Monday, February 19, 2007

Ball State University Libraries' Deployment Strategy for Microsoft's New Vista Operating System

Ball State University was one of two universities selected by Microsoft as Vista Technology Adoption Program (TAP) sites. Several desktop support technicians in the University Libraries’ Library Information Technology Services participated in this program.

Participation in TAP provided the University Libraries with valuable, first-hand experience that will be pivotal in the decision-making process about deployment of Vista for the Libraries’ 500+ staff and public workstations.

Vista’s system requirements are considerably higher than for previous versions of Windows. The basic system requirements for all editions of Vista include an 800 MHz processor, 512 MB of RAM, and a 20 GB hard disk with 15 GB of free space. However, to support Windows Aero, the new interface/ “user experience” of Vista, the system requirements include a 1 GHz processor, 1 GB of RAM, a 40 GB hard disk with 15 GB of free space, a graphics card with 128 MB of graphics memory that supports DirectX 9, WDDM driver, Pixel Shader 2.0, and 32 bits per pixel. Since Windows Vista comes on a DVD, a DVD drive is required for installation. Internet access is required for activation and registration.

While nearly all of the University Libraries’ PCs meet the minimum requirements, without Aero, many of them barely do so. Microsoft’s general rule of thumb is that systems purchased in the last two years are generally able to run Vista. On older machines, system performance is a concern for us that will require more testing. System memory upgrades are inevitable on many of our machines if we move forward with Vista in the near future. While Windows Aero certainly provides many visual feature, which some characterize as eye candy, they are not essential in our personnel production environment nor on student workstations, so support for it is not a high priority at this time.

Ease of installation is always a primary concern for information technology personnel. In our experience, the installation process for both clean installs and upgrades was very straightforward, smooth, and relatively quick. On several different machines that we tested, all hardware devices were detected properly and drivers installed automatically. We also witnessed first-hand how Vista handles machines that meet the minimum system requirements but not the Windows Aero requirements.

Vista is a truly scalable operating system in that it automatically analyzes the hardware and enables only its features that can be supported. In our testing, Windows Aero was noticeably visible on some machines, and absent on others. On one machine on which Aero was not enabled, we upgraded the memory to 1 GB and installed a supported graphics card. Upon the next boot up, Vista automatically detected the hardware changes and enabled Aero. Microsoft reports that Aero can be manually enabled or disabled despite minimum hardware support, although this option is not easily accessible.

Imaging, also called ghosting or cloning, should not be a problem with Vista. While we have not yet tested this, several sources confirm that imaging with products such as Symantec Ghost work well with Vista. Furthermore, the Vista DVD itself is a compressed image rather than a traditional software installer. This new installation method will reportedly offer new options in customizing installation packages for enterprise deployment.

Despite all of Vista’s new features and enhancements, Windows Vista is still an operating system. The productivity of users is predicated much more heavily upon applications installed on one’s computer, such as the Microsoft Office productivity suite, Web/graphic/layout design studios such as Adobe products, library specific programs including OCLC applications and ILS clients such as SirsiDynix WorkFlows, and a host of other specialized applications.

This means that software compatibility and performance issues are certainly at the forefront of any discussion regarding if or when to upgrade to Vista. We initially discovered several compatibility issues regarding software we use regularly. However, version updates and patches have since addressed and corrected most of these problems, and we expect that there are more to come now that Vista is available for general release. However, there are still a few problems with applications that are key to our library environment for which we will have to wait for fixes.

Other features and enhancements of Vista will prove to be useful for many users, but their value in our library environment may be marginal. The auxiliary applications included with Vista will be a welcome benefit for home users who do not want to purchase software to perform simple tasks such as creating home videos, editing and sharing photos, managing calendars and contacts, and so forth. However, in an academic library environment, we necessarily use higher-end applications of a more professional caliber. These include products such as Adobe applications and Microsoft Office including Outlook, etc.

Similarly, the enhanced security of Vista is not much of an added benefit to us for several reasons. New security features such as Microsoft Defender, which is anti-spyware, and Internet Explorer 7 are also freely available for XP. Like many colleges, universities, and corporations, Ball State University also provides the Symantec Antivirus Corporate Edition for all workstations, virus scanning for e-mail at the server level, and many network level securities. Therefore most security threats are minimal compared with a home or small business environment.

For more information, contact Kirk VanOoteghem, Microcomputer/Systems/Network Analyst, Library Information Technology Services,, (765) 285-8032.


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