Vista: A Long Time Coming, or Going?

In February 2007, I wrote about Windows Vista in this column and described it as a significant evolutionary step forward in Microsoft’s Windows operating systems. I noted that its impact would likely come to be viewed as slightly more toward the tectonic rather than the insignificant end of the spectrum. My initial research and my early experiences led me to relate that Vista was indeed positioned to be “more secure and stable” than previous versions of Windows, as Microsoft had suggested. Finally, I related my experience that one of the real benefits of Vista and the Office 2007 Suite could be “increased user productivity.” Well, the past year has certainly been an interesting learning experience for me and many other Vista users. In reflecting on what I wrote then, and what we have all learned since, my earlier column can probably be viewed now as a mixed bag of right, wrong, and somewhere between. 

My personal experience with Vista on my Dell 410 home computer has regrettably led me to become an active member of the online technology forums — seeking answers to the numerous problems with which Vista has gifted me. I recently upgraded to Ultimate from Basic, and as a result lost complete sound capability for hours. I finally stumbled upon an answer to this problem that many others had already encountered. The blog entries went on for pages relating searches for an answer and the wild array of suggestions offered up as possible solutions. I have had numerous software and driver compatibility issues, many that required abandoning hardware and software I had purchased before my “Vista experience” began. One of my personal favorites — which is apparently still unresolved according to the Vista blogging community — is that Windows Explorer (that important little program that allows you to view and manage files and folders) simply stops working every couple of minutes and must be restarted. In this case, though, at least Vista tells you there is no known solution — and apparently, it’s right.

Microsoft invested heavily in Vista development, as much as five years and $7B by many estimates. The product was delayed, and initial capabilities were reportedly carved back in order to finally get it released. Expectations were high, and marketing fueled hopes for the stability, security, and productivity gains promised. PC makers bought into Vista and began installing it on new computers. Of course, the important distinction between a Vista “capable” and Vista “compatible” PC is now well known from class action litigation filed by users, according to PC World magazine. Reports of significant problems began to surface immediately after Vista’s release, but fixes were promised almost as quickly. Clearly, significant problems remain.

According to analysts, Microsoft has now sold about 140 million copies of Vista, about the same number as XP at this point in its life. That is well below the number originally projected. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently stated that Vista is still “a work in progress.”

A number of companies, including GM, have decided to leapfrog Vista and wait for the next version of Windows currently in development, according to Business Week. That product is called Windows 7, and it is Microsoft’s attempt to recover from Vista by releasing a better and more stable OS. In the meantime, support for XP has been extended and it still represents about 35 percent of Windows sales. An online petition to save XP garnered 160,000 supporters in short order. Vista fallout has also led a number of organizations to consider Linux and Macintosh as Windows replacements, an indication of the level of problems perceived with Vista.

As a CIO, I intentionally subject myself to new products and technologies to assess those that may be valuable to our users. I also believe it is useful to feel the pain we inadvertently subject our users to when our assessments on their behalf sometimes fall short. I approached Vista and Office 2007 in this manner. My personal assessment is that Office 2007 and numerous other Microsoft products such as Exchange and SharePoint are indeed excellent. But my personal assessment is also that Vista is not ready for deployment in an enterprise academic production environment. If the problems I have personally encountered are typical, it would cause substantial problems for users and technology support staff alike. At the moment, leapfrog sounds like a pretty good game.

David W. Dodd is vice president of Information Resources and CIO at Xavier University in Cincinnati. He can be reached at 513/745-2985 or [email protected]

About the Author

David W. Dodd is vice president of Information Technology and CIO at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. He can be reached at 201/216-5491 or [email protected]