Microsoft is trying to address a key reason business customers are skipping over Windows upgrades by including a tool in the next version of Windows that simplifies the deployment of the operating system.

The new tool, the WAIK (Windows Automated Installation Kit), will be included in Windows Vista, which is expected to be available toward the end of 2006.

According to a Microsoft spokesman, the tool is designed to help corporate IT professionals deploy Windows on new hardware. It will also help original equipment manufacturers and system builders deploy Windows on PCs they sell to customers, he said.

Deploying Windows in the past has always been difficult, and analysts say it's one of the main reasons customers don't always upgrade to new versions of the OS when they are available.

A recent study by the research labs of AssetMetrix found that Windows 2000 – the release before the current Windows client version, Windows XP – is still the most widely deployed Windows client, despite the fact that Microsoft ended mainstream support for it on June 30.

To encourage customers to upgrade to Windows Vista upon its availability, Microsoft is placing a high priority on making the OS easier to deploy. It intends to make OS upgrades quicker and less expensive, as well as less difficult.

"I don't think any company wants to change their technology every three to four years," the Microsoft spokesman said. "They're looking at a five-to-seven year cycle [for upgrades]. What companies are doing is adopting an every-other-release strategy."

This means that those customers on Windows 2000 now probably will upgrade to Windows Vista rather than to Windows XP, he said, which is why it's important that deployment of the next version of Windows be as simple as possible.

Aside from WAIK, there will be other enhancements in Vista that will aid deployment, including a new file-based imaging format and new imaging tools to build Windows Vista images.