As Microsoft prepares to sell the business version of its Windows Vista operating system, Dell is beefing up its IT service offerings to compete for customers with Hewlett-Packard.Consumer versions of Vista won\u2019t go on sale until Jan. 30, but PC vendors will start selling Vista-powered computers to businesses on Thursday, including the Vista OS, Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007. The prospect of customers rushing to upgrade their hardware to handle the often-delayed OS has pushed many PC vendors to expand their IT services.Lenovo Group on Thursday announced that its ThinkVantage suite of PC productivity tools will cover Windows Vista Enterprise. Corporate IT managers use ThinkVantage applications to help automate system recovery, wireless connectivity and network security.Dell made a bid for some of those same users, offering an online application called the Dell Readiness Advisor to indicate needed hardware updates, and using "custom factory integration" to load Vista on new PCs before they leave the warehouse. Dell also announced a Vista ROI Tool that lets users track their return on investment for the new OS over a three-year period. These services are available for customers who license Vista for five or more seats on server and storage products, desktops and notebooks.Hardware vendors expect their sales to jump with Vista\u2019s release, because customers will need more powerful PCs to handle the improved security, unified messaging and translucent Aero windows."To realize a lot of the functionality of what Vista has to offer, we\u2019re recommending dual-core processors, 2G bytes of memory, bigger hard drives and widescreen displays," said Kevin Libert, senior manager of the Microsoft Alliance for Dell.That promise of increased sales is one reason Dell has committed to recommending products like Microsoft\u2019s Exchange 2007 instead of competing products like IBM\u2019s Lotus Notes and Domino or Novell\u2019s GroupWise.Despite such alliances, Microsoft has seen its relationship with PC vendors become strained as it missed several deadlines for shipping the new OS. Many PC vendors now fear their holiday sales will slump as customers hold out for the consumer release. In return, Microsoft has tried to assuage the problem by offering coupons to customers, assuring them free upgrades to Vista in 2007 for PCs they buy before the new year.Microsoft may have already waited too long, however, since users typically adopt new technology slowly. In the business world, Vista adoptions will likely begin with a trickle of early adopters on Nov. 30, and swell to include nearly two-thirds of users within three years, Dell said.That scenario is drawn from Dell\u2019s experience in selling computers and services to 5 million of its customers as they\u2019ve migrated to successive versions of Microsoft\u2019s Exchange e-mail server over the past five years. Today, 60 percent of that customer base\u00a0is using the most recent version\u2014Exchange 2003\u2014while 30 percent still uses Exchange 2000, and fewer than 10 percent uses the original Exchange version 5.5, Libert said.-Ben Ames, IDG News Service (Boston Bureau)Related Links:\n\nAnalyst: Vista Adoption to Outpace Windows XP\n\nForrester: Consumers Won\u2019t Flock to Microsoft Vista\n\nMicrosoft Taps Partners to Ease Vista Compatibility\n\nMicrosoft Vista Consumer Release Set for Jan. 30Check out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.