July 1, 2007
Microsoft just posted a huge profit, mainly due to the introduction of Vista and Office 2007.

by Paul Feuerstein, DMD

Microsoft just posted a huge profit, mainly due to the introduction of Vista and Office 2007. Anyone who has used this new operating system will notice a dramatic change in the way Windows looks and operates. Since it has now been out for awhile, logic says that those who don’t have it, you are behind the times. I waited before reporting on this new system because I wanted to see how things were working in the real world after the introductory hype.

Let’s first look at the upgrade possibilities of your existing computers. If you go to Google and search for “Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor,” it will lead you to a microsoft.com page (be sure and go to that link). This link takes you to a small program that will run on your computer to see if it is compatible with Vista. It is important to note that there are several versions of Vista. In the dental office, you will want to use the “Business” version.

Not wanting to disrupt my office, I first tried this at home. It is important that you plug in any peripherals that you intend to use since Vista will examine these for compatibility. The program is small, and although it makes a lot of disk noise as it checks through the programs and plugged-in peripherals, it does not do anything to your system. After what seemed like an eternity, a report came up on my screen saying that my computer could run Vista Business with a “few” issues to be resolved.

First, I did not have enough disk space. Thus, the program recommended a larger disk drive. Then the program noted that my current video card would not work with some parts of Vista, so it recommended replacing the card. My Ethernet network card had some compatibility issues, so perhaps that needed replacement, as well as my Creative Sound Card, fax modem and HP printer. Other than that, my computer’s hardware was compatible with Vista!

Then the list of software incompatibility showed up. In their current versions, a mere 17 programs on my computer would not run under Vista. Checking the sites of some of the programs, I found a few had “patches” that I could download. A couple said I had to buy and install a new version of the program, while others were not compatible at all. If the programs were still in use, they did not have a scheduled date when they would be Vista-ready. I have to question the feasibility of this upgrade since it requires a large investment into an older motherboard/processor. My XP Pro has worked fine so far.

The “experts” say that you should install Vista “clean” or on a new machine built for it. Even with that, in a network situation, problems are occurring. Many hardware companies began shipping new computers with Vista exclusively. But, due to consumer demands, Dell now offers many new machines with Windows XP Pro. Gartner Inc. is a highly respected technology research and analysis company to the industry. This company suggests waiting to “deploy” (not ignore) Vista until 2008.

Be sure to get your applications and hardware Vista-ready in advance. Industry experts are saying that there will be an upgrade that Microsoft calls a Service Pack that should address many of the issues that have come up during real world use. Only then will Vista be a strong recommendation.

Of course, in our dental practices, there is a larger factor. We have to be sure that the practice management systems we are using are Vista-compatible. So far it is a slow process.

Also, it will be a large and expensive task to convert an entire office to this system. First, each machine will need a copy, and they are expensive. Microsoft and other companies now have a registration and activation system ensuring that users must purchase one copy (or license) for each computer. This will hold true for many of the other programs that have to be purchased for the upgrade, too.

As I pointed out, it is likely that you will have to purchase many new computers since it may not be practical to upgrade the older units. The big question is how long Microsoft will continue to support XP. For now, the company has stated it will cease selling new copies Jan. 31, 2008.

Keep in mind that many offices are still running Windows 98 or a mixture of XP and 98 even though 98 has not been supported for awhile. It still works to some extent; however, some of the practice-management systems will not support Windows 98 machines. Once again, we will have to see if Microsoft phases out its XP support. I don’t think it will happen too soon. The bottom line? Do your homework on this one.

Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry’s first computers in 1978. For more than 20 years, he has taught technology courses. He is a mainstay at technology sessions, including annual appearances at the Yankee Dental Congress, and he is an ADA seminar series speaker. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site (www.computersindentistry.com) and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].