Microsoft has detailed how its forthcoming Vista OS will appear, and the six-pronged view is raising the concern of enterprise IT managers. When it is released later this year, Vista will have six core editions: four aimed at consumers and two designed for the enterprise.
In fact, the total number of Vista editions may ratchet up to eight or more, after European Union-specific versions of the OS, minus Windows Media Player 11, are counted.
How do IT administrators feel about winding their way through potentially eight different versions of Windows Vista?
"It's ridiculous," says Steven Enright, senior network manager at Glenwood Management, a large New York residential property management firm.
His point is that by splitting its OSes into multiple SKUs (stock keeping units), Microsoft has potentially added significant extra work for already overloaded system administrators.
Whether the final tally reaches six or eight, or if you focus only on the two enterprise Vista versions, Vista Business and Windows Enterprise, the headache to IT administrators is still considerable.
"Patch testing is going to be a nightmare," Enright says. Companies such as his manage OSes as images, usually customised for specific departments. "Now you've got multiple versions of Windows, multiple versions of Office and any number of third-party applications," he says. "You're going to have to pre-test all Microsoft patches against all these permutations. They've maybe tripled the work involved."
That's only considering two business Vistas — add in telecommuters and administrators could wind up supporting at least one of the two home-oriented Vistas as well, one of which would be Windows Vista Ultimate, the power-user version that contains every sexy feature from all the other versions.
"It makes me want to take a much closer look at Linux on the desktop," says Paul Lindo, CIO of FB2, a New York-based network consultancy. "For large enterprises, not only do [multiple Vista versions] add significant hours to the IT job, it almost guarantees you'll wind up supporting more than one Windows version because enterprises generally make those buying decisions on a departmental basis."
"I wish I could look at Linux," sys Enright, but he adds that his company is too entrenched in Microsoft to make such a move feasible. He's quick to want to try, however, after being told that Windows Enterprise will be available only as part of the Software Assurance licensing programme. "That's like insult to injury."
"If Novell has brains, they'll market the heck out of Novell Linux Desktop right now, because this is a great play for them," Lindo says.
He's right, especially for SMBs that can't deal with all the options, the Software Assurance upgrade pressure, or the consulting expenses. But simplicity in product packaging and distribution apparently isn't much of a consideration in Redmond.