Believe it or not, you CAN make a business case for Windows Vista

Windows Vista is everyone's favorite whipping boy. But there are reasons to deploy Windows Vista other than to just get Aero Glass on your workstations. With an objective look at Vista matched to the needs of your organization, believe it or not, you can make a business case for Windows Vista.

Microsoft has long been a target for vitriol, hatred, and jealousy, but rarely have you seen as much schadenfruede from people as has been evident since the launch of Windows Vista. Granted, Microsoft oversold the revolutionary nature of Vista, going so far as to comparing it to the launch of Windows 95. However, rather than accolades that (rightly or wrongly) accompanied the launch of Windows 95, Microsoft was greeted with the groans that (rightly) occurred with the delivery of Windows ME.

IT leaders are faced with a quandry. Microsoft has postponed Windows XP's death sentence until the end of June. Windows 7 is supposed to come out next year, but we all know how Microsoft is about ship dates. Microsoft has finally shipped SP 1 for Vista, and the first service pack is usually when business decides to make the move to a new OS. The problem is Windows Vista's popularity and reputation rate right down there with the President and Congress. Is there a case to be made for Windows Vista in a business setting or are you better off sticking with XP and waiting for Windows 7? The answer is... Yes.

Setting the ground rules

If you ever took a class in Economics, you're familiar with the assumptions that go along with whatever economic theory the proponent is trying to forward. "Assume there's no inflation, no unemployment, and no taxes..." Well, sure under such a rosy scenario almost any theory works.

But for the purposes of this discussion, we have to make a few assumptions as well. Plus we have to make a few stipulations.

First, granted there's really no argument to be made about doing a forklift upgrade of an entire organization to Windows Vista. Has it been done? Sure. Has it been justified? Of course. However, I'm not going to make that argument here. Windows Vista requires too much hardware to run on most equipment that's more than 2 years old. I wouldn't want to go near Windows Vista Business with anything less than 2GB of RAM, a strong video card, and a dual-core CPU. So, I'm not going to try to talk about upgrading your entire organization to Vista.

Second, let's assume that training isn't a major issue. Training new users is always a hurdle when OS versions rev. This isn't a new problem with Windows Vista. As users buy new computers at home with new OS versions, they become familiar with the change and want to use the same OS at work. We saw all of this with the migration from Windows 9x to XP. Plus, even though Microsoft modified the Vista interface and rearranged some things, it's not a severe change. We'll assume that users can figure out the new OS and won't need too much hand holding which would raise costs.

Third, let's assume there's no cost differential between deploying a new PC with XP vs. deploying one running Vista. You've gotten Vista or XP 'free' with the purchase of your computer. Either that or you're a Software Assurance customer and the cost of desktop operating systems and upgrades are included in your License.

Finally, let's make the final obvious stipulation that we're talking about Windows Vista Business and/or Windows Vista Enterprise. Ultimate may include all of features of Vista Business, but it's missing some that are included in Enterprise, plus it includes Home features we're not interested in. Deploying Vista Home Premium in a business would be as foolish as deploying XP Home in a business, so we won't go there. Windows Vista Basic should be a complete non-starter for anyone in any circumstance.

Playing Devil's Advocate

With the assumptions out of the way, we can play a little bit of Devil's Advocate about making the move to Vista. How do we justify the decision to deploy Vista? We know not to trust Microsoft, OEMs, or anyone with a vested interest in our upgrade. Plus, we know that we should take the opinions of the naysayers (many of whom also have a vested interested in people NOT moving to Vista) with a grain of salt as well.

So how do we decide? Easy - match the features specific to Windows Vista Business or Enterprise to our business needs. It may sound obvious, but not necessarily with all of the surrounding negative noise.

What are some of the major features for business in Vista? Here are 5 of the biggest improvements in Windows Vista Business that can have an impact for your organization:

  1. Improved backup capabilities - Microsoft has included a backup utility for Windows since Windows 3.1, but this is the first one that's really effective for business. With it, you can automatically configure Windows to backup data to servers either with Complete PC Backup or Automatic File Backup. Microsoft has also taken the Shadow Copy feature from Windows Server 2003 and included it in Vista so you can quickly recover data that users accidentally destroy on their systems.
  2. Search - By integrating Windows Desktop Search in Vista, it's easier to find data and commands on a Vista system. It's even more efficient if your organization is running Office 2007.
  3. Enhanced connectivity - Microsoft has done several things to make Vista work better in a network. First, Vista natively supports IPv6, where it's an add-on for Windows XP. Plus, Microsoft has rewritten the TCP/IP stack found in Vista and Windows Server 2008. That, along with changes to SMB in Vista and Server 2008 allow them to transfer files much quickly over a network than the same equipment running XP and Server 2003.
  4. Bitlocker -Microsoft has included encryption in Windows since EFS debuted in Windows 2000. Bitlocker takes encryption on Windows a step further. EFS was kind of tacked onto Windows XP and Windows 2000 where Bitlocker is integrated into the OS and can encrypt an entire volume. It also runs before Windows even starts, making it a lot harder to crack.
  5. Additional Virtual Machine licenses - Theoretically, every time you create or run a virtual machine on your workstation, you're supposed to have a Windows license for each session. If you download Virtual PC 2007 and run it on your Windows Vista workstation, you're granted the rights to run a total of 4 more virtual Windows Vista sessions w/o buying additional licenses. Because Software Assurance grants you the right to downgrade to previous versions of Windows, you could run 4 entirely different versions of Windows on your Vista PC w/o spending another dime.

The last two features listed above are exclusive to Windows Vista Enterprise and Software Assurance customers. An added advantage of running Windows Vista Enterprise through Software Assurance is that you can deploy the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack. This add-on rounds out a lot of the benefits of Windows Vista in a server based environment. Some of the things included in it are:

  • Microsoft Application Virtualization - This allows you to create virtual applications that can be stored centrally on a server but run on any Vista workstation, saving the time and trouble of deploying full applications out to end users.
  • Microsoft Asset Inventory Service - Something borrowed from MOM and SMS. You can inventory software running on your Vista workstations using this feature.
  • Microsoft Advanced Group Policy Management - Vista adds many more Group Policy options than Windows XP allowing you even more granular control. The Group Policy Managment feature allows you roll back, version, and monitor group policy changes and effects on Vista workstations.
  • Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset - helps you recover workstations that get infected with spyware that Defender misses. It can also help recover systems that get hit with viruses in some case.

As you can see a much stronger argument can be made for Vista Enterprise rather than plain Vista Business. However, for the added security of timed backups and Shadow Copy as well as the performance enhancements when running in a Windows Server 2008 environment, you can still make the case to use Vista Business.

So what's the best case that can be made for Vista?

The best case scenario for making the move to Vista comes in conjunction with a move to Windows Server 2008. You get the added benefit of the underlying performance enhancements between the OSes and more granular control from Group Policy above and beyond the basic feature enhancements listed above. Vista, especially Vista Enterprise, makes sense with those organizations that are deploying new PCs, and that have need for the added security and data protection that Vista offers.

Users with day to day basic responsibilities may not benefit from Complete PC Backup or Bitlocker. And they may not notice the added speed when you deploy your Windows Server 2008 servers. However, if you have users with sensitive data and/or data that you can't afford to lose, then you can make the argument that Windows Vista Business or Enterprise make sense.

Bottom line for IT leaders

Clearly, under the right circumstances, a case can be made for making the move to Windows Vista. Moving to Windows Vista may not represent as much of an opportunity for businesses as the move from Windows 9x to Windows XP, but for some businesses, there may be reason to make the jump.

Don't trust the Microsoft Marketing Machine and have Windows Vista shoved down your throat. But at the same time, you shouldn't trust all of the gloom and doom of the anti-Vista crowd. Vista isn't as good as Microsoft thinks, but it's also not as bad as 'they' say it is.

Trust your own judgment when it comes to moving your users to Windows Vista. If the new features are a match for your organization, make the move as you deploy new workstations with enough power to handle it. If you decide to sit Vista out for now, don't rule it out entirely for the future. Check to see how Microsoft is progressing with Windows 7. You should also reconsider your decision when you make the move to Windows Server 2008 because the two OSes work so well together. Otherwise, stick with what's working for you currently. When you take an objective look at the features and benefits of Vista and compare them to your organization's needs, you'll wind up with the right decision.