Vista – The calm in the eye of the storm

For all the attention the introduction of Vista has received in recent weeks, it has ironically been one of the calmest areas in the world of personal computing — the eye of a storm engulfing many of Microsoft’s partners.

While Vista undoubtedly will trigger hardware sales, companies have many more options on both the hardware and software side than they had a generation ago when Windows XP was released.

If nothing else, the significant shakeup among the leading providers of corporate PC and server hardware will likely cause enterprise customers to reevaluate suppliers.

After years of struggle — from integrating Compaq through the ouster of CEO Carly Fiorina, to the black eye the company has gotten from its pretexting scandal — HP clawed its way to the top of the heap.

Lenovo, several years into its acquisition of IBM’s desktop business and the important ThinkPad brand, still hasn’t found a strong foothold in corporate America. (Plus, its licence to use IBM’s brand is running out.)

And the recent quick exit of Dell CEO Kevin Rollins and the return of founder Michael Dell to that role acknowledged what many analysts have urged — a need to change from business as usual.

Vista, from all reports, has delivered on what Microsoft promised. Along with the introduction of Office 2007, it is a near certainty that the vast majority of customers will migrate, although the timeline is unclear.

Yet, the price of the Microsoft software compared with the cost of the hardware platform has shifted dramatically since the turn of the century when corporate notebooks could easily be in the US$3,000-plus range. Today, competition has forced those prices way down — at least for Windows notebooks. The result? Software costs now are often a much bigger percentage of the cost of outfitting a user.

To reduce that cost, enterprise computing architects might find it a good time to migrate to a different approach for their non-mobile computer users.

HP’s Consolidated Client Infrastructure (CCI) didn’t exist when Windows XP was rolled out. CCI takes the physical PC away from the user’s desk and implements each PC as a blade that sits in a chassis in the data center. While each user still runs a full system, not tying down a physical PC to a particular person’s location will bring savings.

Another way to shed cost is to use server-based computing with Citrix and/or thin client. While this solution has been available for years, it has become increasingly attractive. In many ways, the Citrix Presentation Server line was the first instance of virtualization in the PC realm. (Virtualization has been a mainstay of mainframes since the late 1970s.)

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