The wait is over. Retail store shelves are now adorned with rows of stylized boxes that contain the various flavors of Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system and Office 2007 productivity suite. Redmond is calling Vista the most significant product launch in the company's history. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has boldly promised that Vista and Office 2007 will “transform the way people work and play” because the applications were designed, tested, and developed with the help of millions of consumers.
Developers enhanced Vista's user interface to make it more visually exciting and easier to use to increase productivity. The software is designed with social networking in mind, allowing users to more easily share documents, photos, music, and videos. Vista also has new search tools that scour through e-mail, images, notes, and other media stored on a PC.
Vista's potential impact on the behavioral health field is twofold. First, Vista requires much more memory and processor power than previous editions, and some of Vista's advanced features will not work on older hardware. Microsoft's Upgrade Advisor can determine what version of Vista (if any) will work most effectively on a PC (available at http://www.smicrosoft.com/win dows/products/windowsvista/buyorup grade/upgradeadvisor.mspx). The cost of hardware upgrades to accommodate Vista, however, certainly would be greater than the cost of a new computer.
Second, behavioral health organizations have to consider whether upgrading to Vista will affect their third-party behavioral health software applications. At first glance, there should be no problems as long as the hardware can support Vista, but several vendors use application languages, databases, and tools that could perform differently with Vista. Therefore, you should obtain a written warranty from your vendor that its software is Vista compatible before you upgrade.
In addition, older versions of some software programs might not run on Vista. You might have been able to avoid upgrading some software programs with previous Windows installations, but you might no longer be able to defray those costs. I recommend you make a simple inventory of all your applications and tools, along with their versions, and make sure that each will not only work with Vista, but also that the vendors will support the programs on the new operating system.
For now, Vista's impact on the behavioral health field is really no bigger than the impact of Windows XP when it was released, and Vista currently doesn’t have any features that would yield a return on investment. After more than five years of development, there's a definite “Is that all?” feeling about Vista. There certainly are a lot of individual features within the operating system, but the real value lies in their execution—how the user experiences (or doesn’t experience) these.
I am disappointed by Vista. Parts of Vista seem clunky and not very intuitive, almost as though it's still based on DOS (or at least the internal logic that made up DOS). Despite the addition of a system-wide, built-in search function and various efforts to break away from directory trees, users still need to drill down one level to even access the search function. And Vista depends too heavily on Microsoft products; this is not an objective operating system.
Vista is not a bad operating system, but stick around. Vista Service Pack 1 is due sometime before the end of the year and should offer a few concrete reasons to upgrade.
Paul M. Duck is a consultant with more than 26 years of information technology management experience. To contact the author, e-mail