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Adopting Vista won't be THAT simple

If you have not yet begun testing Vista you'd better have plans to get the RTM release soon or your institution may not be ready for Vista when the time comes. Nevertheless, you should not assume that the transition will be either quick or painless.

I just read with interest Universities consider Vista and I just had to laugh when I read that one IT person expected to start deployment of Vista as early as mid-2007.  In truth, introducing Vista into a diverse academic environment where Windows XP Pro is firmly entrenched is no small matter. 

Being quite impressed with what I have seen of Windows Vista so far (Beta 2 thru RC2), I am 'chomping at the bit' to get my hands on the "golden code" to see if Vista RTM lives up to its promises -- or if I am going to have to wait a little longer for that last modicum of stability and performance.  Hopefully, I'll know before Christmas if I want to ask Santa for new hardware. 

For the end user, the questions needed to be answered are pretty simple:

  • Will Vista run to my satisfaction on my existing hardware?  It runs on an 866MHz, 512MB system -- in fact it runs better than Windows XP runs in its minimum configuration of 300MHz and 128MB of RAM -- but that's not saying much!  I expect that 1GB of RAM will be the minimum practical configuration.  Power users will want 2GB or more. 
  • Will it run all my currently installed software?  This depends a great deal on how wide a variety of software that you run.  So far, it  seems to run everything I use but I am not a gamer.  I have attempted to install some kids games for my seven-year-old that don't work.  For some of them, this might be tied to the new UAC controls.  (Kids games often want Administrator rights -- go figure.)  For others, the problems seem to be tied to Internet Explorer 7.  Still others seem to be tied to badly written graphics code.  Ironically the FREE kids games seem a lot more tolerant of Vista than the commercial games.   

If the answer to the first question is NO, now is the time to get some great deals on hardware -- with free upgrades to Vista, come January.  Or, if your current system is not too old, you can add memory and suitable graphics for under $150 in most cases.  Include the cost of a shrink-wrapped Vista upgrade though ($160 for Home Premium), and, considering that entry-level hardware prices are under under $450 (with a free upgrade to Vista Home Premium), that new hardware looks just that much more attractive. 

If the answer to the second question is NO, then you may have to wait for you favorite software vendor to release Vista-compatible code.  Or you may just want to stay with Windows XP (or your favorite Linux distro).  Windows XP support will be available to consumers well into 2009. 

But what if you work for an institution of higher learning? 

In an academic environment, the decision to move to Vista sooner rather than later becomes somewhat more complicated.   Your users needs are far broader than those of just personal productivity software -- where antiquated hardware running Linux, Foxfire, and OpenOffice will do.   

That's not to say that there is no room for Linux.  There is plenty of room in this environment for Linux and Mac OS X, and more likely than not, you have a need for full-blown UNIX as well.  But I digress ...

Unlike any other environment, where the selection of required applications is narrow and generally mission-critical (or the need is limited to general-purpose personal productivity suites), in higher education, mission-critical is whatever application the faculty want to use to instruct their students.  In other words, waiting too long to upgrade to Vista could be just as disastrous as upgrading too soon. 

Before you can even consider moving to Vista, you may need to analyze the impact of such a move on literally hundreds of applications, plug-ins, and co-dependent software modules.  The volume of discipline-specific plug-ins alone which will undoubtedly break with IE 7, and don't otherwise work with Foxfire, can be staggering. 

Other applications which are dependent upon various components of Microsoft Office must continue to work with Vista and with Office 2007.  And this doesn't even touch on the volume of software now shipping with textbooks which may not work properly with Vista.

There is no reason to believe that this transition will be any easier than with previous versions of Office and will probably be more of a challenge. 

Ultimately, Vista will probably prove to be much easier to "lock-down" to discourage "user mischief" but getting to that point could be a huge challenge. 

So, what kind of a time-line should you expect?

Here are some tips:

  • Begin testing Vista on your current hardware (not schedule for replacement) as soon as possible.
  • Start developing a Vista build for your student labs/classrooms during Spring 2007. 
  • As soon as possible, identify drivers which need to be upgraded for Vista.
  • Note all plug-ins, applications, and modules which do not behave normally under Vista. 
  • Communicate with faculty regarding compatibility issues with the applications they depend upon.
  • Don't rush into a Fall 2007 deployment of Vista in your student labs/classrooms.  Instead, target Fall 2008 for a roll-out of Vista in your student labs and computer classrooms.  If you get lucky, and no problems arise, you can always move up the deployment.  Delaying a deployment once announced is a great deal more difficult to do.
  • Encourage IT staff to begin using Vista on their personal machines sooner rather than later.  Discourage non-technical staff from jumping to Vista until you are ready to fully support it.
  • Because students will begin buying Vista PCs in February, bring your support staff up to speed on Vista as soon as possible. 

Don't let non-technical administrators push you to deploy Vista before you know the full extent of the implications of your Vista roll-out -- but don't put off your testing either just because Fall 2007 is too soon for a full roll-out.