Hundreds, if not thousands, of articles have been written describing how poorly Windows Vista fits in the enterprise space. After Forrester recently reported that Vista's business penetration is still in the single digits at 9%, we can officially call Windows Vista an utter failure in business. Of course, the same report also indicates that 2009 will see Vista business penetration surpassing 30% as sales of the operating system surge; that outlook seems a bit optimistic. Currently, 81% of businesses use either Windows 2000 or Windows XP as their operating system of choice. Remember, Vista first become generally available in late 2006, so we're looking at more than two years for organizations to consider their Vista plans and we're still seeing single digits.
I'm the furthest things you'll find from a Microsoft-hater. In fact, I generally like their products and deploy a lot of solutions at Westminster College based on the company's products. I've spent a whole lot of time thinking about the Vista issue and, like many other IT leaders, have come to the conclusion that Westminster will not be undertaking a general deployment of Windows Vista. We currently support mostly Windows XP, with a very few Vista-based laptops in the mix. We also support Mac OS X. We do not provide nor do we support Linux on the desktop.
For transparency's sake, I want to say the following: For my personal use, I actually run Windows Server 2008. I much prefer the newer interface that was introduced with Windows Vista and need the option to use more than 4GB of RAM. For that and other reasons, I run Windows Server 2008 x64 on my home machine. I have also run Vista on a great number of different machines with varying levels of success. Overall, for individual use, Vista can be a good choice, but beware of mass rollouts.
Windows Vista simply brings with it too much baggage. Rightly or wrongly, the general user base has the perception that "Windows Vista" equals "huge mistake". Originally, Windows Vista was definitely a bad choice for the enterprise. With the first service pack, Microsoft corrected a lot of the problems but by then, the PR damage had been done. Vista also increases hardware requirements over XP to a point where older computers, particularly those already bogged down running XP, Office, etc, will have difficulty with Vista. As hardware refresh cycles get longer due to economic conditions, organizations will rely on older hardware for longer periods of time.
Further, there are still some application vendors out there that do not yet provide great support for their applications under Windows Vista. Enterprise application vendors can take a long time to make changes necessary to support a new operating system and the Vista change, even with the product's extraordinarily long development cycle, seemed to catch some vendors off guard for some reason. Although the software compatibility situation is much better than it was even six months ago, some organizations still can't move to Vista because of application compatibility problems. By the time Windows 7 is released, I expect the application compatibility issue to be a very minor annoyance at best and, if it is still problematic for a particular application, there will be other ways, such as broader support for application virtualization, by which compatibility can be achieved.
Today, organizations are also looking at options to reduce hard costs associated with desktop computing as well as the management overhead inherent in the desktop infrastructure. To accomplish these goals, organizations are turning to VDI. By deploying VDI using Windows XP virtual desktops, organizations are able to cram more machines onto fewer servers, thus keeping costs lower.
If you can't tell whether I like Vista or not, the answer is that I really don't know sometimes. There are times that I really like it and, as I said, I like the new interface and some of the features, but I also completely understand the reluctance for enterprise IT leaders to deploy the operating system.
So, what to do?
In short, skip Windows Vista and make the jump to Windows 7 when it comes out. So far, the beta that was released in January has proven to be spectacular in a number of ways. It feels snappier than Vista, and appears smaller and lighter than Vista and possibly on par with Windows XP when it comes to performance. The general feedback from beta testers is even better considering the fact that beta builds are generally heavier than the product that is released.
The compatibility gains vendors have made to support Windows Vista will not go to waste, either. Remember, Windows 7 is not a ground-up rewrite of the Windows codebase! It's an evolution of a product with a long history and it builds on Windows Vista. While many would consider Windows 7's Vista roots detrimental to Windows 7's success, I don't. Although the product is considered a failure in many eyes and most organizations are avoiding it, Windows Vista was a radical upgrade in many senses. Many authors have written that Windows 7 is really Windows Vista service pack 2. Bear in mind that Windows XP was considered a difficult choice for organizations until it had service pack 2 under its belt. Sure, Windows XP SP2 wasn't a paid upgrade; Windows 7 will probably cost a few bucks, but most upgrades will probably come through licensing agreements and on new hardware anyway. I don't see a lot of organizations laying out a lot of cash just to move to a new version of Windows.
When it comes to VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure), I expect Windows 7 to be a popular choice as well. If reports about its performance and real resource usage are accurate, it may be a viable choice to command respect in this realm, in which Windows XP currently reigns supreme.
In closing, for small and medium sized organizations, continue downgrading to Windows XP as new hardware comes in and, upon release, make the jump to Windows 7. That will be our desktop operating system plan at Westminster College.