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's a tempting carrot at first blush, providing both an easier implementation and gleaming new hardware. And Intel's Bryant sweetens the deal with the mention of enhanced features. Which, of course, sounds like what a motherboard salesman would say, but when queried on specifics, Intel really does have features to back this up.

"We've specifically optimized our CPU line for both Vista and specific apps in Office," Bryant says. "Take Excel, for example. Our Core 2 Duo is specifically designed to boot the performance of large Excel calculations -- and we're not talking a small number, either. We're talking about 300 percent of improvement of the same calc run on hardware that's only a year old."

Intel has also done serious work on Vista's mobile side. InfoWorld testing has shown that notebooks with last year's embedded Intel graphics chip set -- the most popular mobile graphics system for the "value/business" notebook segment -- don't have the juice to run Aero. Vista's own installation process automatically defaults to the non-Aero view when installed on these systems. Intel knew this would be a problem going forward and beefed up its chip set earlier this year.

"We can't comment on how hardware OEMs implement our chip sets," Bryant says, "but we can say that the integrated graphics line does currently support the full Vista graphics load." This was borne out in a quick impromptu test I conducted on a Gateway M255-E delivered last May running the then-current Intel graphics subsystem. That machine couldn't run Aero. Gateway then sent the same model in November, armed with a Core 2 Duo CPU and a newer Intel Graphics Media Accelerator chip set. That machine is running Aero without difficulty.

"New hardware definitely does make a difference," Bryant says. And he references not just graphics oomph but management muscle as well. New versions of Intel CPUs and chip sets will incorporate features such as out-of-band management, remote updating, advanced hardware diagnostics, and similar goodies. And again, Vista-specific features are included here on Intel's part as well.

"Our Active Management Technology provides these new management and security features," Bryant says. "As far as Vista goes, we've built features specific to the Vista desktop firewall directly into hardware, which means that security is no longer software-only."

Of course, both Foster and Bryant represent hardware manufacturers. Talk to an everyday IT administrator and your answers might be different. "The new hardware's great, but we're not waiting for it," FranklinCovey's Connelly says. "We've tested it, and we think it runs fine in 512MB or 1GB. The WIM tools are good enough that we can do the OS rollout right now and give our users the Office features they want without waiting for new hardware. We can add those advanced features later."

According to Connelly, FranklinCovey's network carries approximately 800 distributed users, placing it on the small end of the enterprise rollout scale. Although the lower desktop count undoubtedly had something to do with Connelly's decision to run his rollout across the existing hardware landscape, this isn't a trend that's relegated to the SMB segment. LeSueur says Avanade's large enterprise customers aren't following the hardware lease rollout plan, either.

"Enterprises are evaluating Vista based on internal TCO, not initial hardware costs," LeSueur says. "With Microsoft's advances in software deployment tools, scheduling the rollout around lease agreements doesn't interest them. Better to focus on software compatibility and mission-critical testing." Just get your users what they need. Hardware purchasing doesn't have to be affected at all.

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