Rather than trying to migrate all your users in one go, a phased approach to Microsoft's new OS may actually prove more cost effective.
That's the view of Gartner principal research analyst Annette Jump. Speaking at the Gartner Midsize Enterprise Summit in Paris, Jump told the audience of IT professionals that the widely held view that supporting multiple operating systems is costly and complex is not an absolute truth.
"How do you move to Vista? Generally the conventional wisdom suggests supporting all users on one operating system is cheaper than multiple systems, but that doesn't include the cost of getting to one operating system," she said. "For around 60 percent of large enterprises, managed diversity makes sense."
Jump outlined a staggered migration path for a typical organisation that was using 50 percent Windows 2000 and 50 percent XP in 2004. By 2005 the company should have migrated to 25 percent Windows 2000 and 75 percent Windows XP. 2006 should see the company using 100 percent XP which will continue till the end of 2007. Then by 2008, the company should be looking to use around 75 percent XP and 25 percent Vista.
Gartner claims that operating systems take around 12 to 18 months to mature, so with Vista timetabled for release in January 2007, the analyst group is expecting mainstream adoption to start in the middle of 2008.
However Jump warned that Vista could slip even further back than the January 2007 shipping date — to March or even later — as Microsoft is already committed to missing the vital Christmas sweet-spot when many consumers choose to buy new PCs. The exact release date is largely irrelevant to most medium and large organisations who will probably wait at least a year before adopting the OS.
When and how companies choose to migrate to Vista also depends on what operating systems they are currently using, Jump said. "Migration depends on where are you in terms of existing OS. If you're on Windows 2000 then you have got three to four years to migrate, and so should start testing now," she said.
"But if you're on XP, then you can take it much more leisurely; you can wait till Vista ships and then migrate through hardware attrition or through a big bang upgrade or even wait for point release in mid-2008 which should have WinFS." Windows Future Storage (WinFS) is Microsoft's next-generation file system.
Jump also raised the issue of hardware compatibility, and claimed that only machines bought in 2007 will probably be around long enough or have enough of their "useful life" left to run Vista, based on a three year life cycle.
"The specs show that you need at least 512MB of RAM and a modern processor, so most machines sold now will be able to run Vista. The bigger question is whether those machines will actually ever see Vista, if you're looking at mid 2008 to adopt it," Jump said.
Companies should consider the migration process as beginning not when a machines is physically placed on user's desktop but when the inventory process of existing machines begins to discover what applications are in use and how personal settings can be moved onto the new machines. "Migration is a very painful but important process," said Jump.
Desktop Linux is still only used by a small minority of companies, and businesses should make sure they evaluate it thoroughly in terms of the cost associated with a migration, said Jump. "Despite the hype around Linux it remains niche and we see no real increase in volume over the next 12 months," she said.