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Microsoft released the near final version of the first service pack for Windows Vista this week, and a new report predicts that the system's corporate heyday is just around the corner.
The report by analysis firm Forrester Research predicts that while deployments of Vista in enterprises to date have been slow, that dam is about to break.
"The era of Windows Vista within enterprises has officially started, with a whimper. But think of it as the snowflakes before the storm," analyst Benjamin Gray wrote in the report, which is titled "How Windows Vista Will Shake Up The State Of The Enterprise Operating System."
The upshot: deployments among many enterprises will be well underway by late-2008, the firm's research predicts, and will likely snowball from there.
Meanwhile, Microsoft officials confirmed that the company began sending out this week copies of the first Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) Release Candidate, or "RC." This is the final step in testing before a product or a service pack is released for commercial use.
"Yesterday, we released Windows Vista SP1 RC Preview to approximately 15,000 private beta testers .... [and] we will release an RC of SP1 to a broader group of testers soon," a company spokesperson said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.
That puts Vista SP1 on schedule for shipment during the first quarter of 2008, the spokesperson added.
Meanwhile, Forrester's study found that, among North American and Global 2000 enterprises, so far just 3 percent of PCs are running Windows Vista. In European countries, movement to the new operating system is negligible so far.
The report found that many IT shops are still waiting for Vista SP1, but that doesn't mean they're on the fence about whether to go to Vista in the longer term.
Indeed, almost half of the respondents said their companies have "concrete plans" to deploy Vista. Some seven percent plan to begin that process by the end of 2007, while 32 percent plan to have the move underway by the end of 2008. Another 17 percent plans to roll out Vista in 2009 or beyond.
"Forrester predicts that next year Windows Vista will be deployed across at least one-quarter of PCs in North American and European enterprises. By then, desktop managers will have started moving away from the Windows XP platform, although it will still run the majority of PCs within corporate environments," the report states.
It's all part of a fairly predictable pattern, according to one long-time Windows watcher, who called Forrester's predictions "a safe bet."
When a new client version of Windows comes out, although Microsoft talks it up loudly, customers especially IT shops inevitably say they're holding off making any decisions. Often, they're waiting for the first service pack for the new system to arrive which typically takes anywhere from six months to a year after the system first ships to prove that the OS is finally fully baked.
"It's not an 'if,' it's a 'when' story," Michael Cherry, lead analyst for operating systems at researcher Directions on Microsoft, told InternetNews.com.
Additionally, besides Vista SP1, large customers may be waiting for the delivery of key new server products early next year, he added. For instance, Windows Server 2008, along with SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008, is scheduled to launch on February 27, 2008, and to be available to customers by the end of March.
"[Large customers] may be thinking 'We're going to deploy the server first, because there are fewer of them, and then deploy Vista," Cherry said.
The Forrester report also identifies another roadblock Microsoft faces with Vista. Forrester researchers found that among the 565 PC decision makers at large companies who participated in the study, 84 percent of enterprises in both the U.S. and the world at large are currently running XP as a standard. As it has turned out, XP has proven to be a very stable environment.
And, as Microsoft executives have stated for years, when the company comes out with a new version of Windows, its biggest competitor is always the previous version of Windows. But that is not to say that Vista deployments are permanently blocked.
Indeed, while XP is firmly ensconced in many organizations, eventually Vista will be phased in to replace it, according to both Forrester and Cherry. After all, while it's stable, XP first shipped in 2001, Forrester's report notes.
So although half of the Forrester survey respondents had no plans regarding Vista at the point that the survey was conducted April to June 2007 that number is expected to shrink after Vista SP1 is released.
As a matter of fact, Microsoft just turned in its best fiscal first quarter in the past eight years, due partly to increasing sales of Vista.
In fact, while the changeover to Vista may not come as quickly as Microsoft and its partners would like, it still constitutes a juggernaut that will inevitably displace XP as the corporate desktop standard.
"It's not as if everyone's going to stay on XP," said Cherry. "There's going to be this momentum switch."
This article was first published on InternetNews.com.