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Free support doesn't lead to new love for Vista SP1

Microsoft is working hard to nudge customers onto the Windows Vista bandwagon, offering free support for Vista SP1. But users continue to resist full deployments.

Microsoft is working hard to nudge customers onto the Windows Vista bandwagon, offering free support to those migrating to Vista SP1. But IT administrators continue to resist making the kind of aggressive deployments Microsoft would like to see across the board.

Vista is not only a Microsoft product anymore; more third-party vendors than ever are involved.
Michael Pietroforte,
systems administratorLudwig-Maximilian University

Microsoft released Windows Vista SP1 last week, complete with security fixes and other patches Microsoft produced between Vista's launch in early 2007 and the end of last year. Many Windows administrators delayed installing Vista until at least the first service pack. Administrators who tested Vista SP1 in beta gave it poor reviews. Attitudes haven't changed much since the service pack's release last week.

Jeffrey Jarzabek, IT director for Matocha Associates, an Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., firm specializing in architecture, engineering, general contracting and construction management, was among those offering a pessimistic assessment at the time after running into big compatibility problems during testing. In a follow-up email exchange Tuesday, he said Microsoft seems to have corrected many of the problems he found in February, but that he's still not deploying the operating system anytime soon.

"I did the beta on SP1 and had major issues," he said. "They have corrected a lot of items since then. At least the machines don't crash now. They have sped up a little with file copying but other than that, there isn't much difference from a user standpoint."

As for the support Microsoft has heavily publicized, Jarzabek said it could've been better. Many of the suggestions they made were too cumbersome to execute in a short time, he said, adding that in the final analysis there are still too many stability issues for him to adopt Vista SP1.

Susan Bradley, a Microsoft MVP and IT administrator at Tamiyasu, Smith, Horn and Braun Accountancy Corp. in Fresno, Calif., said she installed the service pack and had activation problems Microsoft has since addressed. As for support, she said the email support worked better for her than the phone call.

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Michael Pietroforte, a systems administrator who heads up the IT department at the University Library of the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, has tested Vista SP1 extensively and created a list of challenges and possible solutions in his 4Sysops blog.

The problems he has come across include ongoing incompatibility with third-party programs, device driver glitches, a sleep mode problem and endless reboots.

IT pros have voiced some of those concerns on the Technology Questions discussion board, with one administrator saying he loaded Vista SP1 on three different computers, two at home and one at work, and experienced major reductions in file copy performance over the network.

"At work, my Vista x64 SP1 station has seen an 18 to 20 fold reduction in network file copy performance between some servers. The reduction in performance is from about 40 MB/s to 600 KB/s between certain Win2K3 servers," wrote the administrator, posting under the initials NB. "Of course, this is totally unacceptable and I cannot run the machines like that. I have uninstalled SP1 from my work machine and now it's fine again."

Pietroforte said the fact that Microsoft now offers a toll-free hotline for customers having problems with Vista SP1 is another hint that this service pack is "a bit problematic" and that "it seems as if SP1 won't be able to accelerate Vista adoption."

As for possible workarounds, he said users should first try and make sure the problem is truly related to Vista SP1. From there, he recommends a careful read though Microsoft's Knowledge Base and Vista SP1 Technet forum. He added that there are three ways to get direct support from Microsoft: email, chat and phone. Of course, there's the much-publicized toll-free number, he said.

If all else fails, he said, the best bet is to uninstall Vista SP1 and move on.

In a follow-up email exchange, Pietroforte said that despite the challenges he listed in his blog, Vista SP1 is enterprise-ready for those who dare to deploy it.

"It is stable, drivers are available for most devices, and most software problems have been solved," he said. "If it makes sense to move to Vista is a different story. It depends on the hardware you have, if it is powerful enough. And if you have some exotic apps that don't work with Vista you have no other choice than staying with XP."

Despite Microsoft's efforts, many IT administrators are content to hold off on Vista as long as possible for the simple reason that they finally have Windows XP working the way they want it.

Rhode Island-based network engineer Edward Ziots said he's still waiting for third-party vendors to get with the program and support Vista through their applications before he even considers Vista adoption. He said he's actually more interested in the upcoming release of Windows XP Service Pack 3 than he is about "going to the Vista dark side."

In the final analysis, Pietroforte thinks Microsoft is doing everything it can to improve Vista's image. "But it seems to me sometimes that they can't cope anymore with the complexity of their own product."

The stir about SP1, meanwhile, shows how dependent Microsoft has become on third-party software and hardware vendors.

"Vista is not only a Microsoft product anymore; more third-party vendors than ever are involved," he said. "I think it is the first time that Microsoft had to postpone the release of a product at the last minute because third party vendors were not yet ready."

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