Cutting through the Nonsense about Windows Vista, Windows 7,
Cutting through the Nonsense about Windows Vista, Windows 7,
By: Peter Schay
Date: 14 January 2009
Hot Issue: What is the optimal timing for rolling-out
new versions of desktop operating systems?
of application software compatibility continues to be the number-one reason
that businesses have not accepted Windows Vista.
represents a major advance in Windows security, but the advance comes with
commonly tie OS upgrades with periodic hardware refresh programs.
time has come to start planning your migration to Vista or Windows 7.
With Microsoft’s release last week of the Windows 7 beta, there
has been a crescendo of articles and blogs from pundits unmatched since the
release of Windows Vista two years ago. Much of it is rubbish, betraying a lack
of understanding of how operating systems are engineered, the economics of the
software industry, and IT departments’ real decision processes. This SmartTip summarizes our advice to clients for optimizing
their desktop operating system selection/migration in 2009 and beyond.
Why has Vista “failed”?
Let’s accept the premise that the adoption rate for Vista,
particularly in business, has been far lower than Microsoft had anticipated.
The reasons generally cited include the following:
Lack of application
software compatibility – We believe this was, and continues to be, the
number-one reason that businesses have not accepted Vista as their default
desktop platform. It’s important, however, to clarify different aspects of
application software incompatibility:
of repeated, lengthy slips in the Vista development schedule, many software
vendors (including some major ones) delayed testing their products with Vista
pre-releases, which in turn delayed the availability of Vista-compatibility
patches/releases. This issue was largely resolved, however, by the
third-quarter of 2007, which is much sooner than most businesses would have rolled-out
a new OS version anyway.
it or not, many businesses are running back-level versions of application
software products, due to the effort and cost required to migrate to current
versions. As such, the availability of Vista support in the current versions of
those products is no help. Likewise, all of the usual difficulties with
modifying legacy in-house-developed applications apply to modifying those
applications to work properly with Vista. Finally, in the case of
out-of-production peripherals or embedded systems, the vendors have no
motivation to provide Vista-compatible drivers or applications.
distressingly large number of applications, both vendor products and in-house
developed, violate long-standing Microsoft programming recommendations (e.g., don’t
store variable information in the Program Files directory). This often requires
that end-users operate with administrator privileges (a really bad idea from a
security perspective). Moreover, too many existing applications took advantage
of known holes in Windows’ security model. Which leads us to…
You can’t have it both ways when it comes to security. – Microsoft
has taken a lot of abuse over the years about the security of their products, for
the most part deservedly. We believe, however, that since launching their
“Trustworthy Computing” initiative in 2002, they really have been trying to do
their best to engineer more secure products – given the realities of software
engineering and economics. While not perfect (no non-trivial software is),
Vista does represent a major advance in Windows security.
Ironically, for all the effort
they put into securing Vista, Microsoft still can’t win. First, as noted above,
the security improvements in Vista are a major factor in the lack of
application software compatibility. Second, one of those improvements, User Account Control (UAC), turned out
to be a major end-user annoyance.
The principles behind UAC are
simple, and hard to disagree with (at least if one is concerned about security,
as businesses should be). First, don’t allow malicious software (whether from
e-mail, web sites, or wherever) to surreptitiously install itself or otherwise
modify the system. Second, don’t allow end-users to do things that could potentially
undermine enterprise security policies.
Unfortunately, the Vista
implementation of UAC, which brings up a dialog box requiring administrator
credentials whenever a program tries to do anything that violates the
principles above, can be highly annoying, particularly if one installs a lot of
software or doesn’t have administrator credentials. Of course, if your enterprise locks-down its desktop
configuration, then your users shouldn’t see UAC anyway.
Personally, as a Vista user
since RC1, I like UAC, having trained
myself to stop and think each time I see it, “am I doing something that should
be asking this, or is it malware?,” but for many users it was seen as getting
in the way of getting their job done.
Hardware requirements – Let’s face it – Vista needs at least a Pentium 4 processor and 1.5 Gbytes of RAM to run acceptably. And yes, the fancy Aero
graphics require a discrete graphics processor with 128 Mbytes of video memory
– not something that the usual installed-base business PC would have had in
January 2007. Who cares? The reality is that businesses don’t typically upgrade
to new OS versions on installed hardware anyway – the labor required to do an
in-place OS version upgrade is too expensive. Businesses migrate to new
operating systems as part of their hardware refresh cycle, and any new PC has more than enough horsepower
to handle Vista.
With the current squeeze on IT
spending, of course, an obvious and common tactic is to increase the time
between hardware refresh cycles. Many businesses are now adopting four-to-five
year cycles to stretch their IT budget and resources. This is another reason
for the slow uptake of Vista in the enterprise.
User interface (UI) differences – Yes, some things moved around in
Vista from where they are in Windows XP, and it does take some time to learn the
differences. Yes, Microsoft has a long history of rearranging the UI with each
major release, but somehow the persistent perception is that the Vista UI does
not offer enough new benefits to justify a switch. Curiously, this obstacle is
becoming a moot point, since it is nearly impossible to get a consumer-grade PC
with anything other than Vista, so chances are rising that users have
experienced a Vista system at home. Moreover, Microsoft Office 2007 has been
accepted in business more widely than Vista, despite its significantly
different UI, because the general feeling has been that the benefits of the new
features outweigh the migration training costs.
What about Windows 7?
Remember those analogy questions when you took the SAT in high
school? Windows 7 is to Windows Vista as
Windows XP is to Windows 2000. Don’t be fooled by the version numbering –
Windows 7 should have been called version 6.2. Why isn’t it? Because Vista has
developed such a bad reputation that Microsoft, for purely marketing reasons,
needs to leave the Vista brand behind.
For IT managers, the most important thing to understand about
Windows 7 is that, with regard to all the
reasons cited above to delay migrating to Vista, they apply more-or-less
equally to Windows 7 as well. If your application software is incompatible
with Vista, then it will be incompatible with Windows 7. While there will
incremental performance improvements in Windows 7, the hardware requirements
are the same as for Vista. UAC has been improved to have more granular control,
and thus be less annoying, but it’s still there (as it should be). And yes, the
UI changes yet again, but is much more like Vista than like XP.
Is it time to look seriously at alternatives such as Linux
A recurring theme in the blogosphere, ever since it learned what
the hardware requirements for Vista would be, is that the demise of XP,
combined with the lack-of-acceptance of Vista, creates a huge opportunity for
desktop Linux and/or Macintosh. We consider this naïve at best, and
disingenuous at worst.
Why? Look back at the number-one reason that businesses have
rejected Vista – lack of application
compatibility. Neither Linux nor Macintosh brings anything to this party.
Yes, Linux has Wine, but an application sensitive enough to Windows version
differences to not run on Vista is not likely to run on Wine either. Yes,
Macintosh can run Windows, as a virtual machine using VMware or dual-boot using
Boot Camp, but doing so adds complexity for both the end user and IT, and still
leaves the issue of the eventual end-of-support for XP on the table.
The pundits seem to have
missed the fact that business applications (and hardware refresh cycles) are
what ultimately drive IT decisions. Until there is a compelling, Vista/7-only
business application, migration will not be a business priority. Lack of
application software compatibility must be addressed before a migration is
Rolled-out as part of a
regular hardware refresh cycle, Vista per se isn’t any more expensive than
XP. The preparation for an enterprise migration to Vista/7, however, is a
When it comes to operating
system migrations, planning is everything. Even if you don’t intend to
actually begin the migration for a few more years, the time to start planning
(and upgrading to Vista/7 compatible application software) is now.
Vista represents a major
advance in Windows security.
Any new PC has more than enough horsepower to handle Vista.
So, what should businesses do in 2009? Sooner or later, Microsoft
is going to pull the plug on XP, as they eventually did for Windows NT and 98.
Unless you have other motivations to undertake a migration to Linux or
Macintosh (either of which would be a much bigger effort than migrating to
Vista/7), now is the time to start planning your Vista/7 migration. If you
already have a Vista migration project underway, continue it, as Vista and
Windows 7 will coexist nicely. If you haven’t started a Vista migration
project, Windows 7 availability will be soon enough that a “skip Vista”
migration plan makes sense – with the understanding that it isn’t going to save
you from the work and cost of upgrading your applications software to be
Started with Application Compatibility in a Windows Deployment – Microsoft
About the Author
Peter Schay, TAC Executive Vice President, has more than
25 years of experience as a senior IT executive in IT vendor and research
industries. Previously, he was Vice
President & Chief Technology Officer of SiteShell Corporation, an Internet
start-up which built and operated a network of 170 radio station websites. Prior to working for SiteShell, he served 12
years at Gartner, Inc. as Director of Research, Vice President Midrange
Computing Strategies service, Vice President & Service Director
Client/Server service, and Group Vice President Research Infrastructure &
Support. Before that he was Vice
President Marketing at Vitesse Electronics
Corporation, Product Marketing Manager for the VAX 8600 and VAXclusters
at Digital Equipment Corporation, and a Member of Technical Staff at AT&T