It will be one year that Windows Vista has been available to businesses on Nov. 30, yet many companies still are waiting until the release of Vista’s first service pack to upgrade. But with Microsoft planning to release the next version of Windows, code-named Windows 7, in late 2009 or 2010, there remains a strong possibility that companies might skip over Vista altogether in favor of the next release of Windows.

Microsoft on Wednesday provided an optimistic update on the state of Vista now that third-party companies have released more drivers and applications for the OS, smoothing over compatibility issues that plagued early adopters.

According to Mike Nash, a vice president of product management for Windows client, the experience of running Vista on hardware that is certified for it “is a lot better today than it was a month ago and certainly a lot better than it was [last November].”

Microsoft has said it will release a roll-up of updates for Vista, Windows Vista Service Pack (SP) 1, in the first quarter of next year, in the same time frame it will release Windows Server 2008. Microsoft is hoping businesses upgrade to both products simultaneously, and it’s expected that many companies that have factored Vista into their enterprise planning budgets will do just that.

Nash said that Microsoft signed the highest number of enterprise licenses for Windows desktop ever at the end of fiscal year 2007, a fact he said bodes well for Vista enterprise adoption. “They wouldn’t be licensing Windows desktop if they didn’t have the intent to deploy Vista,” he said.

But despite Microsoft’s rosy view on the future of business adoption of Vista, users of the OS said there are still enough problems with it that some companies may opt to wait until Windows 7 to update their worker desktops. Microsoft has said little about Windows 7 except it’s in the works and should be out about three years after Vista, which was released to consumers in January following its business rollout.

Users complain that Vista doesn’t run well with older hardware — either on PCs or with connected devices like printers that are a year or two old. Even on PCs that are supposedly meant to be optimized for Vista, there are still odd performance and compatibility issues with certain devices, applications and OS features that make using it a less than optimal experience.

For this reason, one East Coast IT consultant who specializes in Microsoft products said that unless Windows Vista SP1 really smooths over the problems people are having with Vista, “there’s a good chance many people will hold on to XP until the next version of Windows.”

“They’re just so many little usability issues,” said the consultant, who asked not to be named, but who has nearly 20 years of experience with Microsoft software. “I can just imagine when the next one comes out, Microsoft will actually get it right and everyone will breathe a sigh of relief.”

Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft who said he has experienced his own frustrations with Vista’s quirky performance issues, agreed that if Microsoft releases Windows 7 on schedule, there may be “less of a need to upgrade to Vista” for businesses that follow the typical “every other release” rule for Windows.

In Cherry’s opinion, Windows XP Service Pack 2, a major security release for XP, was less a service pack than an upgrade to Windows. Businesses running this version of Windows may choose to bypass Vista and opt to install Windows 7 instead if it is released in the next few years, depending on where they are in their hardware upgrade cycle. The release of a third service pack for XP, which Microsoft has confirmed is in the works, supports this theory, since it adds “a couple more years” to the viability of XP in the enterprise.

Still, one Microsoft partner thought that the possibility that businesses won’t be adopting Vista in droves until 2008 means it may be Windows 7 that will be skipped over, not Vista.

Brian Randell, a senior consultant with MCW Technologies in Los Angeles, acknowledged it was initially rough going with Vista because of hardware incompatibility problems. However, he said that these issues were more the fault of hardware vendors not preparing their products for Vista than Microsoft doing anything wrong.

“Microsoft delivered a really solid OS,” he said. “The fact is, for as long as Vista was in beta, the hardware vendors didn’t seem to have their act together.”

Randell said that even companies that work closely with Microsoft have heard little about Windows 7, and that most are concerned more with what effect Vista SP1 will have on business adoption of the OS than on any future releases.

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