January 29, 2008
2008 Thoughts on Vista & Office 2007
Listening to the tech press, you'd think Windows Vista is on its death bed. John Dvorak is behind the "Vista Death Watch", and other trade mags are supporting efforts to "save" XP. Not that the latter is a bad thing -- Windows XP's current state is that of an excellent operating system, very stable and mature, with more moderate hardware requirements than Vista. But of course, that wasn't how XP arrived, was it? No -- lots of hardware and driver incompatibilities, and it was very unstable and regularly crashed for many until the first two service packs (SPs) showed up. XP SP1 even managed to trash a number of PCs so badly their owners had to wipe them and reinstall XP from scratch. Talk about the ultimate failure for a patch designed to increase stability and performance. Thus many IT pros are waiting to see what SP1 will do for Vista.
Will Vista end up similar to how the market received Windows ME? The comparisons would seem apt so far. With each platform generation of Windows, Microsoft has typically taken three times to get it right, and the fourth to bloat it up beyond repair. The last time around, it was Win95, Win98, Win98 SE (widely acknowledged as the best and most stable of the Win9x series), and of course the "Millennium Edition" which was so bloated and troubled that it mainly only saw installations in the consumer PC market -- and many of those were sold as pre-installations on new PCs. This time around, we started out with the clunky Windows NT, saw substantial improvements in both Windows 2000 and XP, and are still wondering how Vista will play out.
The big success story for Microsoft is that their new Office 2007 line rocks compared to their previous efforts. I've been using the Office 2007 Professional suite since June and am hooked. Better and easier comparison tools built into Word (finally!!!!), built-in metadata removal, etc. The ribbon bar simply rocks. Outlook 2007 is a joy to use and its built-in search is blazingly FAST! I added OneNote 2007 recently and it's really been improved -- lots of new features and integration with the other Office 2007 apps and IE to easily move information over to OneNote. OneNote's new indexing and search within images is utterly fantastic. Microsoft actually listened to their customers in developing Office 2007, and it shows. While organizations will need to plan their migrations and third-party integrations with the Office 2007 suite carefully, I think many will like the numerous improvements once they give it a chance.
Despite the press-mongering, from direct experience I also don't have much in the way of negative feelings for Vista so far. Is it bloated? Absolutely. Does it consume disk space faster than an interstellar black hole? You bet. Does it seem designed by a committee with no unifying theme other than the "Aero" look and feel? Affirmative. But is it unstable? Not in my experience so far, although I'll reserve judgment until after I've installed all the forthcoming SP1-related patches. I've been running Vista Ultimate (32-bit) on a new Toshiba mid-range laptop since June with a TON of new and legacy apps, and overall it's been a pretty good experience. In other words, it hasn't stopped me from getting things done. No system crashes, no "stop" errors, mostly just some apps stopping and restarting.
With the above criticisms said, Vista is not without its charms. There are a number of things I really like about Vista:
Overall, and with the exception of hard-core gamers needing XP's faster performance, I see Vista as a nice OS for home users buying new PCs -- though it's somewhat crippled without Ultimate's enhanced features. Other than the new drive encryption and other security enhancements, it's definitely a tougher sell for businesses. There's just not that much noticeable improvement or enough compelling new features to justify moving from XP yet, especially when you consider the substantial cost and effort involved in testing/migrating hundreds of legacy programs to ensure their compatibility. Not to mention Vista has significantly higher hardware requirements if you want good performance for your users.
Thus Vista's OS licensing is only the tip of the total cost iceberg. IT executives are likely considering skipping Vista altogether and deploying the next OS, "Windows 7", when it ships (right now it's slated for 2010, but we all know Microsoft usually pushes back its ship dates along the way). The trick is to manage the time gap if Microsoft doesn't change their plans for phasing out XP. Currently, mainstream support for Windows XP SP2 will end on April 14, 2009, after which it switches to "Extended Support" that will last for 5 years until April 8, 2014.
As long as businesses are able to purchase new XP Pro licenses during this gap as needed, it will seriously undercut the need to upgrade to Vista. Many industry analysts are predicting Microsoft will extend XP's mainstream support given the considerable outcry from home and business users alike. However, MS usually waits to just before the support cutoff deadline before announcing any extensions, as earlier announcements would only serve to provide more reasons to stay with XP instead of upgrading.
Office 2007, on the other hand, is a noticeably superior improvement, and the clear winner from Microsoft this past year. Since switching, I never want to go back to an earlier version. The many new features and enhancements actually work well. Microsoft's apps division finally gets it.
Bottom line, if I were a CIO looking at Microsoft upgrades, I'd invest in Office 2007 and offset it by staying put with WinXP for a bit longer, especially as SP3 is coming and should extend its life. Don't get me wrong, I actually like Vista and have had a good experience with it so far. But when it comes to quantifying it, Vista is a much tougher sell for businesses than consumers.
Topic(s): Law Practice Management
Posted by Jeff Beard