So just wait for the next hardware upgrade cycle and hit them with Vista then, right? Maybe. But consider this: For every CPU cycle wasted bringing Vista's bloated image on par with XP's, you could be providing your users with an actual performance increase across their core applications. If there were some compelling reason to run Vista over XP – a quantum leap in usability or manageability – I could see why the investment might be worth it. But upgrading hardware just to maintain the status quo seems silly.
Decision: Would you rather throw new hardware cycles at offsetting Microsoft's code bloat and voracious appetite for CPU bandwidth, or at a tangible, measurable improvement in application throughput and user productivity? Enough said.
Round 6: Hardware compatibility
There's no question that hardware compatibility was initially a sore spot with Vista. This was particularly true for mobile users who had to suffer through a variety of functional and operational problems as they waited for updated device drivers. And some of us are still waiting: I, for one, have yet to find a feature-complete video driver for my Dell XPS M1710, and I consider myself to be a fairly resourceful fellow.
But beyond scarcity, there is the issue of revalidation. Most sane IT shops have implemented strict rules regarding what is and is not an accepted hardware configuration. Departments with names like "PC Engineering" spend copious time testing and certifying specific component combinations, isolating problem configurations, and feeding the necessary troubleshooting guidelines to their help desks. A migration to Vista means repeating these steps, and then some, while the immaturity of the Vista driver base will have IT racing against a moving target.
Windows XP, by contrast, has a mature and well-vetted compatibility base, with broad support from virtually every manufacturer. And while Vista will almost certainly catch up in time, as things stand right now, every new device insertion is a bit of a crapshoot. Just the other day I was puzzled when my Vista-equipped notebook wouldn't recognize a generic HP LaserJet 1200 printer.
Decision: When's the last time you worried about driver support under Windows XP? With an installed base into the hundreds of millions, chances are you'll still be finding XP drivers long after Vista's grandchildren are being put out to pasture.
Round 7: Microsoft software compatibility
It's a truism in Windows circles: The Microsoft Office team charts its own course. As the drivers behind the company's longest-lived cash cow, the Office folks have the luxury of being able to ignore the hemming and hawing of the Windows team and to choose to support whatever platforms make business sense. In the case of Office 2007, this meant eschewing any exclusive tie-ins to the perennially delayed Vista. As a result, the latest version of this bovine ATM works equally well under both Windows XP and Vista, much to the chagrin of the guys on the other side of the OS Chinese wall.
It's a similar story with Microsoft's BackOffice product line. There are few, if any, advantages to deploying Vista as a client to Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SQL Server, or Microsoft SharePoint. As the gatekeeper to many of these resources, Microsoft Office often serves to level the playing field. And as I just noted, the current version of Office – Microsoft Office System 2007 – runs great on Windows XP.