Vista vs. XP Showdown

Microsoft’s release of Service Pack 1 for Windows Vista is nigh, which means that it’s nearly time for organizations sold on a “better SP1 than sorry” approach toward deploying Microsoft’s latest client operating system to start polishing off their imaging tools.

However, based on the conversations I have had with readers and with eWEEK’s Corporate Partners, it seems that many IT managers are viewing Vista’s SP1 not as a green light for deployments, but as something like a pop-up reminder to schedule some time to think about maybe deploying the new OS.

While Windows XP is getting rather long in the tooth, age alone is not reason enough to undertake an upgrade. As unsettling a truth as it may be for Microsoft, the bottom line on XP versus Vista is that there’s not a whole lot that you can do with the latter OS that you can’t do with the former.

Vista’s number one, “how does this solve my problems” opportunity was its support for hard drive encryption, which could have driven a campaign around lost notebooks and data breaches that would have grabbed the attention of business and consumer users alike. Instead, Microsoft opted withhold this support from business customers unwilling to sign up for software assurance.

However, moving to Vista has not been a slam dunk for those volume license customers either, since the new operating system comes with product activation stickiness that Microsoft had spared its enterprise XP customers. It’s not that product activation is particularly onerous, but since activation chores add management overhead with no return on investment, it’s another drag on Vista deployment.

The most important feature of any OS is security patch availability, followed by software application and hardware device support. Vista does add support for some new hardware, and SP1 adds more. On the software front, Vista will work better with Windows Server 2008 than XP does–boasting, for instance, much faster file transfer speeds.

But Vista SP1 is not the only client OS service pack on tap from Microsoft. Windows XP SP3 is set to ship around the same time–a fact which, along with the still broad availability of XP on OEM machines, indicates that XP is still very actively supported. What’s more, XP still holds an edge over Vista with regard to driver and application support, and XP runs on a wider variety of machines than does Vista.

As long as XP maintains those advantages, and as long as Microsoft keeps XP patched and up-to-date with features such as WPA2 and Network Access Protection support, clear upgrade cases for Vista will remain difficult to discern.