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Vista Has Been Launched Now the Questions Begin

The new system could force businesses to upgrade their equipment and threaten the function of essential business programsThe future is now for the relatively few business computer users who have made the switch to the new Windows Vista operating system. Most of the business world, however, is waiting and watching. At issue are the costs and risks involved in making such a major change to a company’s data-processing platform.

Released in late January, the much ballyhooed—and delayed, it was first promised by Christmas 2006—Vista promises to increase information security and improve the way users of Windows machines get their work done.

IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based research firm expects 1.2 million computers in New Jersey and 90 million computers worldwide to adopt Vista in this first year of its release. That is a long way from replacing the more than 400 million computers globally running the venerable Windows XP operating system, but would be a solid start toward an eventual switchover—once businesses decide the costs and difficulties are worth it.

“The world is not rushing out to fully implement Windows Vista on every desktop,” says David Arbeitel, chief technology officer for network solutions provider Lumeta in Somerset. Lumeta started a service in February to help government agencies and businesses map out their switch to the new system. “In the enterprise world, there’s planning that needs to take place,” says Arbeitel. “It’s going to take some time. I think it’s going to be an evolution, not a revolution.”

Information technology companies across the state expect to field a lot of questions from clients curious about the improvements Vista promises and how they can plan their firms’ transition. One thing the clients will hear is that the changeover won’t be cheap. Prices on Vista Home Basic start at $99.95 for the general consumer looking to upgrade from XP. Vista Business costs about $199 to upgrade from XP and $299 to buy the operating system outright.

Equally important, companies won’t be able to slap Vista onto just any Windows box. For example, Vista is graphics intensive and requires a computer to have at least 128 megabytes of graphics memory installed to function properly.

“The Gartner Group says it’s about $1,200 to have somebody physically upgrade a PC to Vista,” says Douglas Rahn, president of IT services company IND Corp. in Parsippany. He points out that this will drive many companies to simply shop for new computers “[F]or $1,200 you can get a new PC. That includes the hardware, the license and it’s ready to go. That’s what we’re recommending to most of our customers.” He expects business to more actively make the switch starting in the third quarter of this year.

IDC’s report says about 8,000 IT companies in New Jersey will sell, produce or distribute products running on Vista this year. Further, IDC’s report says the transition will generate 5,000 new jobs in the state.

Still, local IT companies are being conservative about pushing upgrades or buying new computers to run Vista. “My first recommendation would be that people not try to rush to it right away,” says Rahn. He says a switch to a new operating system—the software that lies at the core of a computer’s functions—raises risks that older—but essential—business software might cease functioning properly. Sales-management and order-processing software that sings on a machine using Windows XP might sputter with the new operating system. “There are a lot of things that need to be done to make sure all your software is going to work,” says Rahn.

Rahn draws a comparison with trouble encountered by users who upgraded to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 7 Web browser. Some Web sites still don’t work with it. “A lot of people got Internet Explorer 7 and realized that their online banking does not work right,” says Rahn. Because Version 7 uses a different code from its predecessor, some sites fail to recognize it. “Things didn’t look right, drop down menus didn’t work or the page would just say you don’t have the right browser version,” he says.

For Microsoft, the release of Vista comes with updates of its other software lines. The operating system’s launch coincided with that of Office 2007; new versions of Exchange, the firm’s e-mail, contact and calendar suite; and SharePoint, a system that provides content-management and information-searching capabilities to businesses.

“Microsoft is super excited about this launch. It’s the largest operating system launch that we’ve had to date,” says Sarah Steiger, New York/New Jersey area general manager for the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant. “We think it will be unprecedented in driving software application development to new levels as well as supporting the growth of local software economies.”

The IT experts who will have to clean up any messes created by the new system are more cautious. Rahn recommends setting up a test computer to try out Vista with the other software a business uses before committing to a company-wide changeover. “Different accounting packages and different custom-made programs—lots of things need to be tested before people start rolling them out in their companies,” he says.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is providing online assistance at www.microsoft.com for users wondering whether they can simply upgrade their existing computers to Vista or whether they should consider buying new ones. “Individuals and businesses can go to check the specs of the machines they are running in order to determine what recommendations Microsoft will make,” says Steiger.

E-mail to jpruth@njbiz.com