Friday, September 7, 2007

Windows Vista SP1 vs. Windows XP SP3

Windows Vista Service Pack 1 and Windows XP Service Pack 3 will have close release dates in 2008. And in this context, with the proximity of the refreshes for Vista and XP, Microsoft of course has chosen to emphasize Vista SP1 while pushing XP SP3 to the background. This is undoubtedly the right move for the Redmond company, although it could turn up to prove quite a gambit, in terms of prioritizing its latest Windows platform over the ubiquitous XP operating system. But what is the right strategy for Windows users? The choices are obvious. Either stick with Windows XP, wait for the third service pack and ride the operating system for all it’s got until Windows 7 (Seven), Vista's successor will drop in 2010, or switch to Microsoft's latest platform.

Microsoft revealed that in the first six months of Vista availability, from the end of January and until the beginning of August, it shipped 60 million licenses. Shipped does by no means equal sold, but the two concepts are bound to become synonymous at a certain point. According to statistics from Market Share by Net Applications, Windows Vista accounted for 6.26% of the operating system market at the end of August. Internet metrics company OneStat delivered a different perspective and stated that the global usage share of Vista was just 3.23% in July. These statistics leave approximately from 80% of XP users (according to Market Share) hanging in the balance between switching to Vista for the sake of SP1, or hold in tight with XP until SP3 and beyond, waiting for Windows 7.

Microsoft currently plans to make Vista SP1 available in the first quarter of 2008 and although the company has not confirmed the actual period, users should expect the refresh after Windows Server 2008 will be released to manufacturing and even launched at the end of February in the coming year. Windows XP SP3 is scheduled to drop after Vista SP1 in the first half of 2008 and will be the last service pack introduced for the operating system launched at the end of 2001. Vista SP1 and XP SP3 are valid options for the vast majority of Windows users.

As far as home users are concerned the issue of choosing between the two service packs, and ultimately between Vista and XP is based on personal sentiments. Microsoft's Wow has failed to convince the mass of XP users to migrate to Vista. In this regard Vista SP1 does provide a strong incentive, but will it be sufficient to dislodge an operating system that has had almost six years to dig in its roots? Additionally, the timing of XP SP3 could not be worse for Vista adoption and it will reverberate and impact the uptake of the company's latest operating system. But the bottom line is that SP3 will in no manner be a repeat of SP2 delivered in 2004. XP SP3 will bring no new functionality to the table, according to the latest reports, it will not even deliver Internet Explorer 7. End-users that want a Windows evolution will have to move to Vista or stick it out until 2010. But three years is an awful lot of time...

When it comes down to corporate users, Microsoft, through the voice of Brandon LeBlanc, suggested that: "Organizations do not need to wait for SP1 to deploy Windows Vista; they are encouraged to begin their Windows Vista evaluation and deployment now. Organizations currently evaluating and deploying Windows Vista should continue their evaluation, pilot programs, and deployment on the initial ("Gold") Windows Vista release. Organizations just starting to evaluate Windows Vista should plan a pilot program. Organizations waiting for Windows Vista SP1 should start their compatibility testing on the gold release of Windows Vista now, and then begin their evaluation and pilot programs on the release candidate of Windows Vista SP1 when it is released."

Analyst firm Gartner seems to agree with Microsoft on the issue of migrating to Vista ahead of SP1. Michael A. Silver, Gartner Research VP, revealed that Vista SP1 is important in the context of corporate environments, but that it will not deliver the same impact as former Windows service packs. Silver associated the loss of SP relevance as an immediate result of the infrastructure built with Windows Update, Microsoft Update and Automatic Update.

"Many organizations wait until the first SP ships before they test and plan deployment of a client operating system. Furthermore, many organizations have highly complex PC environments and would not be ready to deploy Vista before 2H08, so SP1 will not be in the critical path for them. However, there are some advantages to skipping the release to manufacturing (RTM) version and adopting SP1. The biggest is that Microsoft will only support the prior SP for 12 to 24 months after the next SP ships (in this case, 24 months). So if SP1 ships in 1Q08, the original Vista release (which would be SP0) will only be supported (with security patches, for example) until 1Q10. Another advantage: Users who deploy SP1 to begin with eliminate the need to test and support an extra service level," Silver explained.

Migrating to Windows Vista ahead of SP1 means also planning and deploying the service pack once it becomes available. This of course translates to extra costs. However, by pushing Vista deployment to late 2008, corporate users can bundle the two into a single deployment process. Organizations will have to manage almost another year without Vista and avoid deploying SP3 for XP, in order to move directly to Windows Vista SP1. There is also the possibility of waiting until Windows 7, but such a scenario implies that Vista's successor will be deployed no earlier than 2011. Not really an option.

Either way Silver offered the following advices: "organizations that expect to be running any XP in mid-2010 should plan to test and deploy SP3. It should be significantly less work than testing and deploying SP2. Organizations should integrate SP1 into their testing, piloting and deployment plans, but they should not significantly delay Windows Vista deployment on new PCs by waiting for SP1. If shifting a PC deployment a few weeks would allow deployment of Vista, do it, but don't bring in new PCs on Windows XP instead — it will be easier to upgrade a Vista PC to SP1 than an XP PC to Vista. If shifting a PC deployment a few weeks would allow deployment of SP1, do it."