Setting your sights on Vista

After years of development work and more than a few delays, Microsoft Corp.’s long-awaited Windows Vista operating system will be available to enterprise customers at the end of November. While it will be a milestone for the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant, for IT staffers the work is just beginning.

Before end users begin seeing Microsoft’s next generation OS on their desktops, IT managers will have their heads down in a lengthy process of application and hardware compatibility testing.

“This is a major transition and it’s not to be approached lightly,” said Carmi Levy, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.

Failing to plan means planning to fail

The first step is understanding the current state of your hardware environment. Know which machines will need upgrades to run Vista, which are approaching the end of their lifecycles and are upgrade candidates, and which are newer machines.

Next is understanding the current state of your organization’s application inventory. Each application must be rigidly tested for compatibility with Vista.

“You don’t just install Vista and expect every application you have to magically work,” said Levy. “Each application needs to be tested in the target environment before you deploy it to end users.”

Marc Perrella, vice-president, technology group at IDC Canada in Toronto, cautions that backend applications like antivirus software, backup and recovery tools, and systems management and diagnostic applications shouldn’t be overlooked. He added that it’s also important to consider network infrastructure issues. Make sure you have the backend hardware in place to provide the bandwidth needed.

However, before getting into hardware and application evaluations, Perrella said IT managers need to build a business case for Vista. Talk to your line of business managers and look for opportunities where Vista could be leveraged for immediate business productivity improvements, and rolled out in a pilot project to build acceptance.

“Look for how it’s going to improve either your business processes or how it’s going to make your people more productive and more effective,” said Perrella.

The next step is training the end users on how to leverage new product features, said Perrella. Also, he said companies should lean on their channel partners for best practices and tips that could lead to a smoother upgrade process. “They don’t have to do it all by themselves,” said Perrella.

Migration to new OS needn’t be immediate

The timeline for a Vista migration won’t be immediate for most organizations, nor does it need to be, said Levy. The complexities involved in compatibility testing to ensure that the migration isn’t disruptive is one reason. But Levy added that if your Windows XP environment is well administered, well-patched and fairly stable, there really isn’t a compelling and immediate need to abandon that platform just yet. If you’re running an older OS though, said Levy, the need may be more pressing.

“They have less of a shelf life, they’re not as supported by Microsoft, and patch management is much more onerous,” said Levy.

Perrella added that where companies are at with their software assurance licensing agreements with Microsoft will also play a role in migration timing. “If their volume license agreement is coming up for renewal, it makes good economic sense to adopt it right now,” said Parrella.

Because of the heavy video requirements to run the full Windows Aero visual experience, a hardware upgrade will be necessary for most PCs, except those recently purchased. Levy said he expects most organizations to time their OS migrations to coincide with regularly scheduled hardware upgrade cycles.

Although Vista can run without the Aero experience with lower hardware requirements, while still providing administrative and security benefits, Levy said he doesn’t see many organizations taking that option. “If you don’t go for the full Aero interface you loose a lot of the user interface advantages of the new OS,” said Levy. “If you’re going to invest the time…to move to Vista you want to get all the benefits.”

Easing compatibility

For the IT manager, Microsoft is predicting Vista will enable savings of up to US$428 per seat through management tools and best practices, and another US$50 per seat annually in reduced hydro costs through simplified power management.

The company has information for IT managers on its Web site, , including technical guides for application and hardware compatibility and a downloadable hardware upgrade advisor. Elliot Katz, senior product manager, Windows Client, for Microsoft Canada, said backward compatibility in Vista goes back quite far. “We’re very confident that the vast majority of Windows XP applications will run on Windows Vista,” said Katz.

“We expect applications that were written for Windows 2000 and even prior OSes will work.”

While intensive compatibility testing is recommended, Katz said tools have been built into the OS to automatically handle compatibility issues. If an application is launched that requires capabilities only present in an older OS, such as a lower screen resolution, Vista will automatically make the change. If it can’t happen automatically, a Wizard will also allow the user to make changes manually.

“But it only makes sense that IT organizations make sure their hardware is capable and ready, and their applications have been tested,” said Katz. “With any new OS, you need to evaluate your applications.”

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