SP3 is out – consider upgrade to Vista, says analyst

With Microsoft releasing the final planned service pack for Windows XP it might be time for IT managers to once again consider making the inevitable migration to Windows Vista, says an analyst.

Microsoft’s week-long delay before Tuesday’s release of XP’s Service Pack 3 (SP3) should have come as no surprise to IT managers because the OS has suffered over 100 glitches in the past three years. Now is an opportune time to stare down the migration challenge and take another long, hard look at Vista, according to London, Ont.-based industry analysts Info Tech Research Group.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m advocating Vista, but it’s not like it was released yesterday,” says Michelle Warren, senior research analyst. “It’s been out on the market for some time and there have been some success stories.”

Compared to previous service packs, SP3 is modest in upgrades to XP. A Windows Update explains the update “should not significantly change the Windows XP experience.” Microsoft is also warning Retail Management System customers against installing the update, with the compatibility fix expected later this month.

“There’s been a lot of negative comments around Vista from the blogging community,” Warren says. “What’s really easy to forget is that when XP was released, it received a lot of critical comments. It wasn’t perfect coming out of the gate either.”

As XP was tested on a broad level and Microsoft received feedback, it was able to make adjustments, she adds. Just as Vista’s SP1 helps to refine the much-maligned OS, Microsoft offered many upgrades to XP after considerable deployment time.

Still, IT managers must consider the challenges an OS migration poses to their business before making the leap. Consultant David Epp, with Toronto-based BitPath Networks Inc. outlines three obstacles to a smooth migration. They are administrative effort, hardware incompatibility or upgrade requirement, or in-house software incompatibilities, he writes in an e-mail.

“I think everyone should consider migrating to Vista to benefit from new functionality and better security,” Epp says. But the benefits must outweigh the cost of jumping the hurdles of wide-scale deployment.

Planning the switch to Vista during a hardware upgrade or replacement cycle is often a good idea, Warren says. IT managers will often get a better response from business executives when presenting a budget plan if they propose to do both at once, as it concentrates costs and promises less down time.

“It is really common with Vista to roll out new hardware and new software at the same time to minimize work disruptions,” the analyst says.

Aside from some extra features that improve security and add let users search for hard-to-find files, Vista actually favours IT departments more than end-users, Warren suggests. Features like Group Policy settings give the IT department more power over how business computers are used, while XP tends to favour the individual user when it comes to tweaking settings.

But there are alternatives for those who aren’t ready to transition to Vista. Companies can still buy the OEM version of the OS until June 30, and get licenses through system builders until January 2009. Many PC makers have been selling Vista computers with a downgrade to XP as an incentive for businesses who want to stick with the older OS.

“This is a good solution for companies that aren’t ready for a full blown migration,” Warren says.

Those sticking with XP also won’t be totally out of the loop when it comes to updates. Despite no more planned service packs, Microsoft will likely still make bug fixes available individually, Info Tech’s analyst adds. These updates should be applied to office computers rigorously.

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