Will Microsoft's launch of Vista be known as the Year of the Upgrade or simply Excedrin Headache Number 2007?
That's a concern for many small business owners as they weigh the pros and cons of moving to Vista. The debut of any new operating system involves its fair share of bugs, glitches and things that go bump in the night. Vista, probably the largest operating system overhaul in Microsoft's history, offers a number of challenges due to its hefty memory, hard disk, graphics and processor requirements. This is particularly true for small companies that lack IT support.
To help small business owners sort out the various issues, we spoke with the folks over at HiWired, a Web-based provider of technical support and services. The company, which says its mission is to "make it simple to enjoy your technology," has solved approximately 45,000 customer problems spanning the consumer and the small business world including Vista upgrade issues.
When it comes to Vista, you have two basic options: Buy a new PC with the software pre-installed or upgrade your existing PCs. Michael Wexler, HiWired's president and co-founder, says that they've been seeing customers with all kinds of issues as they attempt to upgrade. "One hundred percent of our customers who have tried to install Vista on their own have called in with at least one problem," he says.
The issue, he says, is a painful migration path from Windows XP to Vista. For example, if you have XP Home, Microsoft recommends that you install Vista on top of the XP software without reformatting the drive. Wexler disagrees with this strategy, and says it's best to reformat the hard drive and start with a clean installation. "That's a problem, because Microsoft markets the upgrade as a simple solution," he says. HiWired customers kept running into error messages and bugs.
According to Wexler, "any problem you had in XP Home still lurks in Vista unless you reformat the drive. It's like taking a dented car to the car wash. It may be clean, but it's still dented."
For small businesses that run XP Pro, Microsoft recommends reformatting the drive prior to installing Vista. Wexler agrees with that approach, but notes that it can take an average person hours or even days to do this. "You need to back up your data, reformat the drive, reinstall your applications and then reinstall your data. Typically, that's when you'll find some of your applications won't work with Vista," he says.
It's not just your PC either. Upgrading to Vista impacts your PC peripherals such as digital cameras, printers and scanners. Part of the upgrade process, says Wexler, involves hunting down and installing new drivers to make these devices Vista compliant.
Approximately 20 percent of HiWired's customers own PCs that are Vista-ready, leaving a large chunk of people with machines that require some type of hardware upgrade before they can handle the new operating system.
Microsoft lists the following minimum system requirements for Vista Home Premium, Business and Ultimate editions:
- 1 GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
- 1 GB of system memory
- 40 GB hard drive with at least 15 GB of available space
- Support for DirectX 9 graphics with the following:
- WDDM Driver
- 128 MB of graphics memory (minimum)
- Pixel Shader 2.0 in hardware
- 32 bits per pixel
- DVD-ROM drive
They're called minimum requirements for a reason, and most experts agree that you'll realize better performance with heftier hardware specs.
The real issue for Wexler is the cost-benefit ratio. "We just don't see enough difference between XP Pro and Vista Business to justify the pain of upgrading. It takes a professional four or five hours to upgrade one system at best. And that doesn't even consider the cost of any required hardware upgrades." he says.
Although he acknowledges that some small businesses in specific industries may derive some benefit from Aero (the sleek, translucent interface in Vista Premium, Business and Ultimate), Wexler says the average SMB doesn't need it. "It may be sexy, but it's not a show stopper for small businesses."
The total cost of upgrading is higher than the mere price of buying the software. Wexler says you need to factor in the following costs:
- Your own time (if you handle the upgrade)
- Hiring someone else to do it
- Upgrading your computer hardware
- Buying the software
- Lost productivity during downtime
Vista is a great operating system, according to Wexler, and a big improvement. "It's just not big enough to justify the painful, expensive upgrade," he says. "We advise our customers to wait until they need to buy new PCs. That's when it makes sense. That's when it's worth the time and effort to migrate your data."
Tips for a Vista Migration
Whether you decide to upgrade or to wait and buy new PCs, once you are ready to move to Vista, it's important to make a plan. Migrating requires forethought, so we talked with Mike Riegel, IBM's director of mid-market services. He offers five steps to help avoid a migration headache:
- Take an Inventory
You need to know how many and what kind of PCs you have. Be sure to list the hardware configurations and the type of software applications (and which versions) for each PC
- Account for Hardware Upgrades
Skip this step if you own Vista-ready PCs. If you don't, you'll need to determine which hardware components need to be replaced (see Vista minimum specs above).
- Plan for Software Upgrades
Consider upgrading your software applications. One prime example, says Riegel, is Microsoft Office. "If you're moving to Vista, you might want to upgrade to Office 2007 at the same time," he says. Depending on your business, you may have proprietary or homegrown software applications you'll need to do a bit of research to see if they'll work smoothly with Vista.
- 4.Backup your Data
You'll need to back up the critical data on each individual PC. Riegel urges small business owners to make a plan for doing so. "It's not just the PCs in your office," he says. "Be sure to include computers of any remote workers or anyone who works at home. Making sure your data is backed up before you begin migrating is crucial."
- Create a Migration and Post-Migration Plan
Prepare to upgrade your computers individually, one at a time. "Vista is an enormous program at close to 3GB, says Riegel. "This isnt something you can do over a network." He also recommends that you institute a support plan. "Once the upgrade/migration is complete, you'll need someone to answer employees questions on how to use the new software."
Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com
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