Mid-market Still Mostly Cool to Windows Vista

Vista still poses challenges for mid-market companies, where IT budget and staffs are stretched tight. Many mid-market IT pros say application incompatibility fears and hardware requirements have stopped them from upgrading, though some are now giving Vista a second look.

The system requirements involved in upgrading to Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system remain a problem for many IT departments. But they can be magnified at mid-market companies, because of smaller budgets and smaller staffs, with tech vets who may be resistant to change.

Unlike small businesses, mid-market companies don't solely use store-bought mainstream applications that integrate smoothly with Vista. They tend to use mainstream apps along with older and internally-customized applications that are more likely to butt heads with Vista.

And then there are the hardware requirements. When Vista was released, Microsoft advised that businesses run Vista on computers with at least 40GB of storage, 1GB of memory and a 1GHz 32- or 64-bit processor. IT managers in the mid-market continue to grumble that Vista requires more modern hardware than they want, need or can afford.

"Our decision [to stay with Windows XP] was initially based on our installed hardware base," says Mark Horste, IT Director at Centers for Dialysis Care, a midsize health care facility in Cleveland.

"Our purchasing cycle for PC and thin client platforms favor consistency and cost effectiveness," Horste says. "Early tests of Windows Vista indicated it simply would not run fast enough on the majority of systems on our network. Windows XP has proven to be a stable and adequately secure operating system for our needs."

Smaller companies have been quicker to upgrade to Vista than the mid-market, to date. Still, Al Gillen, a research vice president at IDC, says that signs show that the mid-market is coming around on Vista.

"Our research shows that the mid-market is warming up to Vista and will continue to do so in 2009."

A Gradual Warm-Up to Vista Ahead?

Bolstering IDC's predictions, there have been some incremental victories for Vista over the past few months. In August, Forrester research data showed that Vista deployments were finally ramping up at enterprises, and that Vista migrations were coming from Windows XP machines, whereas previously, most were coming from Windows 2000.

On Monday, Microsoft reported that Windows gained market share for the second time in three months, with Vista increasing its market share 0.96 percent last month.

The release of Vista Service Pack 1 in March and a slow—albeit very slow—shift in the public's negative views of Vista are two factors that may be giving mid-market IT managers some comfort.

But the Vista adoption story is a complicated one. And for every positive report about Vista adoption, there's one brimming with bad news right around the corner.

A June, 2008 survey of 1,162 IT professionals conducted by King Research revealed that 60 percent of respondents report they have no plans to deploy Vista, up from 53 percent in a similar 2007 survey; also, 83 percent were concerned about compatibility of required business software with Vista.

Those numbers are in line with the mid-market IT managers interviewed for this story, who most typically point to system requirements, staff training, application incompatibility fears, and an expected disruption in user productivity as reasons for skipping Vista.

Christopher Allen, IT manager at the Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia, Mo., has Windows XP Pro SP3 standardized on all his company's workstations and likes it that way. "Even when Windows 7 comes out, it may be some time before we upgrade to that," he says.

Allen stresses the system requirements of Vista as a deterring factor.

"Vista has large overhead requirements which keep us from changing. Even if we upgraded our old systems to accommodate Vista, the cost of upgrading is prohibitive."

Some Give Vista Second Look

Skipping Vista may be the rule in the mid-market, but there are exceptions. Michael Spears, CIO for the NCCI (National Council on Compensation Insurance), has recently given Vista a second look.

After upgrading to Office 2007 from Office 2003 and switching from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook/Exchange for the council's 950 employees last year, Spears took some time to rethink his original decision to pass on Vista.

Spears says he's not a Vista lover and ultimately wants to get to Windows 7, but he worries about waning support for XP and views Vista as a good bridge.

"Although any benefits from Vista will not be major, the worst case scenario for me would be to have to get to a new OS, presumably Windows 7, in a short period of time," Spears says.

He says this would happen if Microsoft rolls out Windows 7, then soon after announces that it will no longer be supporting XP.

"The switch to Vista [32-bit] will not be a big deal and will likely let us work through a number of driver compatibility issues and that sort of thing," he says. "In essence, this will make our ultimate conversion to Windows 7 a little easier and certainly let us take the time to watch it mature instead of being forced to move off of XP."

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