Microsoft boasted tvishis week about the progress it’s made with Windows Vista drivers – 100 days after the operating system was released to consumers. Businesses, of course, have been able to get their hands on Vista since the end of last year, but few upgraded immediately.

Nearly six months on from the release of the business versions of Vista, many companies are still unsure whether the operating system, or their installed hardware and software, is ready.

To address these questions, we spoke with David Cottingham, a Vista specialist at technology and services provider CDW.

CDW recently conducted a survey of 761 IT decision-makers, asking if and when they plan to adopt Vista. More than 85 percent said they expect to adopt Vista, with 20 percent saying they aim to deploy it by the end of 2007.

Cottingham says Vista in many cases will require "a major forklift upgrade”. Therefore, he recommends that IT departments that aren't in the budgeting or testing phase start this process now.

"Vista, more than anything else, is about having a good plan," he says. Here are six questions to consider as you venture into Vista.

1. Are your vendors and application developers ready for Vista?

The first thing to check should be where third-party software vendors stand with Vista compatibility. While Microsoft offers compatibility information for mainstream applications, Cottingham says now is the time for IT to speak with security and custom applications vendors to ensure that they are going to support Vista in a timely fashion. "You want to find out if your partners are ready for this change," he says.

In fact, in the CDW survey, 26 percent of respondents said they were worried that there would not be compatibility for Vista with their current security and antivirus software vendors. Another 10 percent said they were concerned that they would need to make a bigger investment in new licensing.

Cottingham acknowledges that in some cases, you will need to budget for application development or licensing to get your mission-critical applications to be Vista-compatible.

2. What is the state of your laptops and desktops?

You'll want to consider the PC upgrades you'll need. "You want to future-proof yourself. Make sure that the incremental hardware purchases you're making now will work for widespread Vista adoption," Cottingham says.

As a general rule, he says IT departments should plan that desktops and notebooks older than 18 to 24 months will not be migrated to Vista. "The normal replacement cycle for a notebook is 36 months, so it's not cost-effective to go back and retrofit that machine," he says.

In the CDW survey, 51 percent of the respondents said that at least half of their organisation's hardware will require upgrading or replacement to become Vista compatible.

Microsoft's Vista page and CDW's Vista page both have tools to test whether PCs are Vista-compliant or Vista-capable. You'll be able to establish baseline requirements in terms of CPU, memory and even graphics cards necessary to optimally run Vista.

3. What is the state of your enterprise at large?

What applications, hardware and peripherals are in use throughout your organisation? Are they Vista-ready? Chances are some aren't, and this is a good time to budget for replacements. "If there is no longer a driver for your user's old multifunction printer, this might be a good time to replace it," Cottingham says.

Organisations should do an inventory check of in-house and remote resources. Part of this can be done automatically using asset management tools that check computers as they come onto the network. IT departments should also send out a survey to users asking them what programs, PCs, printers, fax machines, routers, etc they use at home.

"You want to get a sense of what's out there and what you'll have to support," Cottingham says.

4. How well versed are your users?

A portion of your Vista budget should include training. However, it's impossible to know what your training needs will be without first seeing how users interact with the new operating system. Cottingham recommends creating a pilot group made up of a cross-section of users across all departments. This group should include both experienced and rookie users, as well as in-house, remote and mobile workers. Seeing what obstacles they run into will help you plot out training and help desk budgets.

5. Are you standardized?

Cottingham says this is the best time for companies to streamline their support of gear and applications and create configuration guidelines. By narrowing down the number of platforms, applications and devices that are supported, IT can cut help desk costs dramatically. Standardisation also helps users who are struggling to figure out what remote or home-office setups they should purchase.

Streamlining acceptable operating system and application configurations will go a long way toward keeping the cost of Vista upgrades in check. If you limit the feature sets that are turned on in the operating system as well as what applications can be loaded, you can lower the overall CPU and memory requirements.

"You don't have to turn on every bell and whistle that Vista has to offer," Cottingham says. Trimming the size of the operating system by turning off some features enables you to make do with the CPU and memory you already have on some machines. "Take time to really test-drive Vista to determine the feature sets you'll need," he says.

He also recommends using the information you gather from your automated inventory and user survey to determine which applications and devices are in common use and add those to your Vista compatibility check. "This is your chance to get in front of these applications before deployment," he says. IT groups can also figure out what applications can be phased out or retired.

6. What's your plan to avoid a technology pileup?

A final part of your budget should be allocated for the recovery and disposal of older gear. "Make sure you have a plan for bringing PCs back to IT and protecting company information," Cottingham says. All hard drives and storage devices should be centrally backed up and then wiped clean before disposal.

He adds that companies should consider a recycling programme. "The last thing you want are stacks and stacks of notebooks, desktops and other equipment. You need to take care of those items in a responsible way."