eWeek Uses Comments from RESCUECOM CEO in Vista Coverage

RESCUECOM Advises to Wait Before Installing Vista Service Pack

August 29, 2007:

eWeek Interviews David A.Milman about Forthcoming Release of Vista Service Pack

Vista SP1: To Wait, or Not?

Windows Vista Service Pack 1 is expected to release in early 2008, but Microsoft already is telling customers not to wait for it. Should they listen?

Today, Microsoft released a Vista white paper offering some details about SP1. Microsoft recommends that "organizations do not need to wait for SP1 to deploy Windows Vista; they are encouraged to begin their Windows Vista evaluation and deployment now."

The service pack isn't necessarily reason to hold off Vista testing or deployments, even though businesses often use the first update as such a measure.

"Service packs are a little less important than they were, because Microsoft is more proficient [in delivering updates] in other ways," said Michael Silver, research vice president for Gartner Client Computing. For example, Microsoft has used Windows Update as a mechanism to push out ongoing updates, including two hefty ones yesterday.

But the newest Windows Server 2008 delay is a mitigating circumstance that could make enterprise upgrade plans stickier. Earlier today, Microsoft put the server software on track for delayed release. Some analysts had predicted that, together, Windows Server 2008 and Vista SP1 would drive Microsoft software deployments on the desktop and server.

Why Not Now?

Microsoft is clearly using today's Vista SP1 timetable and white paper as a marketing opportunity. In fact, Microsoft's SP1 information looks to be mostly about evangelizing reasons to test and deploy now, rather than wait until the update's release next year. Announcement of the timing may not be coincidental, given business adoption of Vista.

"Mainstream adoption has not yet really started," Silver said. "Mainstream adoption is starting in fourth quarter of this year to mid next year."

Enterprises simply aren't rushing out to deploy Vista. Concerns about the operating system's operational readiness is one reason. Vista simply is too much trouble for many enterprises.

"Vista is still maturing. It's not as stable as XP - yet," Silver said.

David Milman, CEO of computer services company Rescuecom, agreed. "My recommendation to our customers is to wait at least six months following SP1's release before adoption."

Levels of Frustration

The trouble with Vista is change - and lots of it. While the user interface is modestly changed from XP, the plumbing is radically overhauled.

"Many of the reasons applications broke in the move from XP to Vista were intentional - because of architectural changes," said David Zipkin, Windows client senior product manager.

Zipkin makes a surprising but apt admission. Plumbing changes like UAC (User Account Control) and Windows Presentation Foundation are culprits that break application compatibility.

Employment problems or delays - related to Vista maturity and functional changes compared to Windows XP - fall into four broad categories:

  • Hardware upgrades, to support Vista's heftier system requirements, particularly graphics.
  • Hardware compatibility, because of ongoing driver deficiencies.
  • Application compatibility, where homegrown and commercial software don't work or don't work well with Vista.
  • Licensing and versioning, particularly choices among Vista Business, Enterprise or Ultimate; in part because Enterprise requires Software Assurance.

Because of ongoing deployment problems, many IT organizations are "frustrated," Milman said. He recently moved a "self-proclaimed early adopter" medium-size business back to XP from Vista. "They weren't prepared for the level of frustration," he said. Ongoing Vista compatibility problems with standard commercial applications like Acrobat, QuarkExpress and Photoshop hurt business productivity.

"They ran Vista for two or three months," Milman said. "They just gave up and went back to XP. This is not an uncommon occurrence."

Still, the channel and enterprises should expect there to deployment problems, and Microsoft can't solely be blamed for them all. Windows XP stayed in the market for an unusually long time. As such:

  • The operating system and supporting software, hardware and services reached an unusually high level of maturity.
  • Businesses haven't confronted the major hardships of deploying new Windows versions for some time; complacency is a bitch.
  • The market standardized on hardware configurations and drivers that fell below Vista requirements.

As such, this Windows upgrade cycle is unusually jarring.

Fine-tuning Ahead

From the perspective of inertia and resistance, Microsoft should encourage businesses to test and at least do modest deployments now. The company has loads of messaging today - the white paper, Q and A and blogs - all trying to de-emphasize the importance of Service Pack 1 while emphasizing a model of ongoing updates.

The broader issue is something else: Many businesses will make deployment decisions for other reasons, such as PC, networking and infrastructure, software application and server software upgrades. For them, Vista SP1 will be little or even no consideration. And for them, Microsoft gives good advice about testing and deploying now.

Still, Microsoft has unexpectedly created circumstance, and so reason, why some larger enterprises should hold off Vista deployments until SP1's release: Image management. With Vista, Microsoft introduced the nifty WIM (Windows Imaging Format) mechanism, which allows offline patching. According to a TechNet document on the feature:

"You can add or delete certain operating system components, patches, and drivers without creating a new image. Rather than spending a few hours updating an image, which you do now with Microsoft Windows XP, for example, you can update an image in minutes. For example, to add a patch to a Windows XP image, you must boot the master image, add the patch, and then prepare the image again. With Windows Vista, you can simply service the image offline."

"Microsoft is patching the services piece that would allow that," Silver said. Offline imaging won't be available to apply SP1 to Vista, complicating the updating process, particularly for organizations with large numbers of PCs.

Commenters to this blog often debate Windows Vista's merits, and I've even called the operating system a "train wreck." But like XP, which Microsoft greatly hardened with Service Pack 2, Vista will improve with age.

"In two or three years, Vista will be the standard, and it will be a fine-tuned operating system," Milman said. "But it's going to take a bit [of time]."

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