The upcoming release of Windows XP Service Pack 3 will further slow the rate of business adoption of Windows Vista by extending the life of the older operating system, some analysts say.
Microsoft quietly released Windows XP Service Pack 3 Release Candidate 2 to the masses Feb. 19. But the company finds itself in a Catch-22, given its need to provide comprehensive security to protect its large installed base of business customers still running XP while, at the same time, encouraging those customers to upgrade to the new Vista operating system.
But the more secure, stable and reliable XP is, the less reason they have to upgrade in a hurry.
“XP SP3 does lengthen the useful life of XP. People don’t like to move, particularly IT folks, and anything that makes it so they don’t feel they have to move will be well received and delay that move,” Rob Enderle, the principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told eWeek.
In addition, Windows XP is now on its third service patch and by any measure very mature, while Vista is only reaching its initial level of acceptable maturity with SP1, which is expected to be released in March, Enderle said.
Michael Cherry, the lead analyst for Windows at Directions on Microsoft agrees, saying that many customers are quite satisfied with Windows XP and that the release of a third service pack should only increase its stability and reliability.
“It also seems to run on older hardware-being less resource dependent than Vista is. Therefore it would appear many customers could be quite happy to stay with Windows XP for some time,” he said.
XP SP3 will also make support easier, and it could be the delivery vehicle for some new features such as support for the Network Access Protection client that works with Windows Server 2008, Cherry said.
Microsoft declined to comment.
While Chris Swenson, the director of software industry analysis for the NPD Group does not agree that XP SP3 is likely to slow down the adoption of Vista, he does acknowledge that the many businesses with older PCs will roll out SP3.
XP SP3 contains updates
Also, NPD’s U.S. commercial point-of-sale data, a database containing sales feeds from value added resellers, shows that 40 percent of Windows PCs sold to businesses now ship with Vista, while the other 60 percent still ship with XP. But that mirrors the pattern seen after the release of other new operating systems, he said.
“While the Vista percentage may seem low, it is very similar to the trend we saw after the XP launch. Businesses have historically taken their time with new operating system rollouts, and the trend we’re seeing with Vista is very much in line with previous trends,” Swenson said.
XP SP3 also contains numerous updates, including some important security upgrades, which were previously available individually, making it easier for IT departments to update machines. It also contains some functionality not available in previous stand alone updates, including Network Access Protection, a policy enforcement platform that enables XP SP3 users to take advantage of new features in Windows Server 2008.
“NAP is an extremely important addition to XP, and will enable IT departments to enforce common policies throughout their PC fleet. But Microsoft’s main messaging seems to be that, apart from NAP, there isn’t much in the way of significant new features. I think that’s a smart strategy, because if Microsoft included numerous new features into XP3, that would deter some people from rolling out Vista,” he said.
Enderle also believes that, because of the critical mistakes Microsoft made with Vista, the market saw “a flawed, incomplete product, containing things they didn’t want and nothing they did want, at an excessive price. It is no wonder IT said -no thanks.’ Fixing that will be really tough.”
For his part, Cherry says that while Microsoft has acknowledged how important it is that releases be predictable and follow a road map or series of major and minor releases, it is equally important that Service Packs also be predictable, which is not currently the case.
But NPD’s Swenson points out that while it would have been nice for Microsoft to space the release of XP SP3 and Vista SP1 out, SP3 had to wait until Windows Server 2008 was stable, so in many ways the company’s hands were tied.