What do you get for your money and should you upgrade now or wait to buy a new computer?
By Reed Richardson

Earlier this year, Microsoft debuted new updates to both its venerable Windows operating system and Office software suite. And while the early buzz on Vista (which replaces Windows XP) and Office 2007 (which replaces the last Office update from 2003) has been mostly positive; you should weigh several factors before upgrading to these newest Microsoft products.

With Vista, the first and most noticeable upgrade involves security. With enhanced firewall and spy ware protections built-in, as well as much more robust administrative controls, protecting and backing up sensitive company and customer data or those worried about potential hardware failure might consider switching over to Vista sooner rather than later. But if these aren’t pressing matters for your company, it may make more sense to heed the advice of technology expert Russell Morgan, who, in a recent column in PC magazine, recommended “timing your decision to upgrade to Vista to be in line with any hardware purchasing pattern you’ve already established.” Surveys indicate that many companies are taking just this approach.


Four months ago, Derick Alan says he was trying to decide if he should upgrade to Vista on his old computer or buy a new one with Vista pre-installed. “I’ve been using Microsoft for a long time, since Windows 95, and I’m always one of the first users to adopt new software,” he says, “but I also know about all the problems that can come with upgrading.” In the end, Alan, who blogs for the Internet marketing company yTen Business Solutions, based in Springfield, Missouri, decided to buy a new computer with Vista preinstalled, one that could easily handle both his personal pursuits, like casual gaming, as well as more business-related tasks like HTML programming and web development. So far, he’s very satisfied.

“My printer, my router, my digital camera, the graphics on my games, even my old version of Office works without a hitch in Vista,” he says. “Most definitely, Vista has seemed like a good step up from Windows XP.” Still, Alan’s experience wasn’t without some minor hiccups.

“My new Hewlett Packard laptop listed itself as ‘Vista capable’ but once I got it home, I was a little surprised to find out that only the Home Basic version would work well on it,” he explains, echoing a common complaint. “To be able to eventually run Vista Premium, I had to upgrade my RAM.” (A class-action lawsuit against some computer manufacturers is now brewing over what critics are calling misleading use of the term “Vista capable.” To check system requirements for each Vista version, go to windowsvista.com/upgradeadvisor) And Alan notes that despite his positive experience, his company continues to hold off on converting because of ongoing worries about Vista’s effect on some custom, in-house software applications being run at yTen.

Keith Galbut, partner in the Phoenix, Arizona–based Galbut & Hunter law firm has also yet to fully adopt Vista, despite being impressed with its performance during a recent pilot program his company participated in. (Microsoft provided three copies of Vista and Office 2007 to his firm free of charge through a third-party IT provider.) “I loved the improved search functionality and the new look and feel of Vista’s menu,” he says. “But because of concerns about connectivity with some of other accounting software, we’re being cautious.” However, Galbut has gone full speed ahead when it comes to upgrading to Office 2007. “Technology is an important part of what we do,” Galbut notes. “We charge for our time and the longer it takes us to do something, the less efficient we are, the less client value we provide.” So, Galbut says he has come to appreciate the increased functionality of the new Professional version of Office 2007, which includes Outlook and Access. “With all of our dockets and deadlines, dates are a very important element of what we do and what we’ve really liked more than anything is the ability of these programs to help us keep better track of it all.”

Tom Abshire, Senior Product Manager at Microsoft says people like Galbut are really the ones the software designers had in mind when they built Office 2007. “We know from our research that their number one concern is growing their business,” he says. “So those were the big themes we used when developing the new Professional and Small Business versions.” Abshire says Microsoft did this by adding new graphics functions like SmartArt to its Word and Excel programs, expanding the Business Contact Manager portion of Outlook, and by building the new Fluent user interface (formerly called Ribbon), which he says is makes working in Office more efficient and task oriented than in the past.

“We understand that most small businesses are working hard just to get the job done and that they mainly upgrade by buying a new PC,” Abshire explains. “And we are there when they are ready to take that next step.”

Reed Richardson is managing editor for Business 24/7 magazine.