The Losers in the Race to Vista

A scenario that seems to be repeating more often these days is that Microsoft isn't providing backward compatibility as a function in some of its new products. Case in point: Windows Vista isn't compatible with Microsoft SQL Server Desktop Engine (MSDE) as well as some other Microsoft applications. MSDE incompatibility will certainly be a problem for customers, but evidently Microsoft didn't consider it a big enough problem to assign resources to work on fixing the incompatibility. From a Microsoft-centric viewpoint, this incompatibility problem might even be a win-win situation. By cutting functionality from a product's design, Microsoft can get that product out the door more quickly and "encourage" customers to upgrade all at the same time.

I think customers will take offense to this tactic because at the very least, it amounts to misrepresentation. Microsoft never fails to say that it has the tightest integration with its own products, and the company supposedly is interested in listening to its customers and its community. Clearly, this incompatibility strategy isn't in the customer's best interest because it really forces customers to upgrade to newer releases. Don’t get me wrong--I'm not a big fan of MSDE, and I would always recommend using SQL Server 2005 Express rather than MSDE for any situation. ISV's will probably be affected by this the most because many third-party applications use MSDE and will need to be changed before Vista is released. However they're probably aware of the situation. The really unfortunate thing is the number of customers who aren't aware that MSDE won't run under Vista and will be caught by surprise when they upgrade to Vista.

MSDE isn't the only loser in the move to Vista. Microsoft's flagship development product, Visual Studio 2005, won't be fully compatible with Vista until after the release of Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), which is still in beta. Visual Studio 2005 runs under Vista, but you'll discover a few problems with Vista's User Account Control (UAC). Earlier Visual Studio versions, such as Visual Studio 2003 and Visual Studio.NET, won't be supported by Vista at all. Although developers tend to move forward faster than most users, there are still a significant number of organizations that currently use Visual Studio 6, let alone Visual Studio 2003. Upgrading from these products is a bit tougher than the MSDE upgrade. Upgrading from MSDE to SQL Server 2005 Express will require time and effort, but at least this upgrade won't require additional expense because you can download both products from the Microsoft Web site for free. Not so with Visual Studio 2005. Upgrading from Visual Studio 2003 to Visual Studio 2005 Professional will set you back $549. And that's per seat. (Although you can get lower prices from online retailers. For example, sells Visual Studio 2005 for $488.61.)

Even SQL Server 2005 Express, as new as it is, won't be immune to Vista update problems. Before you attempt a Vista upgrade on any system running SQL Server 2005 Express, you'll need to upgrade to SQL Server 2005 Express SP2 (which isn’t available yet).

Backward compatibility--at least with previous versions of Microsoft's products--isn't a nicety but a necessity. Omitting this type of compatibility is essentially a failure both in engineering and customer relations. If you're considering the upgrade to Vista do your homework and make sure that the applications you're using are going to work with Vista. In other words, look before you leap.

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