Windows

5 things IT workers should be worried about as they move to Windows 7

Aaron Suzuki, CEO of Prowess, argues that migrating to Windows 7 has to be systematic and well thought out, and you have to be prepared to address five specific problems.
By Aaron Suzuki

I recently caught up with a former IT manager at my company, Prowess. He was involved in everything at our medium-sized company. He helped upgrade our primary SAN, roll out our VOIP system, virtualize a chunk of our server infrastructure, and was the primary force that got our Microsoft Windows 7 migration done. He was awesome. But our discussion got me thinking. First, I need to hire this guy back on, which we're doing. And second, what a three-ring circus OS migration can be.

Specifically, migrating to Windows 7 is no casual undertaking, especially if you're making the leap from Windows XP. It is not an arbitrary rip-and-replace proposition for any organization. At home it might be a slightly different story, but many of the same challenges exist. You need to plan and make a series of calculated moves that might keep you on an existing operating system longer than you might have anticipated.

What to consider

By no means am I advocating that people keep an operating system forever. There are lots of good reasons to stay on top of changing technology. But what I am arguing is that the move has to be systematic and well thought out, and you have to be prepared. Based on feedback from our customers, most organizations are not ready to move. They are waiting for a number of factors to come together, and when they're good and ready, they'll move. This is contrary to a lot of articles from analysts and journalists saying that "this is the year." If by "this" they mean 2015, then they might be right. Why? There are five big things to consider.

1. Applications

Application compatibility has been a problem since Windows Vista started to be discussed, much less released. Microsoft was forthcoming about it. Customers were frustrated by it. But it was accepted as reality and part of the trade-off for advancing technology. Windows 7 uses the same core OS foundation and therefore has the same challenges as Windows Vista from an application compatibility perspective. This isn't news.

The problem is that many people chose not to deploy Windows Vista and skipped all the positive IT activities associated with keeping pace with changing operating systems. I don't mean to imply that you have to deploy each and every OS released, but if you or your IT people are testing and evaluating, you'll know what to expect and what has to happen in order to execute a migration successfully.

2. Internet Explorer compatibility

This is a tricky one. You probably thought that by making a Web application you were going to avoid OS-related platform dependencies. Since this all happened during your years running Internet Explorer 6, you developed for IE6 and now IE8 has all kinds of compatibility issues. And it isn't your OS. It's the browser you're stuck with in your OS. Your app will run fine in IE6, but there is no way to run that on Windows 7.

Although this isn't a Windows application, it's a Web application; you're still left with two options:

  1. Wait for an upgrade, whether you write it yourself or you have a vendor on the hook, or
  2. Perform some intense IT acrobatics to get an instance of IE6 accessible to your Windows 7 users

Again, most of our customers opt for the former. The latter usually involves some form of application virtualization or desktop virtualization. Both are expensive, add lots of management, and require more computer resources.

3. Hardware

If you have XP workstations that are five years old, it is probably a bit optimistic to think that they're going to run Windows 7. Fortunately, most organizations are prepared to trade up. Hardware is less something to really worry about, but it is something to approach intelligently. You want to think both in terms of the immediate (consider how you are deploying and managing the systems) and in terms of the future (determine whether your future will include any aggressive new technology like desktop virtualization).

You don't necessarily need to be perfectly standardized on a model to have perfectly replicated, systematic deployment processes. You should be able to deploy one standard image to any piece of hardware or virtualization environment without blue screens, error messages on startup, or any of the other typical problems. Use this time to find better ways to do things.

And if your future does have some new technology in it, buy the power now. As long as you're procuring hardware, get an extra gig or two of RAM. The cost will be incremental, but the long-term savings in time, flexibility, and preemptive problem solving could be monumental.

4. Process

This is a big one. You've probably already done something about this. You probably need to do more and know it. Getting Windows to an end point both quickly and easily has been a near impossibility, historically.

Assuming you have addressed applications and hardware, you still have a couple major considerations. Specifically, two big ones are:

  1. Migration of user data, and
  2. System imaging

Fortunately for migration, there are lots of free tools that work reasonably well. The Microsoft User State Migration Tool is fine. There are lots of third-party tools that work great, as well, using varying degrees of automation and technical sophistication.

Imaging and deployment, however, have historically been the ultra-geeky domain of IT rocket scientists, but it doesn't have to be. And the old solutions everyone has relied upon are hard to quit because you know them. It's like that old remote control that you have to shake to work, but you know where the buttons are even though the labels have worn off, so you tape the cover on to the back and keep using it.

Well, throw that remote away.

My two cents: Drop the sector-based imaging solution. Explore other options.

The "free" tools from Microsoft can do amazing things. The Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) can allow you to work magic. And Microsoft also provides the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) to help guide you in your use of the WAIK. The drawback is that the only thing that is free is the download, as you are back in rocket scientist territory. You will invest a ton of time in a system that will probably frustrate you back into using your old sector-based imaging solution. Or you will implement the new tools so rudimentarily that you get only a part of the value out of them that you should.

The good news is that there IS a better way. It requires thinking about deployment differently, but not much differently. As a first step, embracing virtualizing and making your reference computer a virtual machine is a critical step.

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5. Other (future) versions of Windows

You should worry only about future versions of Windows insofar as you have to keep up with them as described above. There's talk of a Windows.next beta in September with previews at WPC in July. Great. Fine. Just have someone start poking it and pushing it around. It doesn't mean you actually have to use it or should scrap your plans with Windows 7 to wait for the next-great version. But you should still commit to keeping up.

These kinds of projects seldom go perfectly, and there's no way to anticipate every potential problem. Just take your time and be calculated. If your apps all work, or you can at least make them work, and you are happy with your hardware plan, start building images and factor migration of user data into that plan while you keep an eye over your shoulder for what's next.

Bottom line

IT is at an interesting inflection point today with new operating systems, a hardware refresh wave, virtualization coming to the desktop, and other trends like the consumerization of IT. As an individual involved in evaluating and influencing the course of your IT strategy, you should carefully evaluate all your options. And, specifically, as you migrate to Windows 7, if you address the key points in this article you'll save a lot of potential pain along the way.

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Guest information

About Prowess

Prowess is a leader in IT management solutions and services, offering a unique approach to deployment and virtualization solutions with its award-winning SmartDeploy Enterprise suite. SmartDeploy Enterprise is the reliable solution for economical deployment of all versions of Windows, including Windows 7. It is the hardware-independent imaging solution for all businesses that want to reduce the cost, time, and IT level of effort required to perform OS and application deployment. Prowess is a private company headquartered in Seattle, Washington. For more information, visit www.smartdeploy.com. Follow SmartDeploy on Twitter @SmartDeploy.

About Aaron Suzuki, Cofounder & CEO

At Prowess, Aaron Suzuki is an active manager for both the service and product development initiatives of the company. Aaron is the Chief Executive Officer and cofounded Prowess in 2003, where he helps create and instill process in production and management. Aaron is responsible for the ongoing operations of the business, including day-to-day management; he drives the strategic direction of the company; and he is the primary liaison to the advisory board.
20 comments
mbrown
mbrown

Your first point is valid about apps that won't upgrade, but to suggest companies should have upgraded to Vista first is nuts, unless you have a lot of people sitting around twiddling their thumbs. Any extra effort going from XP to Win 7 versus from Vista is more than compensted for by time not wasted upgrading to Vista! Your second item about IE is the opposite of what I have experienced, starting to get burned on web sites that flat out don't work for anything less than IE 9, leading me to use Mozilla for my XP boxes...not necessarily a bad thing (big mistake MS!). One of the big drivers to upgrade to Win 7 is the fact that IE 9 doesn't work on XP.

pcunite
pcunite

Windows 7 has been a breeze for us. The biggest hurdle is imaging. You really have to move using 32bit/64bit Winpe type boots instead of DOS. Ghost does have a ghost32 and ghost64 version for this.

n.gurr
n.gurr

Is a good tool, it allows you to develop a workaround for software that will not work in the compatibility mode. Compatibility mode and run as admin from properties help go beyond os checks and provide appropriate rights levels if an application needs them. One shortcut which Microsoft recommends and which I wish I had known about before the migration that we have done is the compatibility checker, this will check software and hardware so may save you some time. The logo scheme for drivers should let you know that some are definitely good to go. Also most Vista drivers work reliably under 7. All good stuff. Edited for spelling and readability!

paul
paul

If migrating to 7 means all I have just read then ... with news of another Windows already on the way and 7 still having the core of Vista (which we avoided like the plague) it is very easy to start thinking about putting that migration effort in other directions - SandBoxing current Xp installations away form the Internet (and security threats when MS upgrades stop) in VirtualBoxes on Linux type systems, looking even to.reactos.org as it develops, and for some things going completely Linux. Lazarus (FPC) has been developing for Win32 Win64, MacOs, Linux and more (cross compiles! checkout CodeTyphon release) for years now, and is free, and OpenSource! Is there a reason to stay with Windows? I ask myself ... feeling I need more convincing now than ever before, after reading this article, and having just watched another Xp standard automatic update reset the whole graphics system again on one of our design machines Grrrr!

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

I am moving to x64 operating systems and for me the biggest issue is printer drivers. We mainly use HP printers and we have some that are over 7 years old (they still work). HP has universal print drivers that work, but I haven't been able to get them pushed out by the print server so it's a manual setup on each desktop that they are needed on. Bill

colf69a5
colf69a5

Mientras siga la filosofa americana: generaci??n de necesidades, de nada sirve el avance en Hardware con programas cada vez m??s robustos.

warhammerTF
warhammerTF

"The good news is that there IS a better way. It requires thinking about deployment differently, but not much differently. As a first step, embracing virtualizing and making your reference computer a virtual machine is a critical step." Care to elaborate on this a bit?

mcrowley
mcrowley

I have used Clonezilla for imaging several WIN 7 laptops and it has worked without a hitch.

Realvdude
Realvdude

We had one issue with IE running our web application. The issue is only with Windows 64bit, and is the result of IE 64bit, being the default browser. The issue stems from a 32 bit ActiveX addon (a report viewer); which was corrected by lauching the web application under the 32 bit version of IE.

NKX
NKX

I had completed application and intranet compatibility tests well in advance of RTM thanks to Microsoft's public Beta/RC offerings. We had a full user-migration process, deployment strategy (using sector-based, multicast imaging) including partition changes and migrations... all by around the time RTM was released. We then ran through all the final checks, group policy settings, user profiles, and final tweaks fir about a month after RTM, and had almost 2,000 migrated users by six months in. Put simply, do your homework, do some testing, think about things, and then test again. Deploying Windows 7 is far easier and has many more choices than XP ever did in terms of "how". Now, I know some businesses haven't got a well-though-out XP deployment and migration plan, so I understand that a jump to 7 will hurt them. I also understand that some applications and compatibility solutions just won't work for some businesses. And I am well aware that some can't afford to make the move. But if you're a company that has been buying quality desktop kit like that from HP and Dell business lines, and if you're covered by a Microsoft Licensing Agreement, there's no reason not to at least try. In terms of application compatibility, I found very few programs that didn't just work... and we chose the 64-Bit version of Windows. I suggest businesses may not have even tried that hard so far. Microsoft did a great job at compatability so try... you may be surprised. If you are having compatibility issues, Windows Virtual PC has now been updated to NOT require specific virtualisation-capable CPUs, so you can now run "XP Mode" for anything super-critical. And if you're desktop has insufficient grunt to run a VM on top of the host OS, Microsoft has introduced "RemoteApp" as part of "Remote Desktop Services" (the new terminal server), which is now a free add-on to "Windows Server 2008 R2" and has low-cost CALs - so you can run a Hyper-V based Remote Desktop for those applications and offload the processing. As for IE-based issues, have you tried IE9 yet? We had a few legacy intranet components that needed IE6 to work well. What we found is that it sort-of worked under IE7, but was completely broken on IE8. Doing some recent tests with IE9, we found that ALL of the ActiveX Controls and issues from those sites worked. NOTE: They didn't work with the IE9 Beta or RC, but DO on the official release. Microsoft has once again offer massive improvements in compatibility. As for hardware, with the exception of one lab of notebooks featuring a 32-Bit-only CPU, ever single other system on site passed the Windows Compatibility tests and also test deployments. We now have almost all our systems (Notebooks, Tablets, Desktops) running "Windows 7 Professional 64-Bit). We didn't need extra RAM, video cards, anything. That's the benefit of buying a business line of desktops like the HP dc7800 or better/newer. Despite what people seem to be thinking here, XP was no picnic. It had horrible driver support in the early days, was slow, prone to crashes, and had nasty Sysprep issues i.e. HAL to code around or make multiple images. It took a lot of people in a lot of business a lot of time to make this work. Vista/7 is no different. But clinging hold of XP is not the answer. Get the 30-day evaluations, test it, figure out why something doesn't work, and then fix it or find an alternative. The bury-your-head approach won't be helping your business. Dedicate some PD time to it - it will be worth it.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

You forgot the third - try your legacy apps in a browser other than IE.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What specific hurdles are you dealing with in your plans to migrate to Windows 7?

mwclarke1
mwclarke1

Well if web designers would stick to standards such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), all would be great, instead many so called web designers want to use toolkits tailored to Microsoft specific API's which do not closely follow the standards. Just like may call themselves engineers these days when most are not even qualified to be called an admin. If going to be a real WEB designer, then follow standards.

DesD
DesD

no, thought not.

jeremial-21966916363912016372987921703527
jeremial-21966916363912016372987921703527

I would say he forgot a fourth, as well. Use a powerful but inexpensive application virtualization tool such as VMWare's ThinApp to sandbox legacy applications. We currently support IE6, 7, and 8 all on the same box.

sugoi_windeploy
sugoi_windeploy

A lot of companies build their LOB web apps around IE6. So there are often dependencies that leave them high and dry when trying to support the applications in other browsers. It is possible that an "IE 6 app" would run in Firefox, or perhaps could be tweaked incrementally and run fine on Firefox on Windows 7. But there is also the issue of holding Microsoft accountable for support, which many enterprises choose to rely on.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

Why is IE still part of the "operating system" in windows? This simply isn't the case for *NIX, Mac, OS/2, and even older versions of Windows. The anti-competative and security arguments were solid. Why would M$ be so stubborn in their implementation?

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

There are ways to uninstall IE. I believe that in the EU you can request to not have it included from the OEM builder. Interesting that you listed Mac in your support statement since I believe that Safari is required for many Mac based applications like iTunes, so it may not be a part of the OS, but it is a dependency for some of the standard Mac functionality. Bill

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

when you stopping asking questions that begin with the 25th letter of the alphabet, especially when you're not asking the people who know.