After years of coding, bug-testing and a few early skirmishes with rivals and regulators, Microsoft's next operating system will finally launch — to businesses — on Thursday. The question now is, who will want Vista, and when?
It is widely accepted that Vista take-up will be a gradual process over the next few years, particularly in the enterprise market. The consensus among IT professionals is that there is little to gain, and potentially a lot to lose, by being part of the first wave.
"I'm not in any rush to deploy it. We're only just finished rolling out XP. I'll wait at least six months and then look at it," said Andrew Vorster, vice president of technology for Visa in Europe.
Vorster explained that he had been a Vista beta user, testing the operating system on a laptop. "It was so resource intensive. It took 20 minutes to come out of hibernation," he told ZDNet UK. This review of Vista, after the code was released to manufacturing, shows that Microsoft has made progress since those early betas.
Other senior IT managers have concurred that it may take another year before migration to Vista picks up any pace. "Lots of people will start to look at what it will take to deploy it. Except for a few 'headline' corporates, I am hearing that most will start to move in the back end of 2007," said one UK chief information officer.
Analysts at Gartner have calculated that it will take an enterprise around 18 months to conduct a migration to Vista, starting with obtaining compatible versions of their latest products and then testing that they work in Vista.
This means Vista rollouts could be going on for years.
"Companies will need to implement it over a period of time. After all the testing that will have to be done, we are looking at three to five years," explained Michael Silver, research vice president at Gartner.
Silver believes that there are two key elements within Vista that will encourage companies to upgrade — security and search.
On the security side, Vista includes several new features that aim to protect users from malicious hackers. The BitLocker tool will encrypt data on a hard drive, making it secure, in theory at least, if the computer falls into unfriendly hands. PatchGuard will protect the 64-bit Vista kernel from modification — much to the anger of independent security companies who argue that they need access. Windows Security Center will alert users to security problems, although this has also upset security vendors who believe they are being frozen out.
These changes, however, won't stop some senior UK executives pushing for a new approach to security across the industry through the Jericho Forum. This initiative is lobbying software and security vendors to embrace deperimeterisation — a process where data is secured at all levels in a network rather than hidden behind protection on the edge.
"I can't see the Vista launch making much difference to any corporate initiatives for de-perimeterisation," said Paul Simmonds, global information security director for ICI and a member of the Jericho Forum.
Microsoft's attempts to improve search in Vista took a knock when it was forced to pull its new file system, WinFS, from the operating system. Despite that, search has been improved — it's even reported to be Bill Gates' favourite feature. Perhaps prompted by the success of Google Desktop Search, Vista's indexed search feature will scour for applications and data, and the search starts as soon as you start typing your search term.
Other members of the analyst community believe that Vista's long-term prospects are good. Earlier this week, Ovum's David Mitchell predicted "a relatively quick" initial adoption pattern for Vista.
"Within 12 months of the consumer launch of Windows Vista we would anticipate 12 percent — 15 percent penetration of Windows Vista in the desktop market," said Mitchell.
If Vista gets near that 15 percent figure, it would actually outperform Windows XP.
Vista won't be available to consumers until March 2007, although if you buy an XP PC today you may receive a voucher entitling you to a free upgrade. IDC believes that Vista adoption in the consumer space will take place "almost immediately", but cautions it will be much slower in the enterprise space.
IDC has estimated that 90 million units of Vista will be sold in 2007 — a bullish projection that outpaces Microsoft's own target of 67 million.
Vista will come in six different flavours. Two are aimed at corporate users — Vista Business and Vista Enterprise. The key difference is that Vista Enterprise will include multilingual user interface support, BitLocker drive encryption, and Unix application support, while Vista Business will not.
Vista Enterprise will also be available through Microsoft's Software Assurance licensing programme. Software Assurance lets companies buy applications and support from Microsoft on a subscription basis, so existing members may feel compelled to move to Vista Enterprise to get value for their subscription.
IDC estimated that by the end of 2007, 82 percent of the Vista-equipped PCs will sport the Business edition, while the remaining 18 percent will run Vista Enterprise.
But even if Vista does ship successfully and enjoy solid sales, there is a large dark cloud on the horizon — the European Commission. It has already expressed concerns over Vista, fuelled by complaints from the security industry and Adobe, which fears that its PDF format could be usurped by Microsoft's XPS format.
If the Commission believes that Microsoft is repeating the antitrust behaviour it was convicted of in 2004, it may launch another investigation.
Negotiations between the two parties have continued over most of this year, with Microsoft making some changes to placate the Commission in October.But the Commission has insisted that it will watch Vista closely, and has no intention of approving the software pre-launch. This uncertainty may give enterprise customers added incentive to wait a year before making the journey to Vista.