Lately, we've spent a lot of time talking about the relative merits of one OS platform over another -- especially in the K-12 sector, where the personal productivity needs of students overwhelm shrinking Education IT budgets. When there is little money for discipline-specific applications (those which are most likely to be platform-dependent), many readers focus on up-front operating system costs (where Linux often seems to win out) while others look to ease-of-use and point to the Apple Macintosh as the ultimate solution. Reader objections aside, most Ed Tech personnel still choose Windows.
In truth, there is no 'best solution' but only a variety of similar solutions -- each of which offers its own advantages. Unlike the consumer, who may chose to see value in one choice which totally escapes the view of another consumer, the IT professional must look at the 'total cost of ownership' (TCO) for any solution when determining how to spend money which is not his but belongs to his employer. The challenge is magnified in an educational setting where taxpayer money is usually involved and IT budgets are strained.
Now that Vista beta testing is nearing an end and institutional interests are soon to have 'golden code' (RTM, or 'released to manufacturing'), those who have adopted Windows for their institutions should be well underway with their own examination of this new technology.
On the surface, Windows Vista offers little by way of added functionality, and even its new security features are not yet well-understood. To many, Vista appears to offer little more than cosmetic refinements to Windows XP. But what if you are trying to maintain dozens (or hundreds) of workstations? How does Vista impact those issues? Perhaps dramatically!
In any computing environment which entails supporting more than a handful of workstations (especially workstations with differing capabilities), long-term support costs often far outweigh the up-front costs of acquisition. That is where Vista can make a difference to your bottom line.
If yours is a small shop, with only a handful of computers, you may spend most of your time removing viruses and malware from your workstations. Perhaps these malicious pieces of code make their way onto your systems because your users all have administrator access to your systems. This may even seem necessary in order to facilitate ad hoc software deployment. Even if you use ADS to authenticate your users, you still may find it difficult to sufficiently 'lock down' Windows XP to keep it safe. Even keeping Windows Update in sync across machines may be a challenge -- not to mention your virus protection software.
Vista promises to dramatically reduce these problems by better protecting users (those with and without administrator privileges) from themselves and from other users. With Vista, Windows will no longer permit any software to self install. Instead, all software installations require explicit user authorization as well as sufficient user privileges.
Windows Update is also more robust -- as is the Windows firewall -- though you still may prefer to use another vendor's firewall for maximum protection.
Vista's new unattended install capabilities dramatically reduce installation times and greatly simplify installation for many hardware configurations which currently require special drivers with Windows XP.
If you haven't already, start exploring these capabilities now so that, when your users start clamoring for Vista you will be prepared to move forward.