Reg Tech Panel The first of our three polls on desktop operating systems is now complete. The poll looked at Reg reader opinions on the readiness of Windows Vista for business use. We’ll be putting together a complete analysis once the other two polls - on desktop Linux and OS X - are done. In the meantime, here are some headline findings from looking at the views of over 5,000 of you on the latest desktop offering from Microsoft.
Firstly, it was interesting to look at how much respondents said Vista was being used in the business. While critics say that it is largely being ignored, this isn’t strictly true. Overall, around six per cent of respondents said Vista was now being used "a lot" in their organisation, with another 30 per cent indicating use but at a more limited level.
In terms of distribution of activity, adoption doesn't appear to vary dramatically by organisation size, though indications are that penetration is a bit higher among the largest and smallest groups, with those in the middle (250 to 5000 employees) using Vista less at the moment.
As a word of warning, we need to be careful about taking the adoption figures too literally, as polls such as these tend to draw opinions from the two extremes – in this case, Vista enthusiasts at one end, and advocates of other operating systems (namely Linux and OS X) at the other. The two opposing skews should cancel each other out to some extent, but we can’t be absolutely sure.
Think for yourself
The main point is that there is quite a bit of real world experience out there with Vista now. Indeed, 13 per cent of our respondents said they had been directly involved in a Vista rollout, with another 23 per cent involved in evaluation of Vista for business use. Turning this on its head, it is interesting that 41 per cent of respondents had no direct experience of Vista rollouts, evaluations or even use, and another 17 per cent had only used Vista at home - yet this didn’t stop them offering an opinion on Vista’s suitability in a business context.
When we then consider the finding that 72 per cent of respondents believe that Vista is not ready for business, we therefore have to wonder what the overwhelming negativity and scepticism is based on - perhaps conversations with colleagues and peers, perhaps the general sentiment in the media. Or perhaps it's because they are so convinced that their favourite Windows alternative is the best, and that Microsoft could not possibly come up with anything as good.
Looking behind the perceptions, most of the reasons cited for Vista being unsuitable for business use are to do with hardware support and efficiency. Time and time again we read feedback from respondents talking about Vista being bloated, excessively resource-hungry, and generally not suitable for running on the majority of machines that exist out there.
The second major objection was software compatibility. Overall, the sceptics feel that that the cost benefit is simply not there. They say a Vista migration translates to additional cost on the hardware front (eg having to replace older machines before their natural end of life), plus it brings with it additional cost and risk associated with both testing applications for compatibility and dealing with incompatibility issues. Quite a few anecdotal horror stories about failure by people who had tried the move were forthcoming from readers.
Such views contrast quite starkly with the opinions of those who have been through a rollout and come out of the other end with a positive view of Vista. In terms of benefits, this group cites two things consistently and at approximately the same level. The first is better security, whether through fundamental architecture improvements, specific features like BitLocker for encrypting drives on notebooks, or more comprehensive policy management and enforcement. Despite what we sometimes read, those with experience in their own organisations highlight security as a Vista strong point. The second major benefit highlighted is a boost to operational efficiency, with many experienced readers telling us that the combination of inherent OS manageability and better tools to take advantage of this makes a real difference in the deployment, support and maintenance cycle.
Closing the loop with the doubters, when asked what advice experienced Vista advocates would offer to others considering a Vista deployment, three critical success factors were highlighted. The first was having your act together - taking the migration seriously, planning it properly, and allocating adequate time and resources. Quite a few talked about avoiding a 'big bang' approach and the importance of assessing the impact of the migration on different groups of users, and phasing pilots and rollouts accordingly.
Well, what did you expect?
The second piece of advice was to test everything and make sure it works before rollout. Obvious, perhaps, but we read through hundreds of poor experiences from readers who had simply “gone for it” by installing Vista on existing kit with an existing application portfolio without testing or preparation, then complained of issues with either performance or hardware/software incompatibility. Some would argue that Microsoft is to blame here for not managing expectations, but as many readers pointed out, who in their right mind would actually take Microsoft’s word on minimum specs and compatibility issues without checking first?
Which brings us to the last piece of advice which those who had been through the process underlined time and time again – do not put Vista on older hardware and expect it to work smoothly, either from a user experience or operational support and maintenance perspective. Most of the success we heard about was from those who had either accelerated their hardware refresh cycles or only deployed Vista to the subset of users with the latest equipment. As an aside, there were quite a few references to annoyance with people who attempt to do otherwise then shout to the world about how Vista is unusable.
So, the conclusion?
Well, having looked at the wide and varied feedback on Vista, it is clear that the Mac OS X and Linux advocates are never likely to be convinced. It is also clear that expecting to simply upgrade the OS without regard for the hardware and application related considerations is a recipe for disaster, and if you are brave enough to take this approach in a business environment with a mix of kit running a wide range of applications, best to have your CV typed up and ready.
There are enough success stories out there now, however, to suggest that Vista can actually deliver benefits, particularly in the areas of security and operational efficiency - but it needs to be implemented responsibly, and that is not a trivial exercise. ®