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Vista gets a halo effect from Windows 7

Conventional wisdom says corporations have completely rejected Windows Vista. But I’m seeing evidence lately that Vista’s image is improving with age. A new report issued today by Benjamin Gray and his colleagues at Forrester Research confirms that Vista is getting a new lease on life in the enterprise. Ironically, Microsoft’s well-executed development of Windows 7 is a big part of the reason.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

Conventional wisdom says corporations have completely rejected Windows Vista. But I’m seeing evidence lately that Vista’s image is improving with age. A new report issued today by Benjamin Gray and his colleagues at Forrester Research confirms that Vista is getting a new lease on life in the enterprise.  Microsoft’s well-executed development of Windows 7 might be a big part of the reason.

Forrester surveyed 962 IT decision-makers at North American and European companies with more than 1000 seats (more than a quarter of the survey respondents represent organizations of 20,000 employees or more) and found that Vista is now installed on just under 10% of all PCs within enterprises. One-third of all respondents have already begun Vista deployments, and another 26% have plans to begin deploying Vista this year or next. Another 15% are going to skip Vista and go straight to Windows 7.

In other words, the supposedly despised Vista is about to do what its predecessors did and begin significant adoption after a few years of apparent snubbing. That’s what happened to XP, which had less than 10% total market share (corporate and consumer) after a year on the market and didn’t hit the 50% mark until four years into its lifecycle. Based on Forrester’s numbers, I would expect Vista to approach 50% share by the end of 2010, with IT pros watching Windows 7 to see whether its performance in the field justifies the great early reviews .

I remember reading surveys of IT pros about their intended adoption rates back in 2006 before Vista shipped. Most of those numbers predicted that Vista would be at least modest success for Microsoft. A year later, after Vista’s troubled launch and a tidal wave of bad publicity and devastating Apple ads, the numbers had swung to extreme pessimism.

And now, two years into Vista’s life, those opinions have swung back to a fairly normal adoption curve. Why? The number one reason is Service Pack 1, which made a big difference for Vista. The overwhelming consensus among reviewers was that it fixed a long list of bugs, including some deployment blockers, and improved performance noticeably. SP2 is just around the corner, and anyone who’s doing their own testing instead of believing what they read on Slashdot has had plenty of time to decide whether it’s a smooth stable update (it is).

Vista is part of the same family as Windows Server 2008 and Windows 7, both of which have earned almost universal rave reviews. Server 2008 is built on the same code base as Vista SP1, which adds credence to the idea that Vista wasn’t fatally flawed, only badly botched at launch.

Another factor in Vista’s favor is that the same management team that is doing so well with Windows 7 is also in charge of keeping Vista running. By hitting a steady series of public milestones with Windows 7, Windows boss Steven Sinofsky is restoring corporate confidence in Microsoft’s ability to ship software on a reliable schedule with predictable quality. That confidence makes it easier for IT pros to conclude that the early troubles with Vista were a temporary glitch and not a sign of things to come.

Ironically, deploying Vista SP2 is the most conservative option for Windows shops. XP is about to enter the extended support phase (on April 14, 2009). By contrast, Vista has more than three years left in mainstream support, which runs until at least April 10, 2012. The same instincts that make an IT pro conservative enough to stick with XP for more than seven years will also prevent him from adopting Windows 7 too quickly, no matter how glowing its reviews. Caution dictates waiting at least one year or one service pack, whichever comes later. All of which makes the currently supported, well-documented Vista SP2 the surprisingly safe choice.

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