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Windows Vista: switch over now or never?

When Windows Vista was released just over a year ago, the conventional wisdom was to wait until the first service pack was available before implementing. As Microsoft has just released Service Pack 1 (SP1) for Vista (and lowered the retail price of some versions) now is a good time to find out what's new and reassess your options for PC operating systems.

First, what's new with Vista SPI? The truth is, not a whole lot. At least not much that'll be visually obvious to anyone who is upgrading to SP1. As with most service packs, Microsoft has rolled into it all of the previous fixes and patches that have been made available since the initial release of the software. In addition, SP1 includes some additional security safeguards and drivers that support an even wider array of hardware. Microsoft claims to have tweaked performance, but independent testing hasn't conclusively verified that Vista SP1 operates any quicker.

If you're still on the fence about whether to migrate from XP to Vista here are some issues to consider:

* Hardware drivers: Most recent hardware is now supported with Vista. Initially, drivers were not available and some hardware could not be used with Vista. While some older equipment remains unsupported (and most likely will remain so), the majority of printers, cameras, and other peripherals purchased within the last three years now work with Vista.

* Software compatibility: This is perhaps the biggest area of improvement compared to a year ago. Many software vendors did not have their products ready for Vista or had compatibility issues. However, the majority of mainstream software now works seamlessly with Vista. In fact, new software is now being developed specifically to take advantage of Vista's features.

* Virtual PC: For those products that just don't work with Vista, Microsoft has a free solution. Virtual PC allows you to set up another virtual operating system (such as XP) within your Vista desktop from which you can install and run programs as though you are working on another PC. While Virtual PC is not for novices, it provides a good alternative for those with line-of-business applications that do not work with Vista.

* XP end-of-life: Although Microsoft plans to continue to support XP for a number of years, as of July 2008, new PCs will be available only with Vista, not XP. In addition, expect less hardware driver support for XP. As Vista becomes more pervasive, vendors will concentrate their efforts on developing drivers for Vista instead of XP.

* Performance and Stability: Windows Vista performance continues to be an issue for some users. The reality is Vista is no faster than XP, and without the right hardware can actually be slower. You are likely to be frustrated with Vista unless you have a newer PC equipped with at least 2gb of RAM and a discrete graphics card.

* Migration: Still not recommended. If you are moving From XP to Vista, the best option is to get a new PC with Vista pre-installed, then copy your data files between the computers. A simple upgrade to Vista SP1, however, should be straight forward and is recommended if you currently use Vista.

While Vista has fallen short of many people's expectations, there is a slow, inevitable transition from XP to Vista as older PCs reach their end-of-life and are replaced with pre-loaded Vista PCs. Thus, if you're not already using Vista, expect to see it on your desktop sometime in the near future. On the other hand, if you're reluctant to transition to Vista there are a number of alternatives available.

* Windows XP: Although new PCs will no longer be available with XP pre-installed, you can opt to purchase a Vista PC and use XP instead. You'll need to have an original XP CD and then spend the time reformatting the hard drive and installing XP, but this is still the most practical solution for those who do not want to learn a new operating system. Keep in mind, however, that you may run afoul of licensing terms and software that came pre-installed with the PC (such as anti-virus software) may not work with XP.

* Linux: Linux continues to become more refined, but is still not for novices. As Linux is open source, many variations of it are available--some of which are free and some of which you'll pay to get the CD and vendor support. One of the most popular variations is Ubuntu (also known as Xubuntu or Kubuntu). In some respects, you get what you pay for. Drivers are not available for all hardware and most Linux support is via online bulletin boards and newsgroups so be prepared if you make the plunge.

* Virtual PC: As mentioned above, there is a free product available from Microsoft (and a more sophisticated version from VMWare) that allows you to load multiple operating systems on the same PC. In essence, this would enable you to run Vista as a "shell" operating system, but use XP (or Linux) for most of your daily work.

* Mac OS 10.5: Also known as Leopard, Macs continue to be popular due to their ease-of-use, elegant design, and relatively low security risks. In some ways, the Leopard operating system is everything Vista aspires to be. As cool as a Mac is, their usefulness is still limited by their proprietary design--there are few third-party hardware options and the available software is much narrower in scope than for a PC. However, there are now tools available that enable you to run dual operating systems on a Mac so you could choose to have Windows XP and Leopard together on the same machine.

While all of the current operating systems come with compromises, compared to what used to be available, the choices are much improved over years past. In fact, relative to the instability of Windows 98 and the disastrous Windows ME, Vista is a marked improvement. Could it be more? Yes. Would it be nice if Microsoft had some more competition? Definitely.

We'll just have to wait and see what the next five to 10 years have in store. The only certainty with operating systems is more changes are in the works.

Martin Straub, CPA, CITP, is the information technology director at Cordell, Neher & Co., PLLC. Along with managing his firm's internal network, Straub consults with clients regarding technology issues. He Can be reached at 663-1661 or
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Title Annotation:TALKING TECH
Author:Straub, Martin
Publication:Wenatchee Business Journal
Date:May 1, 2008
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