A recent issue of The New Yorker included a morbid little cartoon that depicts a tombstone with the inscription "Wouldn't stop picking at it." Windows customers might want to secure a copy and tape it to their monitors, because the temptation to pick is going to be strong over the next few months.
The source of this temptation is going to be the release of Windows Vista, which has gone gold and been shipped off to manufacturers by Microsoft. Vista has been a long time coming, and it will disappointingly (for Microsoft, anyhow) miss the upcoming holiday shopping season, which has had equally disappointed hardware vendors scrambling around with vouchers and promises of upgrades. Microsoft is painfully aware of the shortfall, so it's doing what it can to relieve itself of some pain including, as the Associated Press reports, selling licenses to Windows Vista Business and Microsoft Office Small Business 2007 to small businesses ahead of the general Vista launch.
"The move," reports AP, "will put small businesses on the same footing as larger rivals, who also will be able to buy the new operating system and business software ahead of the general release scheduled for Jan. 30."
The big difference, of course, is that small businesses lack things their larger rivals have, including deep support staff, expensive support contracts (though CompUSA will be pushing support programs at the time they sell the licenses) or an IT staff with enough people to guarantee that someone, somewhere down in the nerd farm will be protesting loudly if Vista comes anywhere near a computer before the early adopters have gone out and do what they do, which is blaze trails and break things.
The only "advantages" being granted are to CompUSA, which gets some early sales, and Microsoft, which knows that the much-delayed, periodically re-factored Vista is going to be a tough sell. It will want some vague buzz about "momentum" to fuel wildly improbable stories about people camping in front of their neighborhood computer store to buy the first copies to hit the shelves.
In other words, neither Microsoft nor CompUSA is doing small business owners any favors here. Those "larger rivals" won't be adopting Vista until either their next hardware refresh or after they've had time to let their professionals assess the software and train end users, partially because a move to a new version of an operating system is chaotic and disruptive all on its own, and partially because you never know what an upgrade will break. According to IDC, in fact, only 11 percent of businesses currently running Windows will be running Vista by the end of 2007. That isn't because their tech departments are lazy.
If you want a case in point about why it pays to be circumspect when a big change comes along, consider Internet Explorer 7, which went through several public beta releases, a few unofficial releases and garnered plenty of overheated horse race stories leading up to its launch. It appears, despite all that, that IE 7 doesn't work with SSL VPNs from a number of vendors. So if you invested in an SSL VPN to secure your company's network or if a hosted provider you deal with relies on them, you've probably already been scrambling around for instructions on how to uninstall IE7 until everything's straightened out.
It's not just a question of whether or not something will go wrong or break, either. Whether we realize it or not, home office and small business workers rely on a much more informal network of support than large companies that can afford formal support. We count on bulletin boards, mailing lists, third-party books and Web tutorials to figure out our problems when something breaks. Those networks don't just spring into existence because Microsoft announces a release date: They form as early adopters adopt and people with the time or inclination deal with a lot of small frustrations to suss out new software.
The Moral of the Story?
Don't pick at your current setup just because the Redmond hype machine is beginning to shift into high gear. Nobody ever had "Waited a little while to make sure nothing caught on fire or blew up before using it to run her business" inscribed on her tombstone.
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