Ready or not, Vista's here

Vista is coming - the question is not whether, but when

It's a couple of days after the Vista launch. I would like to say that it's been a non-stop party -- that I have no memory of Wednesday and simply woke up on Thursday in a motel bed filled with Brazilian women and day-old booze, my teeth fuzzy, a new tattoo on a personal body part, and a head that feels like it was buried under a football stadium and then dug up with a jack hammer -- but I'd be lying.

It's been a typical week, really. The PR firm that Microsoft apparently hired specifically for Vista's launch, Edelman PR, not only didn't send me one of those Acer Ferrari's the other writers got; they also didn't send me an invite to the launch event. Thanks, guys. I'd heave a Charlie Brown sigh, but as it turns out, that party was fairly staid, anyway. And most IT managers simply raised their eyebrows Tuesday morning ("Oh, it's that day, is it?") and then went on with their usual grind.

But if Tuesday serves to illustrate anything to the IT set, it's that Vista is coming. Not whether, just when. And you'd better get prepped because this OS can really throw some help-desk curves if you're not careful. Training is one key, but knowing what options to turn off is another.

Vista Ultimate is the culprit here. Microsoft has imbued this SKU with more surprises than Batman has in his utility belt. Only problem is that you'll find few nifties in Vista Business, even fewer in Vista Home, and none in Vista Basic (aka Vista So-Basic-It's-Practically-Unusable). Microsoft has given users a neat way out of this, however. It's called Anytime Upgrade, and it amounts to an instant-upgrade feature built right into the OS. It's intended for home users who buy Basic and then burst into tears when they try to use it, or buy Home Premium and then visit their geek friend's house and see Ultimate in action. Click a button, supply some payment info and they can upgrade their PCs right over the Web. From Basic to Ultimate in just a few mouse clicks.

And a whole lot of bytes over your Web pipes, too, which is something that IT managers tend to take personally. Ultimate also gives users many more mischief-capable toys than other SKUs, so prepared IT managers will make sure users can't do such upgrades with their office Vistas. The better to control all those users, my dear.

Vista Search is another feature that bears watching. The nutshell is that Vista has a powerful desktop search capability built directly into the operating system. Search by keyword and Vista's search matches that word(s) against file names, file types, words in the file's content and even tags associated with the file. That's a lot of data to be searching and Vista manages it by indexing all folders on the system during its early days.

Need to watch that because the last time we tried it, indexing took some time and a good deal of CPU cycles. It also isn't constrained to the local drives, meaning you can point it at a network drive if you like. That's a problem in the enterprise, because Vista will automatically maintain an indexing vigil over any folders it's been assigned for searching, staying aware of any and all changes to that folder or volume. Not that much overhead for local drives, but users can cause serious system performance issues if they point it at an oft-used network volume. Worse, they likely won't know much beyond "It suddenly got really slow."

I know we media types have been hyping Vista so much during the last few months that you're sick of reading about it. But if you've been stubbornly ignoring it, it's time to tighten your skivvies, buckle down and get ready. Get that test system up and start mapping out not just which SKUs you're deploying, but which features you'll allow your users to have versus which you're both better off disabling.

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