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Why Vista will take a back seat for a few years

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For businesses, Vista is about waiting and planning and testing and...

It's been a long time coming. Several years overdue and 50 million lines of code later, Vista is here. Now businesses will wait for...Vista Service Pack 1?

Back in December we interviewed various anti-virus companies and some of the most prominent security people in the industry, and we asked for their collective thoughts on Vista security. The article premise was for consumers, and the conclusions were clear: Vista goes a step beyond the security of Windows XP. It's better security for the average consumer.

Despite all the forthcoming advertising and sales pitches about early Vista installations, most businesses would be foolish to upgrade to Vista in the coming year. Businesses want stable, reliable environments. They want to see service packs that address problems even before they encounter them. They want secure environments as well, but to senior executives and other decision makers, this is still a function of Security Risk Management that can be mitigated in various different ways. For example, many of the good security features in Vista, from full disk encryption to the personal firewall to rights management and some of the more basic least privilege components have been available through standard IT processes or from third party vendors for a long time.

Businesses already have the option to buy third party tools to lock down Windows XP rather tight. Whether or not they make use of them is another matter altogether - again, it's a question of value and cost. It might be more cost effective to finally apply some new security endpoint technologies onto an existing platform like Windows XP and wait until the migration to a new platform like Vista is less expensive and unavoidable.

Many IT folks in large companies tend to be very conservative when it comes to software upgrades. I've seen this too many times to shake my head. Often, it's a single enterprise application that forces the upgrade to a new platform like Vista. The perspective tends to be, let's hold off until our applications and users absolutely require Vista. Until then, let's wait and see.

Installing Vista on a company executive's laptop today might even be a career limiting move. I'm imagining a play on the old slogan, "no one ever got fired for buying an IBM". A poor rollout of any new platform, without proper planning and just to impress an executive, can be disastrous. First there's the excessive hardware requirements that require only the fastest new hardware - whereas putting today's Windows XP corporate image on that same fast hardware will actually run faster, and might be better bang for the buck.

Then there are driver issues, even on common Tier-1 machines. But most importantly, there are all types of corporate application compatibility issues that need to be examined with Vista - including all those poorly coded web applications out there that were, like it or not, created to work only with Internet Explorer 6. These will all get resolved in time, sure. But the list goes on.

Vista is inevitable for most businesses. But many will delay the rollout for as long as possible, trying to get as much value out of their existing investment as they can. Extended support for Windows XP is available for everyone until at least 2014. It's not about having the newest technology, it's about getting value out of a business asset while managing security risks along the way.

Meanwhile, it's time to start evaluating and testing Vista with your applications. It's also time to investigate alternatives that may or may not offer better value, from desktops that use virtual machines, thin clients, and alternative operating systems, to open-source Office software that may work for at least a portion of your workforce.

Business goals always trump technology. That's the main reason Vista security will take the back seat for a few years, despite the step forward in technology. This article originally appeared in Security Focus.

Copyright © 2007, SecurityFocus

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