Hardware Hurdle

Vista deployment will also be slowed by its stiff hardware requirements.

Forrester’s Gray notes, “The biggest challenge for enterprises is upgrading the PC hardware to meet the increased requirements of Windows Vista. A Windows Vista Premium Ready PC includes at least a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, support for DirectX 9 graphics, a 40GB hard drive with 1 GB of free space, and access to a DVD drive (it doesn’t have to be internal). This is no small task.”

In an October 2006 CDW survey, 51% of respondents said that at least half of their hardware would need to be upgraded in order to run Vista. And 16% said nearly all (91-100%) of their hardware would need to be replaced. This may be good news for retailers like CDW, but it’s definitely bad news for corporate bottom lines.

Not If, But When

So will enterprises upgrade? Probably—but they might not begin soon, and they probably won’t upgrade all of their hardware at once.

A hefty 86% of respondents in the CDW survey said they planned to upgrade to Vista, but only 20% said they would begin the upgrade within the next 12 months.

Forrester’s survey of slightly larger companies found that 40% of enterprise customers planned to upgrade within the year; however, more than half of European enterprises had no plans to upgrade to Vista at all.

For those companies that do upgrade, the transition to Vista will probably take place slowly. Rather than try to install Vista on aging PCs, many companies will likely begin the transition as they replace older machines with boxes that come with Vista pre-installed.

“Enterprises should start to introduce the OS on new hardware rather than rolling existing XP systems over via a large migration project,” advises Gray. “To reduce IT costs and lost end user productivity while their PC is being upgraded, it’s time to abandon OS migration projects and simply begin introducing new operating systems on new machines as they are acquired following a comprehensive testing and evaluation period.”

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