Upgrading to Vista? Proceed with caution

If you're thinking of leading your enterprise into Vista country, adding Office 2007 and Exchange 2007 might make the trip worthwhile

That isn't to say that Vista on its own is an industry dud. It's more that companies deploying the new OS right away are, for the most part, largely dependent on Office. Administrators at these companies simply can't ignore the fact that Vista was released in conjunction with quantum leaps forward in, arguably, Microsoft's other two most popular platforms.

"More so than ever, the operating system is just such a small piece to the user," says Stan Foster, research fellow and Microsoft specialist at Hewlett-Packard's service division, which helps HP customers manage rollouts and provides additional services such as managed desktop outsourcing. "It's the applications that are important to the business people. All these components [Vista, Office 2007, Exchange 2007] have individual benefits, but combined -- that's where the action is."

And though it may not simply be a matter of whole-hog deployment of the Microsoft trifecta or nothing at all, from a planning perspective, it's certainly easier to consider Vista, Office, and Exchange as a holistic combination rather than starting over from scratch each time.

Both Office 2007 and Exchange 2007 offer significant, new, user-facing features that could well influence management buy-in far more than Aero's pretty face. Figuring out the right feature combination means charting the best course to ROI, and that, in turn, is the best path to getting management on board -- a path that requires identifying the combination of these three platforms that will offer the most to your user set and then building your rollout plan around those features.

Fortunately, this is one area where Microsoft has done a considerable amount of work -- especially from an eat-your-own-dog-food perspective. "For us, deploying Vista definitely meant deploying Office 2007 simultaneously," says Ron Markezich, vice president of managed solutions at Microsoft, and formerly the company's CIO. Microsoft at present already has 64,000 Vista desktops deployed and previously had 107,000 Exchange 2007 mailboxes rolled out. Markezich cites the new Windows Imaging capability that's included with Vista as a key driver for the decision to perform both product upgrades at the same time.

"It's just so much easier than with previous imaging packages," says Chad Lewis, Microsoft's Vista deployment product lead. "Remember, we don't just deploy Vista or Office once, like our customers. We've had to deploy several builds of both at regular intervals. The ability to keep our WIM [Windows Imaging Format] file library small and easily tailored has made the whole process just so much easier."

Microsoft has configured its upgrade process to allow certain users to upgrade their own machines at their own pace when going from Windows XP/Office 2003 to Vista/Office 2007. But once on the new platform, Microsoft uses a forced SMS (Systems Management Server) 2003 upgrade process to make sure that users on Vista stay current with new builds. "The nice thing is that we can use the same WIM library for both operations," Lewis says.

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