The launch of the first service pack for Windows Vista in early 2008 is likely to prompt IT departments to upgrade their desktop systems to Vista, according to Gartner.
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The analyst firm estimates that with the release of Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), 15% of large enterprises and more than 30% of smaller organisations will deploy the new Windows desktop operating system by the end of 2008.
This is a large increase on the 5% of organisations that Gartner estimates will have installed Windows Vista by the end of this year.
"The first service pack of Vista will be a major milestone for most businesses," said Michael Silver, research vice-president at Gartner.
Companies planning to upgrade to SP1 will need to check their legacy desktop PC hardware and software for Vista compatibility.
Planning and testing will be essential in order to prepare for an upgrade to Windows Vista, said David Bradshaw, principal analyst at Ovum. "You will have to run compatibility tests and you may find you do not have Vista supported device-driver software."
For many firms, it may be simpler to replace desktops rather than run Vista on existing hardware. For example, Vista's new user interface, called Aero, benefits from installing more memory on PCs. "It is a major operation to update memory, and businesses may choose to buy new PCs instead," Bradshaw said.
This means that 2008 is set to be a year for a major desktop PC refresh, which will result in IT directors buying modern, Vista-ready PCs to last for the next four years.
In the meantime, IT directors that plan to continue running Microsoft's desktop operating system software will have a choice: upgrade to Windows Vista SP1 or stick with Windows XP.
Despite Gartner's optimism, Richard Edwards, senior research analyst at Butler Group, said he did not expect to see any real demand for Windows Vista until after 2009. Edwards has seen little demand for applications that run Microsoft's .net 3 framework, the programming environment used by Windows Vista, suggesting that XP applications are still very much the norm.
Dan Kusnetzky, analyst at the Kusnetzky Group, said that not all firms should migrate to Windows Vista immediately. "Some organisations have devices or applications that do not function correctly under Windows Vista. It is clear that it would be best that they stay where they are, on Windows XP."
Users who stick with Windows XP will receive support from Microsoft until 2014. But Silver said CIOs who wish to stick with Windows XP should prepare to migrate by 2011. "Application support for Windows XP will not be as common on Windows XP after 2011."
Michael Silver, research president at Gartner, says it makes strategic sense for CIOs to avoid the first release of Vista and delay deploying until SP1 is available, as this will give users greater flexibility in the support they receive from Microsoft.
"Microsoft will only support the prior service pack for 12 to 24 months after the next service pack ships," Silver said. Another advantage of delaying deploying Vista is that users who deploy SP1 to begin with will eliminate the need to test and support an extra service pack.
Microsoft has become very adept in recent years at deploying updates to its operating systems through online services. "Service packs are now less important than they once were," Silver said.
does vista spell the end of microsoft's desktop dominance?
One advantage of upgrading to Vista is that, over the four-year life of the hardware, businesses will have far more choice over the type of desktop applications they can deploy.
Potential applications include software services such as Google Apps and Windows Live, Web 2.0 technology and collaborative computing, all of which are gaining acceptability in business.
"Collaboration is going to be very important for business," said David Bradshaw, principal analyst at Ovum.
Ultimately, this will mean that the choice of operating system will become less important for IT directors.
Programming languages and environments such as Adobe Flash and Ajax will also reduce the need to run a Windows operating system such as Vista on desktop PCs.
However, this does not mean the end of Microsoft's desktop dominance. Michael Silver, research vice-president at Gartner believes Microsoft Office and Windows will remain significant in large businesses until 2011 or 2012.
After this time, he said, applications will be engineered to be operating-system agnostic, which will mean the choice of operating system will no longer be important.