There are two big questions about Vista: how well will it do its job, and is that a job that'll be worth doing?
The first question can only be answered by time. We can discount Microsoft's marketing message: every new operating system has set new standards for security, speed and usability before its release — and every time, reality isn't quite as the company imagined it. No plan of battle survives contact with the enemy — so we'll only know how Vista will perform in the real world once it's been out there for a few months.
The second question is more interesting. We do know that of all the big, exciting advances in enterprise IT in the last five years, none has happened in the desktop operating system — and few enough in the server OS. Services, networking, management, security, virtualisation, everything web shaped: these have arrived incrementally and largely independent of the operating system. The landscape constantly evolves: big bang upgrades haven't been part of the scene for years. Vista will work happily here — but then, so will XP — or Linux, or OS X.
Both these questions show clearly that the essential question of "Why upgrade to Vista?" can't be answered. It's just not possible yet to do the basic risk versus reward analysis. Doubtless, Vista will turn out in time to be a usefully better version of Windows. When that is — and whether it'll be worth the price — we don't know. Neither does anyone else.
So it's interesting to find out from our own survey that fully a quarter of respondents are planning to make the trip within six months. There's always a difference between what the industry talks about and what it does, but rarely is the gap so graphic. Whatever the reasons — we'll be chasing those down — they're not going to be based on technology-driven ROI. IT budgets have to be spent, support deals concluded, hardware refresh cycles synchronised to operating system choices.
That's the way it's always been done, and that may not be good enough for the future. Try as we might, we can't make the future we see — at least, the future we hope for — depend on Vista. And any future that does, doesn't seem like a place we'd like to be.
So now's a good time to pause before you write that cheque. What happens next doesn't depend on what Microsoft says, what analysts predict or what journalists hope for. It depends on what you do, what you decide. You're making the future: don't sleepwalk into it.