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Users not rushing on Vista, Office 2007

OS validation, new Office user interface slow upgrade plans

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Although Microsoft staged the general launch in the USA of Windows Vista and Office 2007 yesterday, corporate users have had access to the new software since late November.

But that early access isn’t translating into early deployments for most business customers, judging by an email poll of 40 IT managers conducted by Techworld's sister publication Computerworld last week. Even though Microsoft took pains to try to remove some of the barriers that often hinder upgrades, only three respondents said they expect Vista to be deployed on more than half of their companies’ systems by year’s end.

Only six said they anticipate installing Office 2007 that broadly by then, and the vast majority predicted that they will be running both of the new products on only a few test machines this year -- or on no PCs at all.

In several cases, the reasons extend beyond the typical issues that delay major migrations. High-profile new features such as the volume-activation and product-validation tools in Vista and the dramatically different user interface in Office 2007 are causing some IT managers to think hard about their upgrade strategies.

“The new UI presents a significant change-management issue we felt we couldn’t absorb this year,” said Charlie Ward, an enterprise architect at Duke Energy in the USA. So the power company will delay a migration to Office 2007 until next year, Ward said, even though it’s anxious to take advantage of improved collaboration capabilities between the desktop applications and Microsoft’s SharePoint Server software. Duke Energy also expects that it won’t start its separate Vista migration until 2008, Ward said.

Yancey Smith, Office group product manager at Microsoft, said the new Office user interface, which is called Fluent, was designed to be more intuitive. The company’s customer research shows that 83 per cent of surveyed users think they will need only two days to two weeks to learn the new interface, and 85 per cent think it will improve their productivity, according to Smith.

More training needed

But IT managers such as Jim Prevo, CIO at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, fear that their users will need more training than usual on Office 2007. Prevo said he was initially stumped by the simple task of opening a file when he installed a beta copy of the desktop suite.

“I’m a geek — I figure things out easily,” he said.

“Office 2007 is going to be a big problem for normal people unless we give them some training before they touch it.” As a result, upgrading to Office 2007 “isn’t a ‘slip it in over the weekend’ kind of project,” Prevo added. He said he expects that no more than five per cent of Green Mountain’s PCs will be running the new applications by year’s end.

Other executives are struggling to find business drivers for migrations, especially if they haven’t bought into Software Assurance, the Microsoft maintenance program that entitles users to product upgrades. There aren’t “enough new features to create any ROI” on Office 2007, said Dale Frantz, CIO at Auto Warehousing.

Many users cited traditional concerns about upgrading to Vista, such as the need to test applications and a desire to wait for bug fixes that will be in Microsoft’s first service pack release. But a new twist with Vista is its Software Protection Platform technology, a set of built-in anti-piracy and anti-tampering tools. SPP’s software activation and validation mechanisms are making some customers uneasy.

“I understand it and why it’s necessary. It’s an unfortunate by-product of dishonesty in the IT world,” said Christopher Pesola, associate director of application services at Learning Care Group. But, he added, SPP “seems a little too complex, and I’m sure someone has already figured out a way around it anyway.”

Microsoft has said that Vista must be activated and pass a validation test within 30 days of installation, or else the operating system will go into a reduced-functionality mode.

Volume-licence customers have two activation options. Multiple Activation Keys can be used for individual computers or a group of systems that connect to Microsoft servers over the Internet or by telephone. The other choice is the Key Management Service (KMS), an internally hosted system for automatically activating PCs or laptops. A company must have a minimum of 25 Vista-based machines connected together to use KMS, and the PCs must be reactivated at least every six months.

“It simply complicates things for us without any quid pro quo benefit,” said George Defenbaugh, manager of global infrastructure IT projects at Hess. “All the work is on our side; all the benefit accrues to Microsoft.”

When Hess upgrades to Vista, it will use KMS, which Defenbaugh described as “the only reasonable answer for a global company with 5,000 client machines.” But an upgrade won’t happen until next year at the earliest, he said.


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