For most companies, the question of XP vs Vista is complicated. It would be glib to follow the marketing line and say “there are many benefits to upgrading to Vista – you have the licences already as part of your rolling license programme, so upgrade when you’re comfortable”, because there can be almost intractable and unresolvable conflicts within the decision-making process.

Let’s first look at the benefits of moving to Vista for a business user. We’re assuming there’s already a good basic infrastructure in place, and the move isn’t predicated on a need to fix unresolvable underlying issues – upgrading an OS is rarely a solution to an existing problem. We’ll also assume the business has a disaster-recovery plan in place. This might sound patronising, but most companies don’t. It’s inevitable that the issue of large-scale software deployment on to either existing or, more likely, brand-new hardware has to be considered as part of that solution.

Installation and imaging

If you’re relying on a manual install, configure, patch and deploy solution for each new computer that arrives into the building, it’s clear that it will be impossible to deploy a large number of machines in the required short period of time if a disaster occurs. There’s no option but to look to imaging techniques for mass deployment. Almost immediately, Vista can pay for itself.

One of the big issues for XP is that you need to create image discs for almost every flavour and subversion of the hardware – it becomes worse if you have to consider multilingual desktop options, too. With Vista, if you design it right, you can get this down to one disc. In a fully tested disaster-recovery scenario, this will pay for the deployment of Vista immediately, and it’s a compelling argument in the new OS’s favour.

Data encryption

For those who have a habit of leaving a laptop on the back seat of a taxi (civil servants, you know who you are), the BitLocker encryption in Vista Ultimate and Vista Enterprise (but not, surprisingly, in the Business version) is a tempting solution. You can’t just slap a new OS build on to the machine to overwrite any permissions and thus gain access to the sensitive data. But while BitLocker is a good step up, there’s already a very good NTFS-level encryption facility built into XP.

Locking down USB ports is another area where Vista has advantages over XP, helping to prevent mass theft of data to a USB key. But, like the other interesting technology of encrypted password keys in hardware, XP has solutions in place – it’s just that Vista is better. Again, it’s a people and process problem, not a hardware or OS one.

it_photo_17607Although we expected fewer Windows updates in Vista, they’re still appearing thick and fast – and almost all are rated as important.

Remote and office working

For getting connected back to base, there are advantages to Vista’s VPN tunnelling, but many were quite happy with that supplied in XP, provided the lesser configurability was deemed adequate. And there’s a hand-in-hand issue here with Office – if you’re going to deploy Vista, you’ll almost certainly roll out Office 2007 at the same time. With Office, there’s much to gain from Outlook’s connectivity to Exchange Server, its ability to tunnel better and work seamlessly online/offline. Moving to Office 2007 on XP is probably an unlikely combination in the real world.

Network management

For general administration, system monitoring and other “health plumbing” issues, there isn’t much to choose between the two operating systems. No-one relies on the built-in tools in either, and a server-side system-management solution such as SMS or Microsoft Operations Manager makes a fine job of keeping on top of the day-to-day issues just as well on either platform.

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