Although Windows Vista is still several months from being complete, the beta builds are looking more and more like a finished product. The current beta is stable enough and complete enough that I know several people who are running it in a production environment.
I think Windows Vista's hardware requirements are going to be an issue for more people than anything else. I don't know if Microsoft has released a precise list of hardware requirements for Windows Vista yet. I can tell you from my own experiences, however, that Windows Vista will require some really beefy hardware.
The one thing Windows Vista seems to need more than anything else is memory. At one point I attempted to run Windows Vista on a computer that had 512 MB of RAM. Vista ran so slowly on that machine that it was unusable for all practical purposes. It would take a full 30 to 40 seconds just to open the control panel. On my test machines, Vista seems to run fairly well with 1 GB of RAM, but I didn't start seeing really good performance until I increased the memory to 2 GB.
The requirements for running the Aero desktop seems to be another source of ongoing apprehension for people. As I'm sure you know, the desktop in all previous versions of Windows has simply been a bitmap image. In Windows Vista though, the desktop will be rendered on-the-fly as opposed to just being a static image.
During my testing, I have used a number of different graphics cards ranging from fairly cheap to very expensive. When it comes to running basic applications (not games) on a system with a single monitor, I really haven't noticed much of a difference in performance from one graphics card to another. As long as your graphics card supports 3-D rendering, and has at least 256 MB of memory, you should be good to go.
32-bit versus 64-bit
Another issue you will most likely encounter when preparing to deploy Windows Vista is having to decide whether you want to run a 32-bit version or the 64-bit version. Windows XP also ships in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, but 64-bit processors have recently become more common. Most processors manufactured today are capable of running either 32-bit or 64-bit code, so the majority of people buying a new system for running Windows Vista will have to make a decision as to whether they want to run a 64-bit operating system.
I have worked extensively with the 32-bit and the 64-bit versions of Vista. The 32-bit version seems to be almost as stable and reliable as Windows XP. The 64-bit version does have some quirks, but these quirks have more to do with a 64-bit environment than bugs in the operating system. For example, you will probably face the fact that 64-bit operating systems only accept 64-bit drivers. Like other versions of Windows, the 64-bit version of Windows Vista comes with a large collection of drivers. Even so, there's a chance that you may have hardware devices for which drivers are not included. In such cases, you'll have to download the drivers from the manufacturer's Web site. Some manufacturers still are not producing 64-bit drivers for their products.
For example, when I attempted to run Windows Vista on my production desktop, one of the issues that made me revert to Windows XP was that I could not find a 64-bit driver for my gigabit network card.
Another concern associated with the 64-bit version of Windows Vista is that it will not run 16-bit code. Before choosing to adopt a 64-bit operating system, you should go through your applications one by one and see if any of them are 16-bit. Most 32-bit applications will work fine on the 64-bit version of Vista. At the moment, though, there is not even an emulator that will allow you to run 16-bit code. If you have mission-critical 16-bit applications, stick with the 32-bit version of Vista.
Another thing that stopped me from running Windows Vista on my production machine was that I had a few applications that just wouldn't run no matter what I did. Don't get me wrong, all of the big stuff like Microsoft Office ran fine. I mostly ran into problems with the smaller support-type applications. For example, I was unable to get my antivirus software to work with Windows Vista. I'm sure this is an issue that will be ironed out by the time Vista is released, but there was no way that I was going to run a production machine without antivirus software.
Almost as important was the fact that I could not get my printer driver to install. This may not be an issue for everyone. My primary printer is an HP Officejet 7310xi All-in-One. For some reason, the driver file for this particular printer is almost 300 MB in size. At any rate, the driver will not install on the current build of Windows Vista.
The last issue I want to talk about in regards to deployment is training. A lot has changed since Windows XP. Users shouldn't have too many problems finding their way around the desktop to run applications, but administrators may find themselves lost.
I recommend that you do not deploy Vista in a production environment until you either take a training course or take some time to experiment with the operating system.
As you can see from my experiences, Windows Vista is not quite ready for prime time yet. I do believe, however, that by the time Microsoft releases Windows Vista, it will be the most reliable version of Windows ever created.
About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer, he has written for Microsoft, TechTarget, CNET, ZDNet, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit his personal Web site at www.brienposey.com.