Why save XP? Readers speak out

On the record or off, IT pros explain why they're not prepared to say goodbye to XP and upgrade to Vista

InfoWorld's petition asking Microsoft not to discontinue Windows XP after June 30 has garnered more than 65,000 signatures since Jan. 14. And with those signatures have come thousands of reader comments that reveal why many IT organizations are up in arms about the June 30 deadline to retire XP.

[ Sign InfoWorld's Save XP petition to ask Microsoft to keep XP available after June 30. ]

Three reasons dominate the resistance to Vista: performance, compatibility, and cost. All of them can be overcome with investments in hardware, software, training, and support. The question is whether the upgrade will help businesses increase sales, perform better, or serve customers more effectively -- especially when other IT initiatives with more ROI potential, from greening the datacenter to more effective partner integration, may fall back in the queue as a result. A recent Gartner study confirms that such direct business benefit is now driving IT budgets, not new technology for its own sake.

Save XP
Three reasons dominate the resistance to Vista: performance , compatibility, and cost. All of them can be overcome with investments in hardware, software, training, and support. The question is whether the upgrade will help businesses increase sales, perform better, or serve customers more effectively -- especially when other IT initiatives with more ROI potential, from greening the datacenter to more effective partner integration, may fall back in the queue as a result. A recent Gartner study confirms that such direct business benefit is now driving IT budgets, not new technology for its own sake.

Lots of pain, little gain
John Alber, CTO at Bryan Cave, a large, tech-savvy law firm in Los Angeles, was willing to go on the record when he expressed misgivings about moving to Vista over the same trio of issues. Many other IT professionals were not, due to fears about damaging their company's relationship with Microsoft. Off the record, one technology vendor told InfoWorld that it has indefinitely postponed its conversion to Windows Vista after several months of testing because the demonstrable benefit was elusive. Similarly, the IT staff at a large California school district has no plans to convert to Vista; its technology director said that Vista takes twice the hardware resources.

In some cases, the changes that Vista brings reduce productivity or increase costs just to maintain existing capabilities. That's why John Hawkins, CEO of Adviser Media, ended up removing Vista from a new laptop and then from his company, which maintains several how-to sites aimed at baby boomers. "Whatever I tried to do, the new computer fought me -- and usually, it won. By 'do,' I mean basic stuff: save a file, connect to my office network and the Internet, turn on, turn off, copy some files. It's my computer -- shouldn't I be allowed to do these things? Nope, not without lots of effort, wasted time, and sometimes, complete failure," he wrote in his blog.

Basic incompatibilities also drive him to go back to XP, Hawkins told InfoWorld: "My 'favorite' is that Vista doesn't work with many Wi-Fi access points (the main reason our users demanded a return to XP) -- and Microsoft's fix is to tell users to replace them!" Scott Pam shared this frustration: "There are lots of incompatibilities on drivers," noted the independent IT consultant in Palm Desert, Calif.

Even some of those who like Vista on their home computers have been unable to use it for work. "I love Vista on my home machine. But it would be completely impossible to use at work. I still need to support applications running on Pocket PC 2002 and Windows CE 4.2 platforms, and for that I need the development environment I wrote them with -- Microsoft eMbedded Visual C++. This is not supported, and doesn't work, on Windows Vista. Even where the customer has upgraded some devices, a move to Visual Studio 2005 native device development entails a change of libraries, which can have complicated breaking changes. Oh, and they broke serial ActiveSync as well," noted a U.K. developer who declined to be identified.

And of course, those much-publicized performance issues loom large. "It uses mega hard disk space and has a lot more running programs in the background than XP," noted a support technician at a broadband provider, who asked for anonymity.

User frustration equals IT frustration
Support staff and IT consultants also feel the pain, mainly from the confusion that Microsoft's new UI and security controls cause their users.

IT consultant Scott Pam is frustrated with the burden that Vista has placed on him. "Customers are panicking," he says, since they can't find their data or common controls in the new UI and assume the data has been lost or their Vista PC is broken. "So I go back for free [to explain how to use Vista], costing hundreds of dollars of my time." He asks why Microsoft could not have offered its new security approach and other features without breaking the familiar Windows XP UI. "Apple added new capabilities in all the versions since Mac OS X 10.2 but kept the interface, drivers, and applications mostly compatible. Microsoft changed everything."

The broadband company's support technician faces the same user frustration. "A lot of us cringe when we get a call regarding Vista. It is hard to understand, hard to find what we need, and hard to explain it to customers," she said.

The new UAC (user access control) security approach bedevils both IT consultant Pam and his clients. Not only do users not know how to respond to endless "are you sure" messages about possible security threats, Vista's lockdown of users' own files areas keeps clients from being able to work. He cites a user who dutifully copied all his data to a USB drive before converting to Vista, only to discover that Vista would not let him copy the data back because the USB drive wasn't accessed through administrator privileges. "That's ridiculous -- it's his drive," Pam said. The idea of having to log in as an administrator just doesn't occur to users, he noted.

Jason Sage, a developer and software engineer who didn't want his company named, is also frustrated by overzealous security in Vista, which he believes works against the standard set by Microsoft .Net and Visual Studio. True, in Vista, Microsoft has documented what developers need to do to give applications permission to access their own configuration files. But Sage thinks the basic approach is wrong. "What we have now is applications running as the user. This is too much responsibility for many users who have no idea what all the software on their machine is doing while running as them."

Other developers are frustrated by the change in security and other core OS services. Noted one developer working at a small company: "My company has had several developers forced to use Vista while servicing our clients. The result has been an absolute nightmare. Applications don't work, drivers collide, the screen loses integrity at random times, we encounter file data loss or corruption, our network-based automated backups don't work, etc."

Roadblocks on rollback to XP
Given the many frustrations he's encountered, Pam advises his clients not to install Vista or to replace Vista with XP on new computers. And he seethes that he'll have to get each of the five different Vista versions, and either five PCs to run them on or a Mac or Unix box with enough virtual machine capability to run them all, just so he can duplicate customers' environments.

"Several of my customers have gone back to the store where they purchased their new computer and have asked that they replace Vista with XP," he says.

But users may not always have that choice, several InfoWorld readers noted. "There are not always XP drivers available for a clean install of XP," commented one reader, whose newer Toshiba's Nvidia video card had only Vista drivers. Another reader had a similar issue with a new Acer laptop: "The hardware and firmware in my laptop's chip sets simply do not support XP."

Agents of change
Not everyone is holding back on the shift to Vista, of course. Several InfoWorld readers expressed satisfaction. For example, an independent developer in the United Kingdom, who did not want to be seen as a "fan boy" and thus declined to be identified, told InfoWorld he prefers Vista to XP and views the UI changes and incompatibilities as minor issues. "Vista is what Microsoft wanted XP to look like; when they couldn't achieve Vista's look, they settled for the horrible design it has. Yes, Vista uses more resources than XP, but it runs absolutely everything 20 percent faster for me than XP ever did. Yes, drivers are a problem at the moment for older hardware that is capable of running Vista, but then the same was true for XP," he said. "Program compatibility has caused one or two problems recently, but nowhere near as many with XP when I first got it."

Other readers suggested that those who wanted to stick with XP were doing so because they simply didn't want to invest in new hardware. All OS conversions cost time and money and change is just part of the technology landscape.

For IT, the cost of such change -- directly and indirectly -- is the key issue in deciding when, or even if, to shift from XP. Microsoft has told the Wall Street Journal that resistance to adoption is "business as usual" in a new OS's first year, but eventually there'll be no need for a petition effort like InfoWorld's to keep an older OS available.

The question is what "eventually" means and what Windows 7, now rumored to be arriving next year, may offer instead. Meanwhile, if massive response from InfoWorld readers is any indication, few businesses are putting an upgrade from XP to Vista at the top of their to-do lists.

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