by Shane O'Neill

Why I’m Skipping Windows Vista: IT Speaks Out

Nov 04, 20086 mins
Small and Medium BusinessWindows

IT pros say they've looked past the "I'm a PC" commercials and Apple taunts, but many still see an upgrade from Windows XP to Vista as too risky a proposition. Here's why.

This story was updated to inlclude additional reporting. To read the latest story, click here.

Despite warnings to businesses about the dangers of skipping Windows Vista, many IT managers and CIOs are standing firm that the risks of migrating to Vista outweigh the benefits.

The recent press coverage regarding performance efficiencies seen in the Windows 7 pre-beta (delivered at Microsoft’s recent Professional Developers Conference) has dimmed the spotlight on Vista a bit.

Also, Vista sales have fallen short of expectations lately: For the fiscal first quarter of 2009, Microsoft’s Windows client division revenue increased a mere 2 percent in year-over-year growth, while operating income dropped by 4 percent.

Mike Nash, corporate VP of Windows product management, was asked recently if he expects users to bypass Vista and wait for Windows 7. He referenced the progress made in Vista SP1, but added that “customers are going to make their own decisions.”

Yes, they are. Whether they are spitefully, wholeheartedly skipping Vista or doing it for straightforward budgetary reasons, the decision on what to do (or not to do) with Vista still weighs heavy on the minds of IT managers.

IT pros and CIOs we talked to for this story have some old concerns regarding Vista, starting with its ROI, and some new ones, such as how they’d handle a Vista upgrade for users who’ve now decided based on months of negative publicity that Vista’s a bad choice.

What they have in common is clear: They’re sticking with XP, at least until Windows 7 arrives.

XP Works Just Fine, Thank You

The old expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, rings true for IT managers. Many do not see enough demand for Vista at their companies and XP is giving them everything they need. To upgrade would be to unnecessarily complicate their infrastructures, they say.

John Halamka, CIO of Harvard Medical School, says he has not been able to justify upgrading to Vista for his user population of doctors and nurses, citing the PC hardware requirements of Vista and the stability of XP.

“The hardware lifecycle in health care is five to seven years, and Vista requires more modern hardware then we have,” Halamka says. “Simplicity, ease of use and performance are key drivers for us. XP addresses these needs better than Vista.”

Steve Berg, VP of IT at Taser International, heads up an XP shop and plans to stay that way until Windows 7. “My rationale is that XP is running our applications very well and is extremely stable on our hardware,” he says.

Taser rolled out a few Vista installs internally, Berg says, and saw “instability issues and applications running much slower than they run on XP.”

Another big concern Berg has with Vista: Significant training would have to take place to get his users comfortable with a different look and feel, he says.

Hard to Justify Vista ROI

Any upgrade is an investment, and like any new Microsoft operating system, the Vista upgrade comes with multiple costs including new hardware, new drivers, possible compatibility problems and training of staff. Will there be a sufficient return on these IT budget investments? Some IT managers are still dubious.

Aron Smetana, CIO of Headlands Asset Management/Paul Financial in San Francisco, questions the tangible benefits of upgrading to Vista.

“The features don’t justify the costs of upgrading to Vista, which include upgrading and replacing hardware, the user learning curve, and the initial maintenance,” Smetana says.

His IT team tried out Vista, Smetana says, and although no one disliked it, “no one kept using it on a daily basis … there wasn’t a compelling case for individuals to keep using it.”

Having key business applications that are not certified on Vista is often a roadblock as well. Gasper Genovese, VP and CIO of Republic Media, a media consulting company in Phoenix, says he can’t implement Vista because of application certification. But he adds: “Even if that was not the case, there is no ROI on the training and disruption cost of making the change [to Vista]. Given the state of the economy, we need to focus on projects that will move us forward, not allow us to do the same thing differently.”

Stephen Laughlin, Director of IT at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, says he feels no pressure to upgrade because, “XP will be able to be used for a long time.” Laughlin feels an upgrade to Vista would be too elaborate for his company’s needs.

“It means also upgrading to Office, and possibly Exchange, and now Windows Server—there’s too much cost, time and energy,” he says.

Negative Vista Press on my Mind

Whether Windows Vista deserves all of the negative press it’s received is debatable, and even now, you don’t have to look far to see that debate unfold on any tech news site or blog.

But the public perception of Vista, true or not, is that it’s a failure. This perception tends to get into the heads of IT managers and affect purchasing decisions.

Smetana of Headlands Asset Management contends that Vista has been worn down by being knocked hard in the press.

“While my feeling is that it’s not as bad as people think it is, that’s hardly a glowing endorsement,” he says. “I can also tell you that lots of people, from power-users to Microsofties on my team, really wanted to like it, but no one felt compelled.”

Smetana adds: “When an end-user would ask us what was different or cool about it, almost everyone pointed to the Aero screen flipping and the new built-in desktop wallpaper. When that’s the biggest thing you can show someone, it makes for a tough sell to provision the budget to upgrade to Vista, and combined with the bad press, it’s a major uphill battle.”

Berg of Taser International also cites negative perceptions of Vista and says he doesn’t want to deal with the potential risks.

“We are on an Enterprise Agreement with Microsoft, so it wouldn’t cost us anything extra to upgrade. But I just foresee headaches and complaints from my user community.”