Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system, launched in January 2007, has received a mixed response.
There is also still a strong inclination among the company's user base to cling on to older iterations of Windows because of concerns about Vista's CPU overhead and security.
But Microsoft has wheeled out two public-sector customers who are both upgrading to Vista and happy with the benefits.
Newham Borough Council and Tube Lines, a public-private partnership set up to maintain the infrastructure of the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly underground lines in London, are both part way through their respective Vista upgrades.
Both organisations have worked with Camwood, a consultancy that specialises in testing systems for upgrades such as this.
Camwood chief executive Frank Foxall pointed out that one of the additional outcomes of compatibility testing is that it provides a good idea of the presence of any unwanted applications on a system, as well as unused licences.
Tube Lines' head of IT, Adrian Davey, explained that an upgrade to Vista had to have a business case and any changes to infrastructure could not be allowed to impact on hitting profit targets.
In all, Tube Lines requires a 2,500-seat licence, and Davey said the move to Vista would work out as a saving of £500,000 over the life of the operating system. On top of that, because the company's systems estate was streamlined as a result of the testing and upgrade, Davey said he is saving 20 percent on his outsourcing costs.
He said: "It's wasn't a hard negotiation; this upgrade is paying for itself."
The London Borough of Newham is rolling out Vista on a much more limited basis, initially. The first stage of the rollout is taking place in the borough's libraries. PCs used by visitors will be upgraded to Vista and, for Newham's acting chief information officer, Geoff Connell, the upgrade is driven in part by the public's expectations. An increasing number of them will have Vista at home and Newham does not want to be perceived as equipping service points with old software like XP.
Connell said: "There are features in Vista that allow us to turn off units automatically at the end of the day. Energy cost savings will be substantial. We will recoup £50 per PC per year. Mobility is also a big driver. We are hoping to reduce 27 back offices to one."
This last comment illustrates how the benefits accrued by the two organisations come more from better integrating back-end applications through the Vista front end, rather than the operating system itself.
Davey said: "Vista is about an enterprise technology stack that genuinely enables true collaboration across the enterprise — true sharing of information."
Both Davey and Connell praised Vista's ability to facilitate more effective sharing of systems in terms of helping set up shared-services agreements. The opportunity to clean out core systems and have a common user interface for them in Vista, they both said, would make it easier for collaborating local authority organisations to share IT resources.
Both organisations are only part way through their upgrades. Davey said Vista will be fully rolled out throughout Tube Lines by October this year. Connelly said Newham has a longer lead time, and roll out began in August 2007. Specific, targeted areas will see Vista rolled out by August this year, and full roll out will be completed next year.
Clearly, the upgrade to Vista works for these two organisations, which demonstrates the operating system's tangible benefits for a range of public-sector customers.
Whether these benefits can be translated to the private sector remains to be seen. Most private-sector organisations are not quite so customer-facing in terms of their technology strategies. They don't need to be seen to keep their user-interface software up-to-date and they don't have to share IT services. Vista may have to demonstrate other business benefits to cross over to private commerce.