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By Carmen Chai

Incompatible software on Ryerson’s computers means the school won’t be running Windows Vista until this summer at the earliest.

Of 13,000 computers in Ryerson’s labs, only a handful are operating on Windows Vista, said Larry Lemieux, the assistant director of technical support with Computing and Communications Services.

“Microsoft wants us to go to Vista,” he said. “By default we’ve agreed that we’re going to run XP for this year. We need to decide if Ryerson can fully use Vista or not.”

Microsoft launched Vista in January 2007, but the upgrade wasn’t installed at Ryerson until September and applied only to dozens of Ryerson computers.

“We did not want to do this migration in the middle of the school year because students and faculty are used to XP,” Lemieux said. “When the majority of students are done their academic term, we will reassess if all the computers are compatible with Vista.”

But the department chose to go ahead with a trial installation in selected labs, despite an inventory check by CCS in October that discovered 40 per cent of applications in labs weren’t even compatible with Vista.

“In a network the size and complexity of most universities [deploying a new operating system] is very complicated and prone to problems,” said Kerry Brown, a Windows Vista expert based in British Columbia.

The problem, Brown said in an e-mail, isn’t with Vista but with the logistics of switching one complicated operating system for another, including security concerns across the campus.

“Universities are in a somewhat unique position in that they have parts of the network that need to be very secure and other parts that are public access for students and staff,” he said. “The university will have total control of the computers in the secure areas and little to no control over students’ personal computers.”

IT departments would normally be hesitant to institute changes without extensive internal testing “to make sure secure areas stay secure,” Brown said.

Lemieux said the department uses sample computers to test if applications are compatible with Vista before transferring upgrades to all computers.

And while many companies with networks the same size as Ryerson’s still use Windows 2000, an operating system two generations behind Vista, Brown thinks Ryerson is on schedule.

“It wouldn’t be unusual to see support for a new OS being phased in slowly over many months, possibly even longer than a year,” he said.

Lemieux said the developers of most software programs that faculty labs use have produced upgrades since September to work with the new operating system.

Meanwhile, CCS is nearly finished reassessing problem programs, he said, and found that less than 10 per cent are still not compatible.

Software programs with continuing compatibility issues include SPSS SamplePower, Macromedia Freehand MX 2004 and DVDit.

CCS has installed Vista in labs in Kerr Hall West 171, the Rogers Communication Centre, the business building and selected computers in the library based on a department’s interest in running Vista.

Dave Mason, a computer science professor at Ryerson and the president of the Ryerson Faculty Association, isn’t satisfied with Windows XP or Vista.

“They’re both crap as far as I’m concerned.” Mason uses a Mac.

Brian Neckles, a fourth-year information technology management student at Ryerson, said the technical issues are necessary for a successful transition.

“From an IT perspective it’s a good idea. Vista computers are a trial to figure out what might go wrong,” he said.

Neckles, 22, wants Ryerson to do a thorough job, even if it means waiting for Vista.

“Sometimes companies use trials for years to catch any bugs. If Ryerson updated all at the same time and there was a bug, it would affect all the computers,” he said. “At least now there would still be XP computers to use.”

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