In my previous article, The business case for Microsoft Windows Vista, I discussed some of the positive aspects of Vista. In this one, you'll hear about the other side of the coin.
Windows XP is still very functional
Although Windows XP is more than five years old, it is still a very popular and stable operating system that appears to have a lot of life left in it. Service Pack 3 for Windows XP is long overdue and is expected to be released in the 2008. The 64-bit edition of Windows XP will provide support for the accelerating adoption rate of 64-bit workstations. Until Microsoft officially stops supporting Windows XP, many customers may take a wait-and-see approach until Vista is more widely adopted and "proven" in the business market.
New hardware requirements
One of the loudest objections to Windows Vista is in response to the new hardware requirements. But Windows NT-based OS releases have always pushed the existing hardware standards, and Vista is no exception. All of the requirements for Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000 and Windows XP seemed steep when they were first announced; but they all became the standard entry-level workstation within a few months of release.
Real world advice for the final release of Vista may recommend a faster processor and even 2 GB of RAM depending on application requirements. In my experience with Vista Beta through RC2 releases, performance has been very reasonable on workstations with 2.0 GHz processors and less than 1 GB of RAM if the Aero interface and menu animations are disabled.
Vista's code base is too large and complex to be manageable
Over the last five years of development, Windows Vista has grown to a staggering 50 million lines of code, with over 50 dependency layers. This level of complexity alone is cause for concern for some of Microsoft's critics. But dropped features, political problems within Microsoft and very public pressure to release Vista before the end of the year have many people concerned about the quality of Vista's code.
To its credit, Microsoft has been very open with the Vista Beta program and has used the early feedback to make significant changes in subsequent releases. The RC1 release, which was expected to be very close to completed code, was met with harsh reviews regarding hardware compatibility issues, battery life on laptops and sluggishness. Vista RC2 addressed many of these issues and looks solid in terms of reliability and performance. Overall, quality of the code will make or break Vista, but based on initial testing, RC2 looks more solid than Windows XP was at its release date.
User Account Control (UAC)
Vista's User Account Control is a controversial security feature that forces users to run their daily tasks using non-administrator credentials (even if they are using an administrator account). It then elevates their privileges for the functions that do require higher permissions.
In theory, UAC would prevent users from installing unapproved software and prevent the spread of malware and other security threats, and it would still enable users to run legacy applications and perform basic system tasks without administrator privileges. In practice, UAC is the most hated "feature" in Vista because it prompts the user endlessly during a normal session. Most people just want to turn it off. For the less tech-savvy users, UAC could result in a flurry of help desk calls requesting guidance on how to respond to the prompts.
Microsoft has used the early feedback from the beta program to scale back the number of prompts and is reportedly still struggling to find a balance between security and usability. User Account Control behavior can be managed centrally via Group Policy, but this is one more feature that will require pre-deployment testing and user training.
User and staff training
Just as users are finally getting used to Windows XP, thanks to widespread adoption by consumers, Microsoft has made changes to the user interface and menus. It replaced the green start button with a round button with a Vista logo and no text. The Start Menu has been reorganized. Sub-menus have changed throughout the OS. IE 7 has a new look, new features and a new navigation menu that is sure to confuse and frustrate users. And, user access control pop-ups will have users calling the help desk asking what to do.
Many of the user interface issues can be resolved by using a few GPO settings and instituting some user training. There are still "classic" theme options available in Vista that provide an interface similar to Windows 98 if necessary. However, the IE 7 interface and Office 2007 "ribbon menus" don't have a "classic" option and may require additional user training.
In an effort to combat software piracy, Microsoft introduced the controversial Product Activation features in Windows XP and Office and has added the Windows Genuine Advantage program to Windows Update and other free downloads. In the past, Microsoft excluded Product Activation for volume-licensed editions of Windows to reduce the administrative burden on corporations. Since that time, Microsoft has discovered that many of the pirated versions of Windows XP and Office are volume-licensed editions, using leaked keys.
Microsoft Vista introduces the Software Protection Platform, which is deeply imbedded into the operating system and can limit the functionality of system components if it determines the OS is genuine or not. Microsoft also introduces Volume Activation 2.0 (VA2) for clients using volume licenses. For companies with fewer than 25 workstations, Microsoft offers a Multiple Activation Key (MAK), which can activate a limited number of installations with a single key by connecting to a local machine or Microsoft's servers.
For larger environments, Microsoft offers the Key Management Service (KMS), which is installed on two local machines in the environment (one primary and one backup). Once initially activated, Vista and Longhorn clients must connect to the KMS machines at least once every 180 days for it to remain activated.
This new feature will certainly require additional deployment testing and planning and may meet with some stiff resistance from customers that don't want to worry about mobile users who don't connect to the main network for six months or troubleshoot faulty deactivations. Fears that Microsoft may use the KMS service to audit clients and extract additional licenses may also delay adoption of Vista.
In my next article, I'll discuss other issues IT managers need to consider before migrating to Vista.
Bernie Klinder is an IT Project Lead with Blue Chip Consulting Group in Cleveland, Ohio. He was the founder and editor of LabMice.net, a comprehensive resource index for IT professionals who support Microsoft Windows NT/2000/XP/2003 and BackOffice products. For his contributions to the information technology community, Bernie was selected as a Most Valuable Professional by Microsoft. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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