To upgrade to Windows Vista or not to upgrade to Vista? That is the question. And the answer is money.

Microsoft would really, really like IT shops to quit waffling and start migrating to the latest version of Windows. After all, Vista has been out for years now. It's stable. It's secure. The new software has even been paid for already under many volume licences.

But even when that's true, the answer is still money.

It costs money to upgrade hardware. And to rebuild user desktops. And to retrain users. And to field a lot more help desk calls.

After two years, most big IT shops have already spent money testing important applications to make sure they'll run on Vista. But nobody who's still waiting has launched projects to fix custom apps that didn't pass the test. Those fix-up projects will cost money.

And at most companies, now is not a good time to ask for that money. For deploying a new PC operating system? What's wrong with the old one? No, what's really wrong with the old one - wrong enough that we can't get by without an upgrade this year?

See also: Windows Vista review

See also: Windows 7 review

Then there's the problem of risk - which also translates into money.

Things can go wrong with software, and users are IT's first line of defence against bugs, slowdowns, crashes or simply very bad ideas. Users find ways around the problems and keep doing their jobs. The more familiar the software is, the better users are at that.

But a new operating system makes it harder for users to figure out successful work-arounds. Besides, every user department is shorthanded and under pressure. There's no time for solving software problems. So fixes have to wait for IT's swamped help desk. Lost time means lost productivity and could mean lost sales or unhappy customers. In other words, lost money.

What about the cost of keeping creaky old Windows XP running? Yes, that's money too. But even if that's as expensive as upgrading - which it almost certainly isn't - a "one more year with XP" approach doesn't require a budget line item for the upgrade. Nobody has to convince the CFO to keep that old rust-bucket XP running. Don't laugh - it's paid for.

Money, money, money; that's us.

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Microsoft should understand that - just as we understand why Microsoft has started to push Vista with arguments ranging from the sincere to the bonkers. (No, Steve Ballmer, most users won't ask their boss why they can't get Vista at work this year; they just want to keep getting paid this year.)

For Microsoft, it's about money too. Whether or not the rumours are true that Windows 7 will arrive by the end of 2009, Microsoft needs to turn the crank on sales right now. And right now, Vista is the only game Microsoft has.

But for us, it's not the only game in town.

Look, we love making product decisions based on business value or technical quality, cute TV ads or product maturity. We may make bad choices, but we like having the choice to make.

But right now, for us, the to-Vista-or-not question isn't about improved security or glitzy transparent windows. It's not about Jerry Seinfeld or Mojave. It's not even about whether Vista is about to become obsolete, especially for IT shops still supporting a 2001 version of Windows that Microsoft is trying hard to make unsupportable.

It's about money - the money that IT can't get for a Vista upgrade. That's the simple, brutal reality we're facing.

And until that answer changes, there's really no Vista question at all.

Frank Hayes is's senior news columnist.