You're about to get a rare opportunity. Oh, not this week, or even this year. But sometime next year, you'll start rolling out Windows Vista. That's when you'll have the opportunity to make your end users truly loathe you -- or make them feel like IT really is on their side after all.

Here's the deal: Now that we've seen the beta version of Vista, we know that with Vista's tighter security, users suddenly won't be able to do things they did before. And Vista's fancy new user interface will break a decade's worth of efficient user habits.

Ooh, they're gonna hate that.

Your opportunity? It's in a few key decisions that will make users' transition to Vista either miserable or much easier. Those decisions are whether you'll help them install their personal software, whether you'll adjust Vista so it uses classic Windows menus and whether you'll help them with Vista at home.

Personal software: You know how annoying it is that users install just about anything on their PCs? Vista's tighter security makes that harder to do. Users will no longer have administrator privileges, so they won't be able to install some software. Other software may not install at all, because Vista is designed to reduce registry changes and other problematic practices.

For IT people, this sounds like a dream come true -- no more users messing up PCs with their own software. Trouble is, some of that software is actually useful to users, and even crucial for getting real work done, even if it's not IT-approved. If users can't install it once you roll out Vista, you'll make enemies and damage productivity in a single shot.

Here's your decision: You can just say no to non-IT software, locking those PCs down hard. That's declaring war. Or you can say "Yes, but" -- as in "Yes, we'll install that for you, but we can't support it, and if it turns out to be a problem, we may have to remove it."

Sure, that's more work for IT. But it makes you look like good guys. You also get to see what users are installing and keep an eye out for illegal or dangerous software.

And if something just won't install, you can explain that you're sorry but Microsoft beefed up security in Vista and you can't change that. Users won't be happy, but at least they'll be mad at Bill Gates, not you.

Classic menus: By default, Vista gets rid of the drop-down menus users are used to. Your decision: leave it that way, or tweak your distribution image so your company's standard Vista uses "classic" Windows menus.

If you put the classic training wheels on Vista, some users are sure to experiment and may switch to the new user interface. But until then, they'll be able to find their way around. On the other hand, if you go with the snazzy new Vista look and feel, expect a big training cost -- or a big productivity hit while frustrated users fumble around figuring it out.

Your help desk will need to support both versions. But when they get the inevitable "Why is this so complicated?" question, their mantra can be that they're sorry, but that's how Microsoft set up Vista. That's right -- blame Bill Gates again.

Vista at home: Vista will come in multiple flavours. Some home-PC versions lack features that business versions have. Your decision: let users dope out the differences on their own, or cross-train your help desk on the home version.

There's an easy way to split the difference: Buy a cheap Vista home PC for the help desk to kick the tyres on. Face it -- some users will be working from home on these crippled Vista versions. The more you can help them, the more productive they'll be, and the happier they'll be with IT. And when they ask why their version of Vista is missing what they expect -- well, you know the mantra.

So there's your opportunity: When Vista rolls out, you can hobble users or help them. Just remember that if you make them do it the hard way, they'll figure out who to hate.

And it won't be Bill Gates.