Despite Microsoft's splashy launch of Vista this week, the operating system will only slowly infiltrate businesses over the next four years, according to industry analysts.

Microsoft probably wishes all companies were like Sasfin Bank when it comes to installing Windows Vista.

Sasfin plans to start upgrading to the next-generation OS (operating system) by next March and have all 430 of its employees running the new OS by the end of 2007. "We have a very spoiled user base," said Dawie Olivier, project manager for IT at the Johannesburg, South Africa-based commercial bank.

Olivier said this week that as part of Sasfin's normal three-year hardware-refresh cycle, he intends to bring in new PCs with Vista for one-third of the bank's staff. He plans to retrofit the remaining computers with more memory and faster video cards so the systems can handle Vista's beefed-up requirements.

"It's not cost-effective for us to support multiple operating systems just because we're shy about cracking open a few PC cases," Olivier said.

But Sasfin is an exception to what analysts predict will be the rule. Despite Microsoft's splashy launch of Vista this week, the operating system will only slowly infiltrate businesses over the next four years.

Sticking with XP

By the end of 2007, fewer than five percent of all PCs worldwide will sport a business-oriented version of Windows Vista, according to a forecast by Gartner. In comparison, the consulting firm predicted, 47 percent will be running Windows XP Professional, and nearly 10 percent will still have Windows 2000 Professional, which will be seven years old by that point.

Gartner said it expects the percentage of PCs running a business flavour of Windows Vista to rise to 15 percent of the overall total by the end of 2008. But that will still be dwarfed by the 40 percent on Windows XP Pro, it said. And Gartner doesn't expect the number of business PCs running Vista to exceed the number with XP until 2010.

Microsoft is trying its best to nudge business customers into action, touting Vista's easier deployment and manageability and its stronger security.

But Gartner analyst Michael Silver said that likely won't persuade most companies to deviate from their normal routines - staggered cycles of three to five years for hardware replacement.

"More than half of our clients are telling us that they're only bringing in Vista as part of their regular hardware refresh," Silver said. Indeed, he expects many companies to exercise the "downgrade rights" in their Software Assurance contracts with Microsoft next year so they can still order new PCs with Windows XP Pro. As a result, Gartner expects 22 percent of all PCs sold in 2007 to come with that OS.

About half of the PCs now used by US businesses fall below Windows Vista's minimum system requirements, according to an automated survey of systems conducted from June through September by Softchoice. And nearly eight out of 10 business PCs would need additional memory to run Vista features such as the Aero 3D 'glass' interface, according to data the Toronto-based technology reseller gathered from more than 112,000 PCs at 472 companies and organisations.

To get all 750 of its Windows users on to Vista next year, FranklinCovey plans to upgrade about two-thirds of its PCs to a minimum of 1GB of RAM and replace the rest of the systems, said Dan See, director of infrastructure at the time management products maker in Salt Lake City.

But FranklinCovey, which took part in Microsoft's Technology Adoption Program for Vista, has its limits. See has no plans to upgrade the video cards in existing PCs - and that might prevent users from taking advantage of Aero 3D. "The expense of updating all of the video cards is prohibitive," he said.