Lately, people have been asking me if they should upgrade their computer to the new Microsoft Windows Vista operating system (OS). Unless you recently bought a new computer preloaded with Vista, chances are your PC runs Windows XP (or an older OS such as Windows ME, 2000, or 98). Unlike a fine wine, computer operating systems do not get better with age. Security threats grow more pronounced over time as vulnerabilities are discovered and exploited by hackers. XP solved many of the security issues that plagued older Windows versions, so my first piece of advice is to upgrade your computer to XP if you haven’t already done so.
The next question is whether to take the plunge and upgrade to Windows Vista. Based on my own experiences with Vista, and given Microsoft’s well-known history of releasing buggy new operating systems, I would recommend that readers proceed with caution. Although Vista boasts a number of impressive features—including dramatic improvements in security, multimedia, and gaming abilities—it also has a few drawbacks. First and foremost is the significantly increased computing power and memory required to properly run Vista; if you install it on an older computer, you’ll just end up with a pretty interface that runs so slowly it can’t be used. To properly run Vista in your practice, you’ll need a computer with at least a 1GHz processor, 1GB of system memory, and a 40GB hard drive.
Although Vista takes OS security to the next level, this comes at a price: Vista continues Microsoft’s ignoble tradition of new operating systems that have less-than-stellar performance when it comes to compatibility with existing software, especially with non-Microsoft programs. For medical practices that rely on electronic health records and practice management software, this can be a real headache. Many popular programs will either not work at all with Vista or will need to be upgraded to properly function. For example, you will need to upgrade to Quickbooks 2007 if your computer is running Vista, an upgrade that costs hundreds of dollars. Microsoft offers Windows Vista: Upgrade Advisor, a program that will scan your computer and notify you which programs have known incompatibilities. If you are thinking about upgrading to Vista, run this utility to get a sense of how much frustration you may be about to experience.
Perhaps even more egregious is my experience using Microsoft’s own Office 2007 with Vista. Although you might think Microsoft programs would work smoothly with Microsoft’s newest OS, on my Vista-equipped computers, Microsoft Office 2007 has frequently experienced a host of bugs, ranging from incorrect visual effects to programs freezing and crashing to even an occasional system reboot without warning—serious errors that dramatically reduce efficiency while increasing blood pressure. Microsoft has been frequently criticized for releasing inadequately tested software, in effect turning early adopters into beta testers. All software has programming errors (bugs) that cause unexpected or incorrect results. The more complex and feature-rich the software, the more errors will be present. Th e rate of bug discovery is also directly proportional to the number of people using the software, since some users will perform a given task differently than other users, and often in a way not envisioned by the programmers. Thus, with Microsoft’s operating systems being both complex and ubiquitous, there are many bugs and problems discovered after release to the general public.
Microsoft releases “fixes” to correct some of these bugs. For serious problems, such as security vulnerabilities, these fixes are often immediately released. Intermittently, Microsoft will package all of its major and minor fixes together into a Service Pack (SP) and release this in one installation package, saving users the trouble of installing dozens of individual fixes. Although Microsoft officially doesn’t announce the date of SP releases (for fear that nobody would buy software until after the first service pack is released), they have implied that the first Vista SP (Vista SP1) will be released toward the end of 2007.
The bottom line is that Vista represents a significant step forward in terms of usability and security, yet the true cost of upgrading is more than just Vista’s sticker price. Your actual cost will include the price of upgrading older software as well as the frustration of being unable to run some of your software and hardware on Vista. When you are prepared to
pay this true price, it is time to upgrade. However, waiting for Microsoft to release a SP or two may help reduce your frustration.Dr. Bertman is Physician Editor-in-Chief of
MDNG: Primary Care/ Cardiology Edition. He is also a Clinical Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at Brown University and president of AmazingCharts.com, a leading developer of Electronic Health Record (EHR) software. He also is the founder and president of AfraidToAsk.com, a consumer website focusing
on personal medical topics. He is in private practice in Hope Valley, RI.