Windows Vista: Hit or Miss with Small Business

After half a decade of development and more than a few (expected) delays, Windows Vista was released to retail customers a year ago this past January 30.

In addition to improved security, a slick new interface, integrated search and hundreds of other features, Vista also came with fairly demanding performance requirements, slow boot-up times, sluggish performance and (expected) bugs.

So how is Vista faring among small businesses a year after its launch? As with many Microsoft products that came before it, Vista evokes a classic either-love-it-or-hate it response.

Migrating, Not Flocking
Considering it had been five long years since the debut of Windows XP, many industry watchers had expected an avalanche of pent-up demand to propel Vista. But a combination of stiff hardware requirements—the operating system (OS) works best in a machine equipped with at least 2GB of RAM—and lackluster reviews kept many would-be upgraders on the sidelines.

As Laurie McCabe, vice president of SMB insights for Access Markets International-Partners (AMI), a New York-based research and consulting firm specializing in small and medium-size tech markets, points out, “Vista is slowly but surely replacing XP in small business.” In her research, seven percent of small business owners reported that they have at least one PC now that is running Vista.

If that’s not exactly an avalanche, chock it up to the way small businesses buy machines. “Small and medium businesses usually by in a more ad-hoc way,” says McCabe. “We see 25 percent of small businesses and 40 percent of medium-size businesses planning to upgrade at least some of their PCs to Vista. But it’s not a complete overhaul—it’s as machines need to be replaced.”

McCabe points to three main reasons that have kept many business owners within the more familiar confines of XP. First, there are companies with custom application written for XP. Second, since not all the PCs in a business are going to be replaced, many business owners are loathe to have some PCs running Vista and others running XP. Finally, reports in the media and on blogs about bugs and incompatibilities spooked many business owners. “The last thing a small-business owner needs to deal with is an operating system problem,” notes McCabe. “They prefer to wait until the kinks are ironed out.”

On the Sidelines
Indeed, one of the biggest question marks business owners had as they approached the Vista launch concerned compatibility: Would Vista work with the legacy hardware and software in which small businesses had invested? To its credit, Microsoft had drivers for more than 78,000 devices and components on Windows Update at the time it launched Vista.

Software compatibility was a tougher nut, and most of the initial rants on Web sites blasting Vista centered on software that wouldn’t run or that wasn’t officially supported under Vista by the developer. While the overwhelming majority of XP-compatible software applications worked just fine, the worry was enough to keep some small business owners from switching.

That’s the position in which Dr. Richard Levine found himself. As a principal physician of Phoenix Ob-Gyn Associates LLC, a medical practice with four offices in southern New Jersey, Levine was concerned about how Vista might impact the GE Healthcare Centricity suite on which he runs the business. “I have more than 60 terminals running Centricity. Are they going to be compatible?” he asks. “Until XP gets totally outdated, it’s just too much work for too little benefit.” (By the way, Microsoft is currently working with GE Healthcare to become a Certified for Windows Vista partner, but right now Centricity is officially supported only under XP.)

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