What’s a business’s business case for Vista?

December 18, 2007

Vista busy cursor It was mentioned to me just recently that one of the world’s largest global firms is actively planning to roll out Vista during the course of 2008, in at least one major territory.

Now I’m sure there are businesses which have moved to Vista but the word on the street is that uptake of Vista by business is barely evident.

You have to ask the question. Why would a business migrate from (in general) XP to Vista? The decision process is unlike for personal or domestic use. There has to be a business case. You have to show that the change benefits the company in terms of one or more of:

  • More money in (more sales, better productivity)
  • Less money out (reduced costs, efficiency savings)
  • Less risk (contingencies that could reduce income or increase cost)

We’re talking here about the OS on computers used by employees: desktops or more commonly laptops. This is not about servers or other infrastructure.

Remember also that Windows is even more dominant in the business world than in the domestic environment. Increasingly, people buying computers for personal use might consider a range of options: Windows, Mac, Linux. Which OS happens to be the most fashionable or has the biggest “Wow!” factor comes into the reckoning.

Not so with business, where very nearly everyone uses Windows and choices are governed by what is good for revenues and profit.

With all that in mind, I say again – why would a business migrate to Vista? What’s in it for them? Let’s examine this under our three key headings.

More money in

The case for extra productivity from Vista is pretty thin. The fundamental raison d’etre of Vista is to mark the advance from a CPU-centric to a GPU-centric user interface. That is, use the graphics card to take responsibility for what the user sees on the screen, in the fashion of a 3D computer game, to escape the limitations of the 2-dimensional graphics world. This was going to happen to Windows sooner or later, but it is clear Microsoft were rattled by the fact that the Mac OS X got there first and by a margin of some years. All the same, the Mac is not (yet) a serious threat to Windows in the business arena. And how important is a whizzier OS user interface in the world of business? Specially when it is only imperceptibly whizzier. Vista’s GPU-centric UI barely makes use of the new 3D graphic possibilities unleashed by the technology change.

User interface apart, there is precious little else new in Vista you could point at and suggest it will make people more efficient or productive. Maybe the better indexing and search for finding documents, but there are solutions for this which avoid an OS upgrade.

Less money out

With Vista we’re looking at a case of more money going out, not less. There is an overhead involved in moving to Vista, starting with the IT department. A lot of testing is required to identify impact on other applications and technologies used in the business. It is well known there are plenty of applications which work in XP but not in Vista, so there will also be costs in knock-on upgrades of other software or work-arounds/fixes.

There is a hardware cost. Vista needs a decent graphics chip (not always included in laptops), an up to the minute dual core processor and plenty of RAM. Even if Vista is only provided on new or reimaged PCs, the standard hardware spec will need to be beefed up, with associated cost.

To the extent that Vista misbehaves from time to time (lock-ups, disk-thrashing, slow response) there will be an impact on productivity, but this should not be a significant issue if the IT department have done their jobs and the hardware spec is right.

Managing and implementing the whole migration will itself give rise to an overhead.

Less risk

Vista is claimed to be “more secure”. Well there is User Account Control (UAC) but it is poorly implemented and tends to cause more annoyance than it’s worth in terms of security benefits. Maybe UAC needs to be accounted for under lost productivity due to the related nuisance factor.

Other security features such as Data Execution Prevention (DEP) and built-in firewall are already available in XP.

Given that most big firm IT departments already have security well handled under XP it is questionable whether Vista adds anything much.

I would argue that introducing Vista is far more likely to increase risk. Anything which disturbs a settled, mature, well-understood status quo is only going to add risk. In a real corporate IT situation, with elaborate infrastructure and myriad complex applications and information interconnections, there is a real risk that something somewhere will go awry when you make a change of OS of this magnitude, however well you’ve done your homework.

In favour of Vista, there is the argument that Microsoft will not support XP forever. But they have already extended support once (under pressure from businesses – what a surprise!) and may have to extend the deadline again. The replacement for Vista, Windows 7 (codename “Vienna”) will probably be launched before support for XP is finally pulled.

– 000 –

Based on all of this the business case for Vista is just not there.  On the other hand, the case against is well nigh bullet proof. Little wonder businesses have been less than enthusiastic about making the switch.

So what about this big company I referred to at the top of this post? Beats me. Maybe they think it’s the natural thing to do. Move with the times and all that. Maybe Microsoft are offering them an attractive deal? Who knows. That would certainly have to come into the reckoning.

Maybe they think embracing Vista makes them look like they’re in step with technology. I’d suggest they would make a better impression, as a business to admire, if they made it clear they had done their homework and established a clear business case for sticking with XP.

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