Shaan Stevens' small Wellington-based economic and finance consultancy, Guinness Gallagher, has around 13 regular employees and operates partly from his large home in the capital. This became the demonstration site for the domestic and small-business launch of Vista in New Zealand.
The company operates internationally, sometimes in countries which enjoy only basic telco infrastructure, says Stevens.
“I used to waste the first two days after I arrived anywhere trying to set up my connections,” he says, “I was pretending to be an ICT expert. I realised I’d actually begun to talk like one. I was telling Cambodian [telco engineers] the problem was with Port 162 and I thought: ‘I shouldn’t have to know that’.”
Stevens’ main problem was trying to get lots of online applications to work smoothly together. Eventually, this motivated him to transfer to an all-Microsoft system, he says. And, recommendations from colleagues encouraged him to become an early user of Windows Vista.
Apart from early problems with drivers, particularly for video, Stevens found the set up of a complex network of Vista-equipped PCs and laptops painless. Outlook, other Office tools, Sharepoint and Microsoft CRM support almost all of the company’s work, and there is no need to bother with non-Microsoft applications, he says.Pressed, he acknowledges Lotus Notes gave the most interface headaches. “But it was a good product [otherwise]. I’m not saying this to [discredit] Notes.”
In setting up appointments using the latest version of Office, he can now mark unavailable dates on his Outlook calendar and email it to the other parties. “I used to have to read my calendar over the phone to the other party or their PA. It was a pain.”
Stevens seems genuinely enthused about the capabilities of the system, particularly the improved disk-search facility, which means it is much simpler to call up previous reports that may help with a new task, and keep track of the documentation for several concurrent projects.
The ability to maintain “to-do” lists has proved very useful for time management. “Outlook is where I spend most of my [computer] time,” he says.
Communication from mobile has also proved easy to set up. Stevens says he can easily replicate essential data on his PC, sending it to his iMate PDA. Colleagues “replicate” to the BlackBerry with equal facility, he says.
“There may be PDAs Vista doesn’t talk to, but I haven’t seen them.”
Stevens has taken the opportunity to install digital technology throughout his house, including a large audio-visual room, where stored high-definition video files are demonstrated — with detectable unevenness. “We’re working on that,” says Microsoft spokesman David Rayner.
“This content has only just been released; we’re right on the leading edge.”
Ownership difficulties are also evident in the inability to allow the video-recording function to be set up from programme listings, since licensing of the listings from copyright holders is still under negotiation.
A clutch of specialist companies and HP provide valuable back-up support. Stevens admits that early trials of Vista on a Toshiba PC were less successful. But Microsoft insists the operating system now works smoothly on equipment as much as two or three years old. Early trials by journalists who were present at the Vista launch bear this out.
Stevens own home trial — although it is now much more than this — has proved quite comprehensive.His son has a Playstation in his bedroom, through which data from an AV server can be accessed by Stevens’ mother, Queenie, who lives in a downstairs flat.
The kitchen there is equipped with an HP Touchsmart PC, with a touch screen, which reduces the need for keyboard and mouse.
Here quite domestic applications are displayed, including collections of family snapshots, which have been scanned into databases, and a clever, if arguably pointless array of digitally simulated Post-it notes.