Seven against the world

Windows 7 is looking to avoid the mistakes of Vista while open source heavyweights like Ubuntu and Redhat are trying to muscle in on the conversation

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By  Nathan Statz Published  April 4, 2009

Windows 7 is looking to avoid the mistakes of Vista while open source heavyweights like Ubuntu and Redhat are trying to muscle in on the conversation. Nathan Statz reports on the battle for enterprise operating system supremacy.

Rolling out new versions of Microsoft Windows was once a foregone conclusion. Much like the sun waking up around the same time each morning it just happened, you did not really bother to question it. If there were any questions at all it would be whether to upgrade straight away or give it a couple of months for the final kinks to be worked out. That was before Windows Vista leapt out of shrink-wrapped boxes into the trusting hands of IT managers everywhere and dented the legacy of a new Microsoft Operating System (OS).

The verdict on Vista has been handed down for a while now. While there are some organisations who love it and 280 million licenses worldwide would suggest that it is being used, the overall experience has left a sour taste in quite a few mouths. The Vista experience was one felt first hand by Bassem Aboukhater, regional IT director at the advertising giant Leo Burnett.

I would be very cautious about moving towards the new version of Windows, for example with Vista there was much hype created by Microsoft that it was going to be the best solution for everything.

"Typically you used to upgrade like a year later or something like that, once they release the first service pack, Vista changed things in so many ways but you did not really see the benefit," he says.

"They have added a lot of new things that are not available in XP, but if you weighed up the pros and cons it wasn't worth it. Honestly you need three or four gigabytes of RAM for a machine to decently run Vista and you need high-end graphics to really benefit from all this stuff they came up with and it is just heavy," adds Aboukhater.

Vista interrupted what was a fluid chain of transitions dating back to the release of Windows 95 in August 1995. The jump to Windows 98 and then on to Windows XP was for the most part a smooth process and was intuitive for the end user to pick up.

According to Aboukhater, the upgrade process at Leo Burnett happened naturally with XP, as the user experience was more or less the same: "XP was an evolution from 98, not a revolution or something that changed 98 drastically," he says.

While Microsoft has put a brave face on the Windows Vista debut, the experience has left many CIO's cautious about new OSes and it is into this storm that Windows 7 looks to make itself known.

The newest version of Windows is already in the beta phase and a plethora of enterprise customers and media outlets are putting the OS through its paces. So far the reviews have been very positive and this is coming from an industry that left more than a few singed from the Vista experience.

For Deepak Katyal, vice president of the information technology department at TAIB Bank in Bahrain, the developments with Windows 7 are being watched very closely.

"I would be very cautious about moving towards the new version of Windows. For example with Vista there was much hype created by Microsoft that it was going to be the best solution for everything," he says.

"Certain things were an improvement over XP in Vista, but the whole issue was on the resources front. Vista is very intensive in the resource requirements and as such makes systems slow. The memory requirements are 100% more than what Microsoft claimed," he adds.

With Windows 7 on the horizon, Katyal believes that companies will be much more cautious in their approach this time around.

"What we have at this time decided on is to have a kind of benchmarking and a timeframe of four to six weeks, when certain systems in the bank will be upgraded to the latest version," says Katyal.

Thanks in part to Vista, open source software has entered into the OS discussion, often for the first time for many CIOs and IT managers.

"When we moved from XP to Vista we thought about this. If Vista is not going to help us then let's look at open source technologies like Linux and Redhat, but to move from one technology to another is a huge resource requirement on time and getting all the applications certified," explained Katyal.

Most people have grown up in the Windows world, where Linux used to be a word only uttered by the IT department - often from someone in a Tux penguin t-shirt, which is the beloved mascot of the Linux OS. Times have changed and open source OSes are familiar workhorses in the server room and are starting to invade Microsoft's stranglehold on the enterprise desktop space.

"I don't know today whether we will look into open source or not, but if Windows 7 fails as Vista failed last time then more and more corporates are going to look at it rather than sticking around with older versions of Windows," says Katyal.

One of the open source operating systems gaining a lot of traction is Ubuntu, which just helped save the French police force, the National Gendarmerie, US$67 million in proprietary licenses.

"They are switching all 70,000 of their desktops across to Ubuntu. We have obviously worked with them to do that, but the figure they have given is new to us," says Gerry Garr, head of platform marketing for Canonical, producers of Ubuntu.

"Ubuntu is starting to appear in enterprises. Generally our core tends to be small businesses, people who can make their own or relatively independent decisions," added Garr.

Ubuntu is generating a lot of interest from businesses who only have a restricted number of applications, such as a call centre where workers only stare at one application all day.

"Any organisation that is paying a license to run a single application that serves you the web - to Microsoft - is criminally wasteful of budget that could be applied elsewhere," he says.

The impact Vista has had on the market has no doubt helped Ubuntu's rise to prominence, but Garr explains that Canonical is not banking on that to help them against Microsoft's latest offspring: "They seemed to have learnt from the experience of Vista and seem to be determined not to make those same errors with Windows 7."

3699 days ago

The market is very unforgiving. MicroSoft's 'mess' with Vista is turning the world of the OS from one that was unipolar to one that will become multi polar and governed by 'open standards'. Form and functionality have a diminishing utility for Microsoft's OS and desktop applications and hopefully this will drive innovation to win customers rather than having an an attitude of you can have any colour as long as it is black.

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