Is Vista worth it?

SEATTLE — Mixed reaction within the analyst community has greeted Microsoft Corp.‘s introduction this week of the Windows Vista operating system and Office 2007 edition.

In some quarters, the business case for investing in the platform is seen as weaker than the benefits to the IT department.

Some analysts say that while IT professionals stand to gain from deploying a system that offers more security, mobility and manageability, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft still has to refine the argument about why business users should care about an upgrade.

“It’s still too early to tell,” Joel Martin, vice president of enterprise applications at IDC Canada, said at this year’s Windows Hardware Engineering Conference.

“In a world where IT budgets continue to be squished, and vendors want more wallet share, it comes down to Microsoft” articulating how the new platform will improve one’s business, he said.

“Security is one of the main things they focused on…but it’s an IT message” that has little bearing on business users who automatically expect security from their operating system, he said.

If Microsoft fails to hit home a business message, Martin said, companies will begin to explore competitors like Linux and Apple.

Microsoft based the release of its beta 2 version of Vista around a four-part message that it will simplify the way people work together, enable better content protection and management, help to find information and improve business insight, and reduce IT costs and bolster security.

Analysts like Carmi Levy, senior research analyst at Info Tech Research Group in London, Ont., sees “significant cost savings and opportunities” in the new platform that will debut in November.

Since Vista promises to automate traditionally repetitive tasks, companies can redirect their time and attention to other issues, Levy explained. “It’s making better use of support (services)…and using people more efficiently.”

Early Microsoft customer studies estimate cost savings of US$332 for each PC due to more efficient end-users and reduced downtime with Windows Vista, said Elliot Katz, product manager of Windows Client at Microsoft Canada Co. in Toronto.

Studies have also shown that Vista saved an estimated US$92 for each PC by cutting IT labour costs.

Microsoft observers also see advantages and drawbacks in Microsoft Office 2007.

On the plus side, said Levy, Microsoft has enriched the environment so that it is much easier to produce sophisticated content without requiring much expertise. He said such tools help to set companies apart from their competitors.

“It becomes a calling card.”

In contrast, some customers have used Office software for more than 10 years and collected content in a proprietary Microsoft Office format, but must move to an XML format under the next version of Office that is incompatible with their legacy technology, Levy said.

“Customers have to make a decision to leave legacy documents behind, or do they launch a project to convert that old stuff?

“We would like to see a definitive roadmap” from Microsoft on issues like legacy file support and batch migration.

But because Microsoft is so focused on finalizing Vista for release, the “long-term evolution of the product is not really on their radar screen,” he said.

Levy expects this all to fall into place by the end of this year or early in 2007.

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