The Redmond Reader Survey

Readers reflect mixed emotions on Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, virtualization and the corporate juggernaut that is Microsoft.

It's good to be Microsoft. Well, most of the time, anyway.

Sure, the company has taken its share of jabs from the press, the European Union, the Department of Justice and even rank-and-file computer users, many times deservedly so. According to Redmond magazine's 2008 reader survey, though, you feel the company generally does more good than harm.

In this year's survey, some 83 percent of you think Microsoft is good for the computer industry, with chief among those reasons being standardization and compatibility. While you're flashing them a thumbs up, you're also keeping a watchful eye on the swirl of activities going on up in Redmond -- reminiscent of the Reagan administration's "trust but verify" mantra in the waning days of the Cold War.

"There has been a standardization of community expectations that has helped create business processes that have kept America in the lead," says Roberto Garcia, IT manager with the U.S. Navy's Naval Air Warfare Center. On the other hand, Garcia adds, "The creation of a common enemy has helped the technology community maintain a sense of purpose."

Love them or hate them, Microsoft's operating systems and applications have deep-seated roots. Nearly 78 percent of you report that your shop simply couldn't operate without Microsoft technology.

Waiting for Windows Server
Anticipation is at its peak for Windows Server 2008. Microsoft held the official launch event in Los Angeles just as this issue went to press. Those of you eager for the update outnumbered those who aren't by almost 4-to-1. There was a similar ratio of those expecting to use its new features versus those who might not. The Hyper-V virtualization layer built into Windows Server 2008 is easily the most anticipated new technology. The new server roles, the stripped-down Server Core and PowerShell are the other capabilities of the product you'd love to get your hands on.

Favorite Microsoft Executive
While CEO Steve Ballmer and relative newcomer Ray Ozzie got their share of votes, your favorite Microsoftie remains Bill Gates. Even after he departs this summer, Mr. Bill's persona and popularity will still be the stuff of legend.

The upgrade path to Microsoft's newest server OS is not likely to be that clearly defined. Many organizations are still running older iterations of Microsoft's server OS, like Server 2003 or even Windows NT 4.

"I'm planning to upgrade to Server 2003 from NT 4 this year," says Daniel Petcher, who runs the IT shop at Audio Precision Inc.

George Perkins, an IT manager with health care provider Meriter Health Services, reports that "Windows 2003 Release 2 is just fine, so there's no 2008 upgrade required."

The margin between those planning to actually upgrade, and those like Petcher and Perkins who aren't, is much narrower than those impatiently awaiting the new release. Slightly more than 2-to-1 plan on moving their networks over to Windows Server 2008 when the time is right. That doesn't mean Microsoft can expect a rush on orders. More than 45 percent plan on upgrading within the next two years, and 30 percent plan on upgrading this year.

The move to Windows Vista is proceeding much more slowly. More than 82 percent of readers have yet to roll out Vista, with more than 66 percent saying they have no plans to do so. Those who made the leap to Vista are moderately pleased. After evaluating such factors as ease of installation, interface, compatibility, security, stability and ease of use, most of you rank Vista as average, with some giving it better-than-average scores for security and the interface and below-average grades for both hardware and software compatibility.

Clearly, you believe Vista's greatest strength resides in its significantly improved security, with almost half of you indicating just that. Nearly 20 percent find the Aero interface to be Vista's best feature, with 17 percent appreciating the OS's networking capabilities. Interestingly, dozens of you responded saying you couldn't think of a single greatest strength, with some going as far as to say Vista really doesn't have one. As Robert Shepherd in NetIQ Corp.'s IT shop bluntly states, he "has not found a compelling reason to recommend [Vista] over XP."

You were much more vocal and diverse when it came to what you saw as Vista's perceived weaknesses. The top three gripes are application compatibility, increased hardware requirements and slow startup and shutdown. The griping ran the gamut, though, from performance issues and the lack of drivers to excessive resource consumption and interface issues. Anecdotally, we've heard that Vista is often easier for newcomers and difficult for experienced XP users. Your comments also support that assertion.

"Things are hidden that shouldn't be," says Shepherd. "I'm very disappointed."

Microsoft's attempts to streamline Vista's interface didn't seem to impress many respondents. "There's a more intense user interface learning curve," agrees Cliff Brown of Micro Area Networks.

It may be too early to tell, but the unexpected challenges presented by Vista have as many as 63 percent of you considering alternatives. By a wide margin, the biggest alternative is simply sticking with Windows XP. So with Vista, Microsoft's biggest competitor, once again, is Microsoft. Those considering swimming away from the Windows ship are looking primarily at desktop versions of Linux, with 26 percent saying they prefer the open source operating system, and 12 percent indicating they'd be willing to give Apple's Mac OS X a shot.

Apps at Work
On the applications front, you appear to be much more pleased with Microsoft Office 2007. Almost one-third of you responded that you find Office 2007 superior to Office 2003, with just less than another 30 percent finding Office 2007 slightly better.

While Vista's new interface got more than its share of criticism, Office 2007's ribbon interface was mentioned as one of the primary improvements over that of its predecessor. It's not without a learning curve, though. Almost 45 percent find it to be a productivity enhancer, once you get used to it. Slightly more than 29 percent said it's just OK. The product certainly isn't making users head for the exits as just under 75 percent of you said you aren't interested in considering alternatives.

Another recent milestone from Microsoft is the arrival of SQL Server 2008. With almost 72 percent of you having looked at the product, it appears there could be a significant number of you upgrading. This is no small commitment, as SQL Server often runs mission-critical applications such as online transaction processing. While 32 percent of you are happy with your current version of SQL Server, 24 percent plan to upgrade within one to two years. Only 5 percent, however, plan to upgrade as soon as it ships.

Slightly more than 20 percent of you are looking forward to the improvements offered in SQL Server 2008's data warehousing. Similarly, almost 20 percent are anticipating the new encryption techniques, while others are itching to test-drive the product's new reporting services and its ability to integrate different data types.

Virtual World
Virtualization continues to burn white-hot. It's more pervasive now than just three or four years ago, and many respondents are finding more applications for it than ever before. More than half of you -- 56 percent, to be precise -- are already running virtual environments. Among those of you not yet virtualizing, 60 percent plan to do so within the year. Slightly more than 16 percent of you plan to add virtual environments to your infrastructure within two years.

Server consolidation is still the most popular application for virtualization with half of you reporting that as your primary reason for deploying the technology. Virtualizing application testing, running multiple operating systems on both the desktop and the server, and supporting legacy applications are also popular uses of the technology.

With competition in the virtualization arena heating up, the major players are digging in their heels. Microsoft and VMware Inc. remain fairly evenly matched on both the desktop and server fronts. Microsoft Virtual PC won over VMware Workstation by a margin of almost 30 percent to 23 percent. VMware beat out Microsoft on the server side, with VMware Server on 28 percent of your systems and Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 on 24 percent. XenSource (now part of Citrix Systems Inc.) and Virtuozzo from Parallels (formerly SWsoft) are way back in the pack with approximately 2 percent each.

Licensing Gripes
One aspect of virtualization that can get a bit confusing is licensing. In fact, licensing overall appears to be a sore spot for just about the entire Microsoft community. Almost 40 percent of you report finding Microsoft's licensing programs confusing, with another 36 percent saying they are somewhat confusing. It's an inherently complex topic, but clearly, Microsoft has its work cut out for it when it comes to explaining the ins and outs of its licensing.

Least Favorite Technology Executive
Bombast, bluster and billions don't always earn you friends. He may helm one of the largest software companies in the world and occasionally an America's Cup yacht, but Larry Ellison probably won't be the first candidate in line to write the sequel to "How to Win Friends and Influence People." Ellison may be brassy and brash, but he runs a tight ship at Oracle Corp.

Fairness and value are other points of contention when discussing Microsoft's licensing practices. An overwhelming 54 percent of you find Microsoft's licensing programs to be unfair. You're of a slightly gentler opinion when it comes to Microsoft's Software Assurance program, with more than 27 percent finding it to be a good value and nearly 44 percent not. Among those of you with active Software Assurance contracts, nearly 34 percent plan to renew when the time comes.

Can Live with 'Em, Can't Live Without 'Em
So you generally seem a more contented crowd when it comes to Microsoft's products -- except for Vista -- and the company's actions and attitudes since the last poll in June 2005. A lot has happened since then: new operating systems, major new application releases and lots of Microsoft executives coming and going, including Chairman Bill Gates in a couple of months.

With all those changes, you seem relatively pleased with Microsoft's technological and market direction, and the spate of major new releases coming out of Redmond -- Vista notwithstanding. Compatibility, consistency and relative ease of use are the themes most often echoed in your comments. As David Morse, of SBC Public Health, says: "[Microsoft] makes software approachable for the casual user."


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