Vista presents one of many decisions IT customers face

Users are contemplating if they may want to make the upgrades, and more important, why and when

The hard part is over: Microsoft officially rolled out its Vista client operating system Thursday, now it must convince users, who have more desktop options now with Linux and Apple OS X, that the operating system is the way to go.

And Vista, which has been in development for five years, isn't the only decision on the table for corporate IT as Microsoft also shipped Office 2007 and announced a faux-launch of Exchange 2007, which is slated to be generally available in early December.

Taken together, those three not only provide options and challenges for IT on their own, but together offer a formidable trio of major software upgrade decisions that will require careful consideration. It is the first time in 11 years that Microsoft's flagship products, which still generate more than 90 percent of the company's revenue, have been shipped simultaneously going back to Windows 95 and Office 95.

Back then, the Rolling Stones's Mick Jagger sang the band's "Start Me Up" to kick off Windows 95, but the fanfare for Vista's release to volume licensing customers appears to be coming down to just another business decision.

And users are contemplating if they may want to make the upgrades, and more important, why and when.

"What are we doing about Vista?" asks Jim Tieri, director of IT for Holland, an Illinois, U.S., manufacturer of railway welding and maintenance equipment, "In one word. Apple."

Tieri, who has 300 desktops used mostly by remote workers, says his department has been evaluating Vista and its benefits and they think it looks a lot like Apple's OS X. "We have bought our first group of Macs and we are seeing how we can integrate them into the environment, and see if we can use them from a business standpoint." He says the major application to support is ERP and that can be run through a browser interface. As far as the Office release, Tieri says he's already running some copies of Open Office that are showing some real possibilities. "For us there are no features benefits in Office 2007."

Tieri isn't alone in his evaluation. Tom Gonzales, senior network administrator for the Colorado State Employees Credit Union (CSECU), says his organization also is considering its options, including Macs, given what he perceives to be support and training issues associated with Vista.

"The changes in Vista are significant enough that we think we can absorb the change going to Macs just as easily as going to Vista.," he says. It's an evaluation process worth pursuing because CSECU just refreshed its desktops 18 months ago and doesn't plan on rolling out any of the new Microsoft offerings, including Office and Exchange, in 2007.

Gonzales says when budget dollars are spent on a desktop upgrade "we want to do the best thing available. If you asked me two years ago to consider Macs I would have laughed. But I have spent some time with Apple and they are not the unviable option that they use to be."

But not all users are looking at the grass on the other side of the fence.

Bechtel already has its plans in place, according to Fred Wettling, the company's infrastructure architect. Office will be rolled out first after the San Francisco company certifies that its applications run on the new software. He says that process should be complete by the end of March.

"Vista will be through our engineering process in March, and certification of applications will take us through the third quarter before we get that done," he says.

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