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OS Roundup: The View Beyond Vista

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted Aug 6, 2008


Paul Rubens
Has Microsoft written off Vista? The 18-month-old desktop OS has yet to gain significant traction, and rumblings of the next generation are starting to be heard.

Why use an operating system other organizations have rejected? That's a question many enterprises will be asking themselves when considering moving some or all of their Windows desktops to Microsoft Vista.

A small minority of organizations run Linux or Mac OS X on the desktop and have no interest in Vista for that reason. But most others will at least consider migrating. And these businesses are overwhelmingly rejecting Vista, according to a report called "Enterprise Trends: Vista Is Rejected; Mozilla and Apple Make Small Gains," which Forrester Research published in late July.

"Eighteen months after the release of Windows Vista, enterprise adoption is still in the single digits, and the majority of that seems to have come from upgrades of legacy Windows versions, not XP," the report says.

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It's not surprising enterprises running Windows 98 or the despised Windows ME (surely they can't have been running anything older) are upgrading to Vista. That's because migrating to a new OS is a major change, so it makes no sense to move to anything but the most current one. The real revelation is that significant numbers of organizations are still running these legacy operating systems.

But of the vast numbers of enterprises using XP as their standard desktop OS, comparatively few see any need to move to Vista. Microsoft claims a total of 180 million licenses have been sold for the OS and that its adoption is in line with XP after 18 months. However, according to Forrester, fewer than 10 percent of businesses are using it. Even the release of Service Pack 1 — traditionally a signal for enterprises to start adopting an OS in earnest — hasn't put the percentage of businesses using Vista into double figures.

This may be because even though the security features of Vista are an improvement over XP (UAC excepted), application and hardware compatibility issues, as well as the general feeling that Vista is bloated, slow and just a bit too pretty to be taken seriously as an enterprise OS, seems to be a barrier to adoption.

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So what is the best solution for the corporate desktop in an organization reluctant to move away from Windows? Ideally something that combines the security and other advanced features of Vista with the speed and leanness of XP. Perhaps the answer is Windows Workstation 2008, the enterprise desktop OS counterpart to Server 2008. It's a lean, mean, fast and stable desktop OS without the DRM, eye-candy and other unnecessary cruft that makes Vista less than ideal in the enterprise. It's also the OS of choice for many Microsoft employees.

If you've never heard of Workstation 2008 that's because it's not an official Microsoft product — it's just Server 2008 with the unnecessary bits taken out and a few features you'd expect in a desktop OS added. Since Vista and Server 2008 now share the same codebase, it is straightforward to add the Aero interface and other Vista features, although it somewhat defeats the purpose of the exercise.

If you fancy giving it a try you can roll your own Workstation 2008, or take the easy option and head to http://www.win2008workstation.com/wordpress/ and use the automated Server 2008 to Workstation 2008 converter utility (which, admittedly, I have not yet tested). Deploying converted copies of Server 2008 on every desktop in an enterprise could be expensive, of course, but the license for the Data Center Edition allows for unlimited instances of Server 2008 running in virtual machines. These could be accessed using some thin clients and a VDI system.

Microsoft appears to have a much deeper long-term problem, though. It has a huge desktop OS business — both consumer and enterprise — but the likes of Google are intent on moving computing to the "cloud." Microsoft has demonstrated that it understands this (with limited success) in the application space with initiatives such as its Live services. But what's the future of the desktop OS beyond Windows 7 (and probably 8 and maybe even 9)?

At this stage it's not clear, but Microsoft is certainly thinking about the problem, according to information about Windows' successor that has been leaking out of Redmond in recent weeks. Apparently codenamed Midori (better known as a brand of melon flavored liquor), this new OS is designed to be "Internet-centric" and "predicated on the prevalence of connected systems," according to a report by David Worthington in the Software Development Times. Worthington claims the report is based on internal Microsoft documents.

It's pointless to speculate in too much detail what Midori might be like should it ever see the light of day, but one thing is for sure: Something will eventually emerge from Redmond to replace Windows. It will almost certainly be very different from the stand-alone Windows OSes that have made the company rich, and it will probably be designed to dovetail with Microsoft's "software and services" plans.

There's one other near certainty as well: The company will be hoping that when it is finally released, whatever Midori turns into will wow enterprises (and consumers) more than Vista has managed to do.

Paul Rubens is an IT consultant and journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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