How distant is your Vista?

This past week in NYC, I was at a Hewlett-Packard business computing event where we met with a senior GM from Microsoft who was anxious to make the point that companies would upgrade to Vista much more quickly than has occurred in the past.

Of course, in reality, it won’t happen all at once, since most companies now use refresh cycles where they roll out new hardware and software in a staggered system. This reduces costs and level of effort for their IT groups.

It’s worth considering here what history has taught us regarding Microsoft OS roll-outs. I was a member of the initial Windows 95 support team for Canada and I recall all the hype about how business would leap at the opportunity to upgrade from Windows 3.x to Windows 95. At the time, I was doubtful, since I observed that many operations had a lot of older PCs which couldn’t run Windows 95 and I felt that it was such a leap from the old OS that the intimidation factor would keep many IT decision makers from jumping into the fray.

I was right. Not too long after launch, the support centre laid off a number of agents because we simply were not getting a large amount of calls from business. The majority of calls I fielded were home users and not corporate. It became clear pretty quickly that most corporations simply felt the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) was more than they were willing to put out for immediately.

Add to this many initial problems with drivers and the much ballyhooed “Plug and Play” feature (a.k.a: plug and pray) and you can understand the reluctance to spend heavy on migrating PCs to the new OS. And, of course, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Many IT managers felt at the time it was better to sit back and let things shake out a bit before making their move.

Let’s also be fair and consider that, at that time, IT was still struggling to develop policies and practices for dealing with this kind of migration. Now, ten years on, they have more structure and (hopefully) best practices in place which make such migrations much less intimidating. I would like to think that most IT departments have been considering their options and making plans for some time now. One potential corporate customer at the event also professed a concern about the initial lack of 64-bit applications available for Vista.

So, I don’t see a huge initial stampede over to Vista for corporate Canada, but what about the small businesses? SMBs and SOHOs will also likely take a wait and see attitude at first. They can’t afford the human resources for training and desktop support issues which will arise during this kind of roll out. As with larger corporations, the best idea here is to roll it out in phases. If I was an IT manager, my first thought would be to identify my most PC friendly users and designate them as trial subjects for the new OS. These individuals can then help spread the word about Vista to other users and hopefully reduce any “upgrade anxiety” – call it a “buddy system”.

I also don’t think most home users will jump until they upgrade their home PCs or until they feel they have to. All the ad campaigns in the world will not convince the majority of home users to run out and buy Vista. Besides, no one expects this to be a smooth migration and most users tend to be concerned about moving current applications and games to a new OS. Only geeks like me actually look forward to spending a weekend reconfiguring and reloading our PCs.

There are a lot of good reasons to upgrade to Vista, but are these reasons important to you? In the end, can any Vista campaign create such a need that it will have all of us panting in anticipation? Simply put, no.

Let me put it this way, the car I really want to buy is a Magnum, but what I need and what I’m going to end up with are two different things (I’m thinking mini-van here). Why? Because, impulsiveness aside, in this context it’s not normally about what we want, but about what we need, and I doubt we will all (at least initially) take the view that Vista is a need rather than a want.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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